Life after lockdown: new habits for a new normal

Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK
31 August 2021
Next review due August 2024

Now that lockdown restrictions have lifted, we have an opportunity to form new habits as our lifestyles change again. You may have made positive changes during lockdown that you would like to keep. Or, maybe you’d like to use this time as a fresh start. However you’re feeling, this guide will show you how to make the best of the new normal.

The effects of life in lockdown

For many of us, when the first lockdown started in the UK, our behaviour changed suddenly and completely. People who worked in offices were sent home, shops and restaurants closed, and events were cancelled. Many people didn’t leave their homes unless it was to exercise or go out for essentials, such as food shopping.

We also saw other huge changes in behaviour that we’ve not seen before.

For example:

  • almost a million households tuned into ‘PE with Joe’ on the TV
  • use of Zoom increased 4,500 per cent over the course of 2020
  • searching the hashtag “lockdown loaf” reveals over 3,000 bread-baking posts on Instagram

How did lockdown affect our health?

Data collected by King’s College London found that:

  • two-thirds of people in the US and UK experienced changes in their weight, diet and physical activity during 2020
  • one-fifth reported drinking more alcohol
  • those working from home kept up their productivity levels overall, but replaced their commutes with more work – by almost an hour each day

It is not unusual to see behaviours changing in response to big lifestyle shifts. Much of our behaviour is habitual. This means we can perform our day-to-day routines automatically, without too much thought. Think about when you shower for example. It’s likely you wash yourself in exactly the same way every day, without thinking about it at all! But a big change, such as moving house, a new job, or a nationwide lockdown, means we have to create these routines from scratch.

The following tips will help you create new habits for the new normal, in life after lockdown.

Prepare to go back

The thought of returning to your old activities can feel quite daunting. Whether it’s going on public transport, staying away from home, sitting in a crowded restaurant or something else. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that time in isolation can affect how our brains work. It can affect learning, thinking, remembering, problem-solving, decision-making, and concentration. So, it’s completely normal to have worries about the things you used to do every day. The good news is these brain changes are quick to reverse once you get back in the swing of things.

Get ready

It can be helpful to spend some time preparing for these scenarios, so you know what to expect and feel ready.

For example, before heading back work, it might be useful to know:

  • what safety measures are in place
  • how many people will be there
  • if the cafeteria is open

See if you can identify situations you feel less confident about and think of ways to overcome them.

Ease back in

If that still feels too much, there are other ways to ease yourself in. It may well be worth speaking to your manager. For example, you could:

  • run through your commute at the weekend when you can avoid rush hour
  • go in a bit later and leave earlier to miss busy times
  • start by going in for a half day
  • organise a social event outside the office, particularly if you have colleagues who live nearby

And remember all the benefits of being at work, like bonding with your team and being able to bounce ideas off each other. Or you might prefer going back to the workplace to set the clear boundary between work and home life. This may help you feel more motivated to push through any back-to-work worries.

Reflect on what has worked for you

It’s likely you have made some changes compared to life before the pandemic. When thinking about creating your new routine in the times ahead, it can be helpful to reflect on various areas of your life. Think about whether they’ve improved or could be improved.

Consider the following areas.

  • Health. How have your diet, physical activity and sleep habits been affected? For example, many people have found they have more time to prepare fresh meals and would like to continue this going forward.
  • Work/life balance. Has lockdown impacted your productivity? What about boundaries between work and your personal life, or the amount of leisure time you have and how you spend it? For example, working from home has helped many people keep on top of ‘life admin’. This has let them spend more time relaxing during the weekend. As a result, they would like to work more flexibly.
  • Attitude. Has the pandemic changed your pace of life, the quality of your relationships, or your appreciation for the small things? For example, the rise of video calling has helped lots of people reconnect with friends who live far away and this is something they would like to keep up.

Choose a behaviour

When choosing a behaviour to focus on, there are several things to keep in mind.

Start small

Firstly, start small. The more commitments you make and pressure you put on yourself, the more likely it is you’ll fail. Focusing on just one thing until it becomes an automatic part of your routine will make you much more likely to succeed.

Make it fun

Secondly, make sure it’s something you enjoy. It’s tempting to set goals that we think we ought to do, rather than want to do, but this makes it much harder to maintain. For example, don’t try to start running every day if you know you hate it. A type of physical activity you enjoy, like a weekly hike with your family, will be far easier to stick to.

Put the important things first

Thirdly, think about what has supported your wellbeing during lockdown but might be more difficult to keep up as things get busier. It’s worth prioritising this type of behaviour and consciously building your new routine around it. This will support you in this transition period and beyond.

Make a plan

One of the best ways to make sure you stick with a new habit is making a detailed plan. Knowing exactly what you are doing, where and when means you are more likely to follow through.

Go one step further. Block out the time in your calendar or ask a friend to come with you.

It’s also important to try to think about what could derail your plans. Have a backup plan for busy weeks to help you stay motivated. For example, if a late meeting stops you from walking part of your journey home, make time for a walk during the day or over the weekend instead.

Experiment and be kind to yourself

If you do find it more difficult to keep going than you thought, be patient with yourself. Behaviour change is difficult and some bumps in the road are expected. But studies show that people who treat themselves with kindness when they slip up are much more likely to keep going. If you’re really struggling to fit in your behaviour, it may be that what you’ve chosen isn’t right for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find something that is.

Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions.

  • Write down three things to be grateful for every morning in bed before getting up.
  • Spend Sunday mornings grocery shopping and meal prepping for the week.
  • Take a 15-minute walk every lunch time, whether working from home or the office.
  • Set a reminder to go to bed on time, especially before days with an earlier start.

Juliet Hodges
Juliet Hodges
Senior Advisor in the Behavioural Insights Team at Bupa UK

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