With a career spanning almost three decades as a psychotherapist and nurse and a bestselling self help book under his belt, it seems Owen O’Kane might be the man to get me on track for my post-lockdown launch into civilisation.
I suspect I’m not the only one harbouring dubious habits after months in isolation. But before I put us all in Owen’s hands, he explains why, when it comes to forming lifelong habits, physical and mental health go hand in hand:
“The first half of my career was in health and the second half has been in psychology, so I’ve trained in both physical and mental health. You can’t differentiate between the mind and the body – they’re aligned, and I bring my understanding of both to my work.”
Excellent! Here are Owen’s tips for leading our best post-lockdown lives…
Alcohol consumption has risen during lockdown because routines are all over the show, we haven’t had to get up for work, and we hear bad news all the time. There’s a close link between anxiety and booze, and studies show that over 80 per cent of people have struggled with anxiety during lockdown. People drink to de-stress, and alcohol does take the edge off – but anxiety levels shoot up the next day, and longer term it impacts physical health.
Reduce your alcohol consumption gradually, at a pace that’s comfortable for you. If you’re drinking 7 nights a week, consider reducing that to four or five nights a week. If you’re having half a bottle of vodka a night, how about 20 per cent less? If you’re drinking the strongest stuff possible, consider changes around the type of drink. It’s about balance, so ask yourself if this seems sensible, and see if it works better for you.
If you’re going back into the office in the next few weeks, get into a sleep routine now. Getting into a rhythm of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day means our brains and bodies function better.
Plan for bed and be organised. If you want to be in bed by 10pm, then at 9pm think about everything you need to tie up, like unloading the dishwasher and switching on the alarms.
If it’s going to be difficult moving your bedtime forward, you might phase in an earlier bedtime each week – but the sooner you get into a routine, and the more disciplined you are with it, the more helpful it will be, because your body gets into a rhythm. Whether or not you sleep is irrelevant – it’s the routine that’s important.
If you’re heading back into the office, you’re unlikely to have as much time for exercise as you did during lockdown. Most people will fall into old habits and make excuses about being busy – but if you feel better after exercising, you know it’s a positive thing for your life, so plan exercise into your day. Have a diary on your fridge or your wall, and schedule in time for the gym or a walk. Be disciplined and make it part of your routine. It might mean getting up half an hour earlier. I do, and it sets me up for the day.
Don’t see exercise as a luxury. It’s as important as having a shower, and it’s an essential part of your maintenance in terms of coping better and functioning better. When we exercise we secrete chemicals that genuinely make us feel better. So look at the benefits and hold onto the knowledge that you’re doing something positive for your mind and body.
You can enjoy food, but remember it’s about maintenance and sustenance and keeping the body going. When you eat foods that are high in sugars, it’s not good for the physical body or for mental wellbeing. Unhealthy food affects our stress systems as well as our waistlines. Whilst we might turn to sugary snacks for a quick energy fix, there’s a proven correlation between high blood sugar levels and stress.
Diets don’t work. Recognise and understand your relationship with food – do you comfort eat when you’re stressed? In lockdown it has been easy to give in to the temptation to snack, especially as the fridge is only ever a few paces away from our work space.
It will take time and effort to reinstate good eating habits. Keep a food diary to identify your behaviours, and list the healthier foods you like. Fill the fridge with healthier snacks that you’ll still enjoy. Your body will feel better, you’ll lose weight, you’ll function better, and your concentration will be better – it all leads to very positive outcomes.
Ten Times Happier by Owen O’Kane is out now. Follow Owen on Twitter @Owenokaneten