Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Relapse Risk vs Healthy Coping during COVID19

It’s hard to think of a time when day-to-day life has been as disrupted as it has during the COVID19 crisis that persist and may continue to persist for some time.  At first, we were all pressed into rising to the occasion; then the isolation at home, ongoing worry and uncertainty, became our new-yet-temporary normal.  I was encouraging people to maintain their daily routines, but even I am beginning to lose sight of just what my routine is or was (despite my ongoing clinical work, which has of course shifted to “tele-health”). 

Many of us are drawn to the constant flow of news, which is more or less all COVID, all the time, while realizing that immersion in this news can fuel anxiety to the point of feeling overwhelmed and rudderless.  The isolation also tends to bring an increase in boredom, and restlessness.  Naturally, we seek to escape from all that, and to find a source of cheer.  We turn to streaming services (Netflix is apparently on fire), perhaps music, ideally forms of exercise that can be done in isolation, even reading (so 20th century), but many people are also turning to alcohol.  According to one survey, drinking is up by 55%.  The World Health Organization suggests that some people even have the (completely incorrect) belief that consuming alcohol can kill the virus!  In actuality, heavy drinking has an adverse effect on the immune system, and might make you more susceptible.

For those in recovery, of course, this situation can present risk.  People involved in 12-step and other mutual support groups have quickly migrated to online meetings, which is certainly the best option under the circumstances, and the process has even allowed them to connect with peers in far-flung locations.  

Beyond that, it’s important for all of us, whether or not we have histories of addiction, to maintain a schedule and enforce daily structure even though nothing forces us to do so, connect with others the best way we can (in some ways, a phone call can be more relaxing than a video call), and have a menu of healthy distracting/rewarding/relaxing activities.  

And most of us mental health/addictions professionals are now available online, providing confidential services.  Somehow, it may not feel like a time to initiate seeking help, but it’s actually a good time -- a way to connect, to disclose thoughts and feelings that you might not disclose to friends or family, and to brainstorm on ways to cope.  (For those who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, detox programs are still open.)  

Although this stressful period won’t end quickly, and there may be a “new normal,” this, too, shall pass.