Follow along and read all of Annie’s columns on Elephant here.
Tuning out. Numbing. Just shutting off your brain.
I get that desire. Especially right now when the world is caught in the grips of this epidemic. Being stuck at home and bombarded with constant information from the media is so overwhelming.
As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I completely understand why many are choosing to drink right now. Alcohol does a great job at erasing things. It erases our fears and our anxieties. It also erases our common sense, our immunity, and our ability to react and respond swiftly. That sounds awfully risky at a time like this.
We’ve already lost such an important part of ourselves due to this epidemic—our innocence. No longer is our bubble there to protect us and make us think it’s an “us versus