Try mindful, non-alcoholic coping strategies
In this unprecedented era of lockdowns and social distancing, booze has become a major coping tool. A recent survey of 1540 adults, published in JAMA Network Open, found that alcohol consumption is up 14 per cent from a year ago. Women seem particularly vulnerable – especially when it comes to heavy drinking. Another survey showed a 54 per cent increase in alcohol sales between March 2019 and March 2020.
This may not be surprising, but alcohol can upend your life almost as much as a pandemic. “Alcohol and other substances can make us feel good in the moment but then the long-term effects and even short-term effects can actually be counter to what they intended to do,” says senior neuropsychologist, Dr Brittany LeMonda. “It’s really important that we choose some healthy coping strategies.”
Here are some healthy, mindful, non-alcoholic alternatives.
Find the missing pieces
Along with alcohol, sales of jigsaw puzzles have surged since the beginning of the pandemic. As early as April, some puzzle makers were actually sold out, with one company reporting a whopping 370 per cent increase in sales from the year before.
Why? According to professor Marcel Danesi, there could be many reasons. One is that puzzles inject order into chaos which gives us a sense of control. And, let’s face it, right now things seem very, very out of control. Puzzles are also a distraction from the messy real world and are a way to have the mind and body work in tandem. When your head and hands are putting together the pieces, the confusion and uncertainty recede. And it’s a journey with an actual destination.
If jigsaws aren’t your thing, try adult colouring books (there are even pandemic-themed ones). One pre-pandemic study, published in February 2020 in Academic Emergency Medicine, found that people waiting in emergency rooms coloured for an hour or so had less anxiety than those who didn’t. Emergency rooms and pandemics: both high-stress situations.
If you thought meditating meant hours of sitting on the floor while your legs cramp up, think again. One study published in 2019 in Behavioural Brain Research found that only 13 minutes of meditation a day over eight weeks (and, yes, the pandemic will likely still stick around that much longer) elevated mood while curbing anxiety. If 13 minutes is too long, go with 10 minutes or even five, suggests LeMonda.
And you don’t have to go it alone. Try guided meditation for real-time instruction while you decompress.
Bear in mind that, for newbies, the practice can feel uncomfortable but that’s part of the point, says LeMonda. “It’s called ‘practice’ for a reason. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to most people,” she adds. “Recognise that it’s going to be a challenge, but it changes the way we think about things.”
Apps – like Calm and Insight Timer – can help.
Meditation can be active, too
If the idea of sitting still makes you want to reach for the wine bottle, try a more active approach. This could mean a walking meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. LeMonda often recommends both of these for beginners. “I tell patients to start with these because they’re a little more active,” she says.