During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves adrift from our usual routines and often without our familiar support and resources that help us to keep physically active. Furthermore, our reactions to uncertainty and disruption can have a negative effect on our psychological health. Here, Dr Ainslea Cross, Academic Lead for Health Psychology at the University of Derby, discusses how health psychology research and practice can help maintain the motivation needed for keeping active while staying at home and provides us with some tools and tips to follow.
Finding your motivation
Reflect on what it is about physical activity that is important to you in terms of value and purpose. Consider the personal rewards you get, or could gain from keeping active. If you are still struggling to find your motivation, enlist the help of a friend or someone close to you to help you find reasons to stay active.
It can be rewarding to connect online with others who will motivate and support you and whom you can help in return. Online groups, such as the 5k Your Way, Move Against Cancer community or your local parkrun Facebook page, can be a useful source of social support which are important for maintaining motivation for physical activity. At the University of Derby, we have developed the Derby Moves app for staff and students which has activity challenges and rewards to keep them motivated, alongside their own personal values and rewards for staying active.
Take committed action
If you’re struggling to get started, work out where the barriers are for you, or what you have been avoiding and consider the reasons why. Then, form committed plans to overcome the barriers to keeping active in the form of:
a) your reasons for wanting to keep active
b) the obstacle or barrier(s) to keeping active
c) the action you will take to overcome the obstacles or barriers to keeping active
It is important that you keep in mind your own reasons for wanting to be active and avoid the thinking traps of social comparison and ‘should dos’.
Harness your energy
Throughout your day, notice where your attention is going and identify the main draws on your energy levels. Reflect on which of these are helpful (and you should do more of) and what is less helpful (and drains your energy with little benefit to you).
Be psychologically flexible:
All movement counts, so avoid ‘all or nothing’ thoughts that you should be rigidly sticking to a routine and that anything else is failure and instead keep a flexible mindset. If you are just getting started with becoming more physically active, start with a small, feasible goal that you are confident you could achieve in the next 24 hours and then build on this.
Look for solutions that will work for you depending on what you enjoy, or try something that you think you will enjoy, rather than something you think you should do because everyone else seems to do.
With changeable situations, we need to consider what’s workable for our own circumstances and situations, which means giving ourselves credit for our ongoing commitment to keeping active and avoiding the trap of social comparison on social media. Keep in mind your reasons for wanting to keep active and their importance to you.