April is stress awareness month. Needless to say, just about everyone is experiencing new stressors while we adjust to life during the global COVID-19 pandemic. It may not be a coincidence that this is also alcohol awareness month, as there is a correlation between stress and alcohol use/abuse.
Happy hour, even virtually, is a common ritual for celebrating the end of the workweek. While we may feel like just getting through each day is a victory, we should avoid developing the habit of a daily self-congratulatory toast. However, if you’ve found yourself indulging with more alcoholic beverages than before, you are not the only one. In the third week in March, the United States saw an increase in alcohol sales of 55% as many states were adopting stay-at-home orders. But sheltering in place is going to be marathon, not a sprint. Below are some healthier alternates to manage stress and maintain good health.
Promote your pillars of health
It’s no surprise that the usual habits recommended for wellness apply now more than ever. Stress management is considered one of the four “Pillars of Health” along with exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Exercise may look very different now given that we no longer have access to gyms. Outdoor exercise in safe spaces (while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance) is still recommended in most areas. In addition to the fresh air, we get a boost of vitamin D from sunlight and this helps support physical and mental health.
You’ve heard it before, even if you are working from home, get up at the same time, shower, dress, and be prepared for a “normal” workday. However, as Harvard researcher Karmel Choi notes, “We’re not just working from home. We’re working from home in a pandemic. If things feel different it’s because they are different.”
One of the best ways to manage stress while so many changes are outside of our control is to find ways to manage what is within our control. Creating routines helps to create a sense of calm, balance, and normalcy. Routines also help decrease ambivalence and decision fatigue. Once you have a routine of a healthy breakfast, you are less likely to consider unhealthy treats or skipping breakfast altogether. Creating routines can be a successful strategy for maintaining or improving the other pillars of health such as sleep.
Mindfulness and Meditation
If you don’t already have a meditation practice, you can get your feet wet with a free app like InsightTimer or paid subscriptions to Headspace or Ten Percent Happier. In our daily lives off the meditation cushion, there are many activities that we can do more mindfully. Daily chores such as sweeping or washing the dishes can become an opportunity to be fully present with the task at hand. We can also be mindful of our consumption by limiting unhealthy foods, alcohol, and negative news or social media. It’s helpful to be aware of the stressors that can be a trigger for emotional numbing and mindless consumption. To combat this, set limits such as portion controlling sweets or only scrolling news media for 10 minutes at a time.
Fear and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety. Remember that we are physically distancing, but can and should maintain connections virtually. Even if you consider yourself an introvert we are all social creatures to some extent. Make a point to connect with others regularly, especially friends or family who are living alone or may have less access to resources and support. Limit screentime and find novel ways to connect with members of your household such as walking together outside or playing board games.
If you needed a reminder of why alcohol is not a viable long-term solution, according to the World Health Organization: “At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues and violence.” Alcohol use can also affect the general health of the body, leading to potential outcomes like sleeping less, and a weakened immune system. Additional resources on healthy alternatives can be found on the Stress Management Society website.
We are experiencing changes and challenges on a global scale like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. If you are struggling to manage your time and energy to create good health and habits, connect with Tamara for a free Zoom call.