'I’m trying to break my bad health habits by doing these five small things'

-Credit: (Image: Emily Abdel-Megid)
-Credit: (Image: Emily Abdel-Megid)

As a young adult, everything is new; you’ve left your family, started a new job or course, and you might be living in a shared house or a flat with the kitchen tiles falling off. That’s all on top of trying to take care of yourself, go out with friends, enjoy your youth and work against a deadline.

It’s inevitable that you then go through adulthood with bad habits. Bad habits were a big part of the decline in my mental health, especially in the first year of university, and I found it very hard to feel motivated to do the ‘diet/gym/repeat’ routine. I was in a new country, my family were hours away, and I was going through major culture shock… I gained one bad habit after another to cope with the mental load. When I finally found a tiny bit of motivation, I decided to take it one habit at a time and, most importantly, prioritise myself, which is the key to breaking that mental barrier.

I always subconsciously think to myself that if I start my day wrong, then there’s no point in trying to fix the rest of it. In other words, my motivation is very fragile, and I’m still learning that I can choose to start breaking bad habits at any time of day. To help, there are ways I like to start and end my day to encourage myself. Here’s how I’m doing it.

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Making my bed

I want my bed to look inviting and comforting. It’s the place where I have been at my lowest, and I wanted to try to change it from my sad space to my rest space. There’s nothing better than coming home after a bad day, getting into bed, and feeling better, all because my bed is tailored to my comfort and needs.

Starting the day early

This involves waking up 20 minutes earlier than I normally would, or setting an alarm in the first place when I have nothing planned for the next day. I like to take my time when I wake up and need 20 minutes to just be a zombie, so I find I’ll pick up my phone and do something that doesn’t need stress-inducing brainpower.

Skincare first

Every morning, I wash my face and moisturise before I get breakfast. Sometimes I’ll take a shower, even if I showered the night before, because I hate starting my day feeling greasy. It’s a small but good reminder that my body is my top priority.

A tidy room

In the evening, I like to tidy my room. It doesn’t matter if I throw my clothes in a pile in a corner and deal with them tomorrow, but I need to have clear surfaces and a clear floor. My room reflects my state of mind, and a clear room helps get a clear head.

Less screentime

I now avoid looking at a screen before I sleep. Most days I struggle with this, and I don’t beat myself up about it as these are small things - but I do try to stay off social media before going to sleep. Watching my favourite show instead, or Facetiming my family are much better alternatives.

My bad habits and how I’m getting over them

These acts of self-service are the small, easy stuff I do to tackle the mental barrier that makes me cynical about starting my day. Unfortunately, there are worse hurdles to jump, but here’s how I take them in my stride.

Snoozing my alarm in the morning

My new approach is to leave my phone across the room, so that I must get up – sometimes this works for me, some days I just jump back into bed. Most days, immediately opening a crossword or sudoku for 10/15 minutes works best. I let my eyes focus and my brain work gently before I get up, at which point I’m awake and happy to start the day.

Snacking or binging in the evening

I’ve always struggled with food, especially in the evening when there’s not much to do other than sit and watch something. My mum and I cope with this together; I give myself something else with flavour, like a floral tea, or jelly as dessert. I’m eager to be free from thoughts like ‘that’s healthy’, or ‘that’s low calorie’ and think more about what I’m craving, or what I would enjoy, during and after eating without remorse.

This new approach to not eating just because I'm bored also involves going outside - taking a walk and finding somewhere with trees and fresh air. This is part of my effort to become an intuitive eater; if I really, desperately want a cookie, then I’ll have a cookie! But when I want to eat for the sake of eating, I go on a search for a big plane of grass and happy dogs.

Eating takeout and fast food

Create a menu for yourself of meals that are easy to cook throughout the week. Personally, I hate prepping and like to cook day-by-day, but often I just don’t know what to eat. So, I assign myself meals for each day of the week that I look to when there’s nothing in particular I fancy. This isn’t something I follow religiously, it’s just a backup plan for the busy days when my brain is fried!

Vaping and smoking

Initially, I vaped for the sake of satisfying my need to eat (particularly sweet things) and swapped it out for flavoured chewing gum. I also liked that I could do something with my hands with a vape, so I picked-up crochet as a hobby I could do in the evening while watching some Netflix. Any time I felt the urge to buy a vape, I took the £6.99 I would have spent and put it in a saving space. I was even more motivated to stop vaping when I started going to the gym, as it was affecting my cardio health. But don’t overwhelm yourself with needing the gym to be a good motivator to quit, otherwise you’ll fall right back into those bad habits.

Leaving things to the last minute

For me, it’s as simple as writing a checklist and taking 15 minutes a day to do what needs to be done. I tell myself that I’ll do something until this song is over… and the next song. It’s a silly thing, tricking your brain into thinking it’s a quick and easy job, but it works.

Not exercising

My thought process now looks like this: 'I’m not going on a walk; I just want to go see that specific tree or count the dogs I walk past. I don’t want to shop from my local Tesco, I like the further one better'. Or, I get to listen to this new song, or finally listen to the next chapter of my book in peace. Exercise starts small, and walking is a good opportunity for you to reflect on your day.

These things are all part of a mindset. It’s the idea that I’m not forcing myself to do them, but it’s just something I want to do to take care of myself. The trick is to prioritise yourself and take everything in stride.

My long list of things I wanted to do every day to improve myself has never been fully completed in one day. Instead, they’re ticked off over a week, or even a month, until eventually, they appear as suggestions to a healthy lifestyle rather than must-do tips on how to break bad habits.