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Quarantine Reminds us our Environment Shapes Behaviors

Currently, we are in a world where many of those cultural norms are changing. Perhaps, we are not going to work, or we are working from home. Maybe we are running out of essential toiletries. It could be that we are being quarantined to our home and as a result have lost access to food. Maybe your coworkers have been replaced by smaller, slightly less self-regulated office mates that offer no assistance once clocked in.

Regardless of the reason, your environment is likely to change and as a result your behaviors change.

Socio-Ecological Model — Credit “Figueroa’s Framework”

In the health world there is something called the Socio-Ecological Model.

This behavior change model demonstrates how our actions are influenced by our knowledge and beliefs, our community, city/state/federal laws, and the cultural norms that are around us.

The novel Corona Virus (COVID-19), earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and any other type of disaster you’ve read about in the news lately change our environment. The laws change, beliefs are tested, cultural norms shift and our behaviors are altered. Along with all of these changes, the fear and anxiety that accompany the difficulties were hear about in the news can do a number on our health behaviors.

If we are emotional eaters, stress eaters, or mindless eaters this can be a difficult time for us. We have access to our kitchen and no longer have to pack our own food. We can munch all day long. We mindless munch on the healthy shelled pistachios you bought per-Armageddon but now need to use before they go bad.

With the uncertainty that accompanies all of the issues occurring in the world, we might seek comfort in foods. And while food is not the enemy, it is also not always the best answer.

So, how do you manage health behaviors when there is a shift in your environment, cultural beliefs, and daily rituals?

When in a new situation, the first thing to recognize is that things are different. While it seems like an obvious first step, often we try to simply keep living our life acting as if nothing were different. This works as well as putting a square peg in a round hole and typically frustrates the practitioner.

From understanding that things are different we can now use the ability of the human brain to adapt to our new environment. The growth mindset reminds us that we can learn and adapt. Many of us have not been in situations that mirror our current reality of uncertainty. But we have had to learn, adjust, and test new behaviors in the past. Think about when you started on a sports team, learning the skills required to be proficient. Recall being in class where you are exposed to new material and need to understand the application of it. The role of change, and our approach to it, plays into how we obtain, maintain, and strive for health.

Learning a new language does not happen overnight. Some words, conjugations, and scenarios stick better than others, but it takes time and continued application to help it stick. Similarly, establishing health in new environments requires attention and continued effort.

In attempting to find a rhythm and establish the healthy behaviors that will best serve us in this new reality it is important to grant our-self the right to learn and progress. It is okay to err in efforts to grow.

Here are some tips for identifying how you will maintain or reach for the health you desire despite life being different:

Tips for Quarantine Health

1. Make a plan including when and where you will eat.

This may include who you will eat with, and maybe meal planning to help alleviate the in-the-moment stress of having to decide.

2. Recognize your behaviors.

If you leave your home office multiple times a day and head straight for the kitchen consider other alternatives — such as walking around the block, stretching, etc...

3. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues — evaluate how hungry you are before mindlessly munching.

4. Make sure that you are hydrated.

It can be difficult to differentiate between signals so taking time to consume enough fluid will help too.

5. Have healthy items available.

Remember that what is available is what you are going to eat. Though non-perishables are the hot ticket items right now, keeping fresh plant foods available can help with their consumption. Having simple, quick, healthy go-to options can assist with this.

With the uncertainty that faces all of us it can be easy to clam up and search for gloom and doom. Instead, do as Mr. Rogers’ mother taught him and, “Look for the helpers”.

Recognize that this is a moment in time where everything has changed, and you are being given opportunities you would never have had otherwise. Whether it is time with kids, the experience of working from home, a difference in responsibilities or expectations you can be the kid that is bored on summer break or the one enjoying every minute of it.


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