6 bad habits developed during COVID that patients should break today (and how you can help)

COVID-19 may be sticking around, but those bad habits don’t have to. Discover how to help your patients overcome their unhealthy pandemic practices here.

6 bad habits developed during COVID that patients should break today (and how you can help)


During the last few years, staying healthy has been our lifeline. But living in constant anxiety often pushes people to fall back on sources of comfort.

When COVID settled in for the long haul, many patients adopted these six bad habits to cope with extreme stress.

Bad habit #1: Unhealthy eating and drinking habits

It was easy to justify a few extra snacks throughout the day and even a “quarantini” happy hour each afternoon. After all, we were stuck at home — why not make the most of it?

But what we had hoped was a fleeting virus was here to stay. Unhealthy eating habits spiraled out of control as people struggled with stress and isolation.

Eating habits         

As families transitioned to working from home and remote learning, regular eating routines became hard to maintain. Many people could freely snack throughout the day. Others became increasingly reliant on fast food or delivery services for quick sources of comfort.

Alcohol intake

As people turned to drinking to relieve stress, alcohol consumption also rose sharply during the initial months of the pandemic. Liquor store sales skyrocketed in the year following March 2020, with some states reporting a 20-40% increase in purchases.

Patients may not realize that overeating and drinking don’t reduce stress — they make it worse. Here are a few simple ways to help patients combat unhealthy eating:

  • Advise patients who are habitual snackers to stash tempting food and drinks out of sight or out of reach.
  • Encourage patients to limit foods that increase anxiety or stress levels, including sugary products, caffeine and alcoholic beverages.
  • Suggest that patients stick to structured meals. Knowing when the next meal is scheduled can deter cravings throughout the day.


Bad habit #2: Lack of physical activity

Stay-at-home restrictions in the early days of the pandemic limited options for exercise. Those who relied on gyms, group classes or team sports had to fend for themselves. Staying motivated to move at home proved difficult, especially for people who depended on fitness for social interaction.

We’ve seen sedentary lifestyles damage patients’ physical and mental health. Here are ways to encourage patients to get active:

  • Take simple steps to integrate movement back into their daily routines. For example, practice quick stretches in between Zoom calls or on commercial breaks. Recommend they make their morning coffee to-go and take their dog for a walk.
  • Add a little fun to fitness. Suggest they try something new or out of their comfort zone. For those who enjoy the social aspects of fitness, many gyms and studios have incorporated online group sessions.


Bad habit #3: Poor sleep patterns

Disrupted schedules because of the pandemic triggered substantial changes in our sleep patterns. Without school and work hours to dictate bedtimes and morning alarms, many people slept significantly more or less than they did before the pandemic.

Other bad habits, like drinking more caffeine and spending more time on our phones or TV before bed, also heavily impact sleep quality.

These simple adjustments can help patients combat poor sleep habits:

  • Recommend a nighttime routine. Even though patients may have more flexibility, encourage them to stick to the same morning and bedtime schedule every day.
  • Suggest they power down or switch devices to “night mode” before bed. This helps them avoid the disruptive effects blue light has on sleep.
  • Incorporate soothing activities like reading, meditation or listening to calming music to boost relaxation.


Bad habit #4: Postponing important health appointments

During the initial onset of COVID-19, overwhelmed healthcare systems encouraged patients to delay preventive care and elective appointments. Fear of exposure caused many people to postpone appointments even longer.


Now, because of delays in standard screening tests, we’re seeing higher rates of serious conditions like cancer and heart disease.

Here are three ways to help patients prioritize their health:

  • Assure patients that you will prioritize their safety. Ask them what added protective measures will help them feel comfortable.
  • Consider checking in patients ahead of time to reduce wait times. Also think about allowing them to stay in their cars or outside before appointments.
  • Encourage virtual appointments (when possible) if your patients still feel uncomfortable with in-person visits.


Bad habit #5: Increased screen time

As families and individuals adjusted to new hours and schedules, people had more free time to fill. Screens became the national pastime.

Bingeing on videos and social media can quickly become a hard habit to break even in the best of times. We now spend an estimated 7-plus hours a day online — a shocking 50% increase compared to pre-COVID usage.

Here are three suggestions you can make to help patients stop mindless scrolling:

  • Schedule device-free time throughout the day. Make activities like meals, outdoor play and workouts a screen-free space.
  • Engage in online games and resources that encourage creativity, problem-solving and cognitive development.
  • Set a timer. Most devices have controls that allow users to restrict the time they spend on social media or streaming sites.


Bad habit #6: Developing an unhealthy work-life balance

The arrival of COVID-19 forced a hasty transition to remote work for many families. Without established routines, every day became a battle against chaos.


For patients, the pressure of balancing a job and a personal life during a pandemic has triggered burnout, mental health problems and poor eating and sleeping.

Encourage your patients to reestablish a healthy work-life balance with these tips:

  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Create a household schedule at the beginning of the week to establish work hours and time for recreation and relaxation.


  • Take short breaks throughout the day to prevent burnout and exhaustion. Set aside five minutes every hour to get up, stretch or knock out a small chore like vacuuming.


  • Finally, save time for yourself. Unwind with activities you enjoy, like supporting your local sport’s team, trying a new restaurant or exploring the community farmer’s market.


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