It’s no secret that the impact of COVID-19 has been significant, both to societies and individuals. We’ve had to adjust routines and expectations, take on new responsibilities, and manage stress caused by anxiety and isolation. Some people have had to face the death or serious illness of loved ones or manage their own physical symptoms.
The Danger of Turning to Alcohol
Turning to alcohol or drugs in times of stress is common, and so is the development of associated problems. Researchers have found a link, for instance, between witnessing traumatic events on 9/11 and later being hospitalized for issues related to drug or alcohol use.
There are many indications that people are turning to alcohol to cope with the impact of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, national alcohol sales were already up 54% and online sales up 262%.
The increase in drinking can lead to other troubling trends. National Public Radio quotes a liver specialist in the University of Michigan’s health system who says that alcoholic liver disease is up more than 30% there. She says, “In my conversations with my colleagues at other institutions, everybody is saying the same thing: ‘Yep, it’s astronomical. It’s just gone off the charts.'”
Alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis can be fatal and are now showing up in younger patients, some in their 20s and 30s. The highest increase in deaths has been among younger women.
Alcohol impacts anxiety and depression by being temporarily helpful but making things worse over the long run. At first, it raises certain neurotransmitters in the body that help you feel better, but as you continue to drink, the body adapts in a way that actually leads to lower levels than normal.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes it as turning down the volume on a radio that’s too loud. This leads people to use increasing amounts of alcohol or drugs and contributes to the development of addiction.
Drug and alcohol use can also affect mental health indirectly by affecting relationships and job functioning. Lowered inhibitions cause people to behave in ways that often lead to interpersonal conflict and sub-par performance.
Healthier Ways to Cope with Mental Strain
Mental health experts recommend healthier ways to deal with pandemic stress, including the following:
- Lower your level of cortisol, which is associated with anxiety and mental strain through meditation or breathing exercises. A publication by Michigan State University notes that deep breathing sends signals to the nervous system to lower cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate. The publication notes that as few as ten deep breaths can produce a sense of calmness.
- Keep a gratitude list. Life always contains both challenges and blessings, and making an effort to look for things to be grateful for can lead to a more positive, hopeful, and less anxious state of mind.
- Get outside as much as you can. The change of scenery will do you good. If the sun is out and your skin is exposed, you’ll be raising your Vitamin D levels, as well. An article in the journal Brain and Behavior notes that in patients with anxiety and low body levels of Vitamin D, raising Vitamin D produced significant improvement in anxiety symptoms.
- Do something creative. Draw, paint, write, sing, play an instrument, dance or otherwise do something that will distract you from distressing thoughts and provide you with a sense of accomplishment. The result doesn’t matter. The process is what’s important.
- Avoid spending too much time with your phone, TV or computer. They tend to bring news of things you can’t control, and that contributes to stress. When you do indulge in screen time, try to find things to read, watch or listen to that make you laugh.
If you need help managing the mental strain of the pandemic, let us be on your team. Call us today at 1.844.675.1022. We can help you find balance again.