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COVID-19 is changing your habits – and it might make you question your job


April 21, 2020
By Mina Movasseli

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Mina Movasseli is a behaviour analyst and founder of Mind the BluePrint. She is a regular columnist for Talent Canada magazine.

Behaviours are often viewed as separate from one’s thoughts. But we know different — the simple act of smiling, for example, causes you to be happier and think better thoughts.

So what happens when you start changing your behaviours? We’ve seen a lot of behaviour change recently with people being quarantined and staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Change is hard, forced change is different

Changing behaviours can be hard, but sometimes there is no choice in the matter. Most people have not chosen to work from home or stay inside — it was forced onto them by their employers and government in an effort to stop the pandemic from overwhelming our health-care system.

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This means, for many, personal habits have also undergone a forced change.

Working out at a gym, going to yoga classes or even simply destressing by hanging out with friends after work are all off the table. Some addictive habits are also suffering — like people who love to gamble and frequent casinos. They have no choice but to stop, because the casinos are shut down.

When there is little to no alternative to habits, we start to think more than ever. Our minds wander — and we might start listening to them more frequently.

Isolation forces us to go inside

There are a few things guaranteed to happen in this setting — we are going to shop less, buy less and question our life more. With every newscast dedicated to COVID-19, and the world largely shutting down, life choices inevitably start to percolate to the top of our minds.

Isolation makes us go within, and think about our behaviours, our friends, our colleagues and our place of work.

It makes us question why we spend more time doing one activity over another.

This period of questioning will also make us more aware of past behaviours and our habits.

Cooking at home, a very human act, connects us to our inner selves because it is a behaviour so natural throughout evolution — it makes us feel centred. That’s part of the reason your Facebook and Instagram feeds are clogged with people discussing their sourdough starters and their quests for yeast and flour.

For some, this time can also be anxiety provoking. You may not know what to do with certain thoughts that come up and the lack of distractions — work or otherwise — that normally stop this soul-searching about life decisions.

Being distant from colleagues

Work is a place where you have created a set of routines, consciously or not. (Yes, your dreams about work will dwindle.) When you’re on the job, you are more aware that you are in close contact with others and have less time to think about your personal life.

If you have have children, that may seem like a distraction — but they actually keep you in the present moment. It’s the opposite of thinking and it makes your mind happier, not having to live in the past or future. Again, it helps you see what you value most in life.

This time of questioning leads us to a time of awareness. When we become more aware of what is important, we inevitably start seeing our priorities and our values more clearly.

We realize that what makes us happy isn’t found in a store, but rather inside our homes.

It makes us aware of the toll our work might be taking on our mind and body. In short, it makes us aware of our priorities and whether our workplace is somewhere that deserves the time and attention we give to it.

How your employer responded

If you’re working remotely, one of the things you have had time to reflect on is how your employer reacted to the idea of working from home. When the coronavirus took and turn and became a serious issue in Canada, did you still get emails about it being “just a flu?”

That feels like a major red flag. Sure, you still have a job but it might come with a feeling of fear of going to work because the company thinks it did its due diligence because it emailed instructions on how to wash your hands.

The true values of organizations come out in times like these and their actions — and lack of reaction — will be memorable, to say the least.

Essential workers

Some workers simply cannot work from home: They’ve been deemed essential. For them, the point of isolation may seem moot because they’re in close contact with other people outside their house on a daily basis.

For these groups, their routine of going to work has not changed. But their thoughts about their employer will drastically change.

Why? While it seems like the rest of the world is in isolation, they have to deal with realities like having to juggle the care of their kids while they go to work. They worry — despite constant emails from managers and HR that reassure them that all is being done to keep them safe — that they are at risk of getting sick and bringing the virus home to their families.

It’s impossible to get away from these thoughts, because too much around them has changed — they can’t, for example, walk outside and go to their favourite lunch spot.

What can you do?

First, identify the thoughts you keep having that make you feel anxious or stressed. For example, the fear of catching COVID-19. Instead of thinking “I am going to get it,” switch your thoughts to “I am nourishing my body to keep it healthy.”

Second, write a list of what you enjoy doing — things that you temporarily cannot do — and try to find an alternative for it at home.

Third, make a list of what you value. For many health will be at the top of the list — and as you go down, notice what old habits didn’t make the list.

Go back to this list when the quarantine is over so you don’t get back into these old habits that you truly don’t value.

Lastly, do one thing that makes you focus on the present moment. Playing with your pet counts. You can try videos with guided meditation; being grateful for your food and where it came from as you are preparing it; and working out and focusing on the muscle.

You’ve had a lot of time to think — and all of this will help you make better decisions with that time.

Mina Movasseli is a behaviour analyst and founder of Mind the BluePrint and a regular columnist for Talent Canada magazine. She can be reached at mina@mindtheblueprint.com or visit www.mindtheblueprint.com for more information