Cultivating Healthy Habits in Turbulent Times.

Author:Byrne, Hugh

Touching our face is a habit that almost all of us have--the average person does it 23 times an hour, according to the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. In good times, it seems relatively innocuous, but now it can be a life-and-death issue, particularly for those over 60 or in compromised health.

We also have received other advice to help limit the spread of COVID-19--to wash our hands regularly and thoroughly; not hug or shake hands; cough into our elbows; avoid crowds; and keep a safe distance from others.

The problem is that these healthy behaviors are habits that we need to cultivate and, as we know, habits are notoriously hard to develop and change. Any behavior, good or bad, that we repeat often enough will become a habit. It then will be controlled by automatic and unconscious brain processes rooted in the "survival" brain--and, when we intentionally try to change established habits, the habits tend to win out over the good intentions (see New Year's resolutions).

In order to develop healthy habits, we have to bring them into conscious awareness--we need to be mindful of them. Mindfulness is a key to habit change because it makes behaviors that have become unconscious conscious. Once we are aware of them, we are in a position to make a change.

To develop a healthy habit, we begin with our intentions: consciously set the intention for what you want to achieve or implement and be aware of the habit you want to abandon or cultivate--for example, face-touching, hugging/shaking hands, washing hands regularly--and notice the situations or contexts where you tend to act out the habit. For instance, do you touch your face when bored, anxious, or stressed. Pay closer attention at these times.

Find ways to make the action you want to take easier--for example, wear a rubber band on your wrist or put a colored dot on your knuckle to remind you to keep your hands from your face. If you do act out the habit, be kind to yourself and commit to continuing with the healthy habit.

The other key area for working with our habits in virus-times is our mental and emotional state. With all the news we are taking in about the virus and the measures being...

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