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How to Change in Changing Times ...

What is Active Adaptation you ask?! Well it’s a term I created to describe a process where you are taking firm action to make positive change while considering the changing nature of your environment or present circumstance. Active Adaptation is also a play on words: taking action to change, or changing your activity. For example, you can be adapting your exercise/fitness program to aim for the same overall goals (e.g. feeling and looking good, living longer etc.) while adapting to the current pandemic environment within the safety guidelines right now, such as finding new innovative workouts that maintain social distancing or like working out from home. However, active adaptation is also about taking action to change other aspects of your life. Living now is different than it was before this pandemic. What conscious choices have you made to change to support yourself and others in this current time? When I ask people this the response is usually “I haven’t made many conscious choices”. People can be winging it or just doing their best to make it through the day every day.

When COVID-19 spread it was devastating and a shock to most of us. Everything changed overnight and the rules were constantly changing (and still are). Many people went into survival mode: buying lots of groceries without thinking about the quality, drinking more alcohol, exercising less, and all while building more and more stress. Most people were working from home or working in new different stressful environments. Some people were home-schooling their children for the first time. So, there were a lot of changes occurring very quickly and people can get caught not setting aside the time to even think about how to best adapt to these changes. Even if people do work on this, it can be hard to know all the answers in unprecedented times.

What I want people to think about when actively adapting is taking control of the new circumstances and adjusting to the new normal, without giving in or giving up. It never feels great when unforeseen factors change the way we are doing something. However, when you decide to take control and change with the circumstances it lends itself to new opportunities. Instead of feeling like you are being taken for a ride, you grab the wheel and start driving so to speak. When you give less energy to what was and more to what could be you create options and opportunities and you are actively adapting!

You may be wondering why you may want to try this “active adaptation”. I can tell you that it is crucial to your well-being. If there was ever a time to focus on health habits, now is that time. COVID-19 is not like SARS: unfortunately, it is not going away anytime soon. Whether/if you come into contact with the virus now or months down the line you want to have a strong immune system to support you.

The sooner you adapt the happier you will be. I hear so many people mourning the loss of what was. For example, “working out from home is just not the same” or “I miss larger get togethers”. It’s not to say that we can’t acknowledge what we miss, but if we focus on the past, we feel depressed and that leads to demotivation. We also tend to miss seeing where there might be new opportunities.

For any control freaks out there “I know!” (it takes one to know one): active adaptation is a way of regaining some control back into your life! I think a lack of control is difficult for many of us. For example, if we decided we wanted to make changes to work from home more, and we took action to make those arrangements, it would probably end up being great. However, when circumstances happen that are out of control and we are forced into that same situation we naturally resist. Taking the time to build new habits around the new circumstances gives people a feeling of control again.

What should we be adapting right now you ask?

1. STRESS!!! I think the major issue right now is increased stress. While we are lucky enough to have not overwhelmed the hospitals here with a high number of severe COVID-19 cases, our social systems are unfortunately maxed out. It has been a strange time, with many changes globally. It is hard not to listen to the news or watch social media and not be depressed. Many people lost their jobs, felt stuck at home and have so much worry and uncertainty when thinking about the future. Stress affects everything, especially our immune system. Stress also affects our decision making regarding our food choices, our energy levels, whether we workout or not, our sleep and our relationships.

Here are some tips for adapting to increased stress levels:

  • Find a tool – write out some things that help you manage your stress – meditate, exercise, have a bath, box, watch comedy etc. put some of these tools in your calendar, schedule them.
  • Express it – talk about it, journal about it, ask for support – get it out and off your chest.  
  • Set boundaries – if you live with partners and family member discuss boundaries, there are likely new ones that need to be in place and communicated so everyone understands everyone’s needs and gets on the same page of supporting each other in your home space.
  • Set reasonable expectations – stop comparing your situation to before the pandemic.  I’m guessing there are more factors that could be eating up your time energy and concerns right now.  Your best right now may look and feel different than your best 6 months ago.  That is ok as long as you know you are doing your best.   In fact, you may even need to give yourself an extra pat on the shoulder for the extra efforts you have been making in the last few months.
  1.  Weight management.  Another big problem for people during this time is weight gain.  I’m sure you have all heard of the “COVID 10” – that extra 10 or 20 lbs people gained while in lock down.  It somehow seemed like that lock down was a good excuse to eat junk, drink more alcohol and stop exercising.  Stress also affects our eating habits, when people are stressed some people eat more or make poor food choices.

