As we head into warmer weather and, in many parts of the world, begin to put the pandemic behind us, our social calendars are filling up. With office meet-ups, get-togethers with friends, and more frequent travel, the coming months are likely going to look quite a bit different for all of us.
Indulgent eating and increased alcohol consumption can be a staple in gatherings, celebrations, and all of the fun things we can do together again. But this time around, the added stress and social anxiety that comes with living through tremendously challenging and uncertain times, isolating for months and years, and sudden re-emergence into society is likely enough to send you reaching for another… and then another.
If you’re reading this with a glass of merlot in hand, this isn’t meant to make you feel badly about it. We’re here to help you take a look at certain behaviors, with great self-compassion, and to better understand how we can all make more mindful decisions when it comes to eating and drinking — whether you’re back out and about in public spaces, or socializing from behind your Zoom screen.
1. Get to the “why” of indulging more
During times of crisis, it’s understandable that people are quicker to reach for a drink or snack to cope with the added anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or boredom. If this is you, you’re certainly not alone. According to Nielsen reports, alcohol sales have greatly increased since people received stay-at-home orders, and have persisted at much higher levels than pre-pandemic.
For many, the quarantine coping strategy quickly became an evening “quarantini,” Zoom happy hours, or to-go cocktails from the local restaurant. As we head back toward in-person socializing, it’s helpful to look at the coping strategies we’ve been putting into place and how they have affected us, long-term.
If you’ve found yourself reaching for alcohol or not-so-nutritious snacks, have you stopped to wonder what is going on at that moment? What are the emotions that are creating these urges? Are you over-indulging to cope with negative emotions? Are you just bored? Once you’re able to better understand the thinking pattern behind your actions, it’s possible to come up with alternative coping techniques that are more beneficial to your overall well-being.
2. Finding alternative coping techniques
In quarantine, the elimination of our regular coping mechanisms, like in-person gatherings, going to the gym regularly, or even just the regular coffee shop meet-up, had some of us feeling lost and reaching for alternative, temporary salves.
While alcohol can have an initial relaxing effect, it actually stimulates the body’s stress response. Not to mention the ways in which it can negatively impact the immune system and lead to a bad night’s sleep. So, consider seeking out other outlets that bring you comfort, relieve stress, and add enjoyment to your life. Even if you’re still focusing on staying at home to minimize risk, these ideas could work for you.
- Connect with those around you. Whether this happens safely in-person or via technology, reaching out to others can immediately make you feel less alone in your negative emotions.
- Find an outlet that brings you joy. There is a reason we’ve seen so many of our friends bake bread or dust off their paint brushes. Participating in any activity that allows you to channel your creativity is an immediate mood-lifter.
- Move your body. Taking a walk, doing a few stretches, or breaking a sweat immediately releases feel good hormones that are much-needed, especially when we’re feeling stressed or anxious.
- Focus on your breath. It sounds so simple, but we promise it works. Taking even a few seconds to deeply breathe in and out allows you to slow down and get present in your body.
- Journal. What better way to get to know what is going on inside of you than recording it in a journal. You can also jot down a gratitude list in your Hope Board for a quick perspective-shift.
- Make a backup plan. Curate a list of activities you can turn to when you’re feeling bored or listless, e.g., tending to a garden, yoga, dancing, working out, walking the dog, planning the week ahead, trying a new recipe, whatever works for you. Then, when you’re feeling bored, do at least one thing on your list.
3. Sit with the difficult stuff
If you notice yourself reaching for a savory treat or a cocktail anytime difficult emotions arise, you may be searching for a quick and easy way to eliminate discomfort. While this temporary crutch can make us feel better in the moment, it never addresses the underlying emotions that you’re experiencing.
The next time you get the urge to reach for something outside of yourself to make you feel better, see what it’s like to simply sit and observe the emotion and how it feels in your body. What physical sensations are you experiencing? Can you take a moment to describe what is going on for you?
Psychologists suggest using the “urge surfing” mindfulness technique to better understand your motivations surrounding behaviors like over-eating and drinking. By becoming familiar and comfortable with negative emotions, we’re less inclined to seek out ways to cover them up. We’re resilient creatures and can actually handle much more than we give ourselves credit for, so consider giving this a try.
4. If you need help, it’s here for you
It’s important to remember that one’s relationship to alcohol consumption should be viewed on a spectrum. It isn’t as simple as classifying yourself or someone around you as a “responsible drinker” or an “alcoholic.” The key is to connect with yourself to better understand your relationship with alcohol and the underlying emotions you are seeking to eliminate.
If you find that you are experiencing a physical dependence on alcohol, meaning if you stop drinking, you feel physically sick, there is professional help available for you. Consider reaching out to one of the mental health professionals here at Sanvello, your primary care physician, or a trusted loved one who can help you find the support you need. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available at 800-985-5990. You can also seek out recovery resources via Alcoholics Anonymous at aa-intergroup.org.
5. Give yourself a little self-love and understanding
Look, stress and anxiety can have many of us spinning out. If you’re feeling sad, lonely, or a bit socially anxious, remember that you’re not alone. Try to use this as an opportunity to better get to know yourself, your triggers, and your coping techniques. Along the way, try to offer yourself an abundance of self-care and compassion.