A lot of us are experiencing anxious feelings at the moment, and understandably so: these are unprecedented times. Stressful periods are known to have an impact on our daily living, including our relationship with food. Some people ignore or simply overlook feelings of hunger and miss out on vital nutrition while others may take to overeating (often unhealthy) foods. While others may find themselves feeling alone and depressed during this unusual times, which could lead to them making unusual decisions.
Over longer periods of time, these behaviours can create long-term unhealthy habits, which can be hard to break free of.
Psychological techniques can be used to reframe these habits and help people develop healthier coping mechanisms and a healthier relationship with food and drinks.
Concepts from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT), a validated psychological treatment practice, can be used by anyone looking to help manage the negative emotions related to our ongoing lockdown.
The NHS says CBT can be used to help people to stop negative thought cycles, which can send their anxiety or fears spiralling.
The NHS says: “CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.
“You’re shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.
“Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past.”
1. Reframe negative thoughts
Dr Michaelides said: “Applying elements of psychological techniques to your day-to-day life may sound daunting, but it may be more manageable than you think.
“CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts and attitudes influence our emotions and behaviours, and vice versa.
“CBT can help you recognise unhelpful thought distortions and your emotional/behavioural response patterns.
“Understanding this behaviour chain is the first step to breaking a bad habit: it can be useful for you to repeat chains that produce constructive behaviour and break chains that produce less constructive behaviour.
“Evaluating your thoughts and ideas like this can be challenging, and at times uncomfortable.
“This process isn’t as simple as flipping a light switch – it takes time! Give yourself the space and time to experiment, give it a try, and make slow, steady progress.”
2. Your mental health should be a top priority
Dr Michaelides said: “Many countries around the world, including the UK, have now been in some form of lockdown since the end of March and this is having a huge impact on the country’s mental health.
“This week is also Mental Health Awareness Week, so now is as good a time as any to reflect on our mental health.
“Stepping outside to your garden (responsibly) for exercise or a breath of fresh air, connecting with a friend over the phone, meditation, gratitude journaling, and listening to music or podcasts are just a few ways to show your mind some love.
“Giving yourself a mental break from the stress of the current is a very healthy practice, and something you can do even if you are part of the shielding group who’re being advised by the NHS to remain at home. “
3. Deconstructing challenges
The key to CBT is to break down your goals into smaller chunks.
If you set yourself a massive task – like climbing Mount Everest – this can lead you to feeling upset when you don’t achieve it straight away. Instead, try smaller goals – such as walking 10,000 steps in a day.
The Couch to 5k app is a great example of this – instead of running 5k straight away, you break this down into much more manageable chunks.
Dr Michaelides said: “When times are tough, a molehill can feel like a mountain. So, when working towards a new goal – be it fitness, a new skill, or something career-related – during lockdown, try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
“Start by defining your ‘big picture’ goal. This should be something that you work towards over time and can be broken down into attainable steps along the way.
“An example of a big picture goal could be: ‘I want to make healthy and nutritious dinners from scratch every night of the week.’
“The first small step, or ‘mini goal’ towards this big picture goal could be to research some recipes that excite you. Once you’ve tackled that step, the next step may be to experiment with a few different recipes by the end of the week.
“As time progresses and you achieve these ‘mini goals’, you’ll gain the confidence and skills necessary to reach that big picture goal. Before you know it, small steps can add up to big change!”
4. Praise yourself for your effort
Tackling your anxiety is not just about following a step-by-step plan, but it’s also about finding time to praise yourself.
You don’t need to be well on the road to recovery before you stop and give yourself a pat on the back, Dr Michaelides says.
Make sure you praise yourself as often as possible to boost your spirits.
Dr Michaelides added: “Behaviour change is hard under normal circumstances, let alone in a new and sometimes scary situation like a pandemic. Remember to applaud your effort, not your results.
“Effort is the result of commitment and you are choosing to stay committed to your goal — that alone is cause for celebration!”
For more information and tips on creating positive habits and weight loss, download Noom on the App Store and Google Play or visit www.noom.com.