Tips for nutrition adaption – what comes in has to get burned!!

  • Don’t work in the kitchen – as it is too easy to get drawn into snacking more.
  • Build your meal planning muscle - I like cooking and being a health coach, I advocate for home cooking, but I wasn’t doing it myself as often as I could and I certainly wasn’t doing it as efficiently as I could.  However, being forced to home cook, it meant shopping less, which made me plan more: I cooked double portions and often froze some or used them for leftovers.   This resulted in a lot less time in the kitchen and way more home cooked meals.  Great lessons learned.
  • Manage your stress – if you are an emotional eater (and you’ll know if you are!) – go back to the section above and start with some stress management tips to support yourself instead of using food.
  • Don’t buy junk – if you are at home more and you are stocking your fridge and cupboards with junk food you are likely going to be tempted to eat it.  Set yourself for success with lots of healthy options including health snacks.
  1.  Regular exercise seemed to drop from everyone’s schedules as gyms and studios closed.  While working out at home may not be the same as working with a trainer it has many benefits.  Such as scheduling the workout when best suits you and saving time and money.  

Tips for adapting to staying active when at home:

  • Keep motivated and stay on track – be honest with yourself, if you aren’t going to motivate yourself to a great work out from home hire out. Try training with a friend outside.  Join an outdoor bootcamp.  Focus on what works and do that.
  • Look for a new opportunity – what can you do at home that you wouldn’t do out normally – I took some on-line dance lessons – where I might be normally a little shy to do this in a public group session I had no problem getting down with my bad self in my living room – it was so fun!
  • Get outside – if you have been at home all day get out – I use this as a ritual to finish work – I head outside for a 30 min walk to signify my day is finished – I clear my head from work and start thinking about how to enjoy my evening.
  1.  Working from home was another major adjustment for many.  While some people might have noticed some benefits others struggled with a poor desk set up or none at all, for example working on a laptop on the sofa.  That doesn’t take long to give you significant back and neck pain.  Others struggled with things like concentration, productivity, motivation, video meeting fatigue, working more hours, no work/homelife separation and working around other family members.  

Tips for adapting to working at home:

  • Set a schedule – set an alarm to get up and I even recommend one to finish your day
  • Get ready – take a shower, get dressed – ok you may not need to be in your suit and tie but definitely not your pjs – it can be tempting but research shows it is not great for productivity.
  • Create your workspace – this one I think is the most important – take the time to create your work space – order a stand-up desk for increased productivity and less back pain, try and pick a quiet room or corner where you can concentrate – keep a clean and tidy workspace. 

Here are two examples of working with clients that we were able to create some opportunities from times that have changed.

During the pandemic I was working with a busy professional who was forced to work at home without a home office and a two-year-old running round. He was struggling with focus and productivity as you can imagine! We set up some boundaries that were helpful but still it wasn’t ideal. I encouraged him to focus on what was working and we brainstormed new opportunities. He started to think about the extra time he was getting to see his son. I also asked him the question: do you have to continue to live close to your office anymore? – and the answer was no – his position is going to be permanently out of office. He is now in the process of looking for a bigger condo out of downtown, with a yard for his child and an office for himself and closer to nature, something he realized is what he always really wanted. The main purpose for him living downtown was to not have to commute. Seeing that his work situation had changed, when he stopped focusing on what was wrong, he saw an opportunity. Now he is super excited for this opportunity and his dream of having a bigger home closer to nature is here.

Another example is I was working with a client that was ordering in premade meals or eating out. He just didn’t have the time. With working from home and no more business travel I asked him what he wanted to do with that extra time. He had somehow filled his extra time and he couldn’t even explain with what. We calculated his extra time and it actually added up to around almost a whole 24 hours a week!!! Seeing that he had this whole day he felt excited and decided he was going to start to try cooking. Something that he had wanted to learn but felt he never had the time. We made a plan, started small and now he is off and running. He discovered not only did he love cooking, but he also found his meals tasted better. Without thinking about losing weight he lost 10 lbs over two months. He was able to see how even though he thought he was choosing healthy options it was still healthier to cook for himself. He is already assessing how he can keep cooking more if he has to start travelling again.

I hope this sheds some prospective light on what can feel like dark times. Carve some time out in schedule and ask yourself what could be good about this current situation? Brainstorm some ideas and get excited about this new opportunity that could lay ahead. Still struggling? You are not alone and don’t need to be. Ask for help, I am here to support. There are answers out there and together we can find them and actively adapt!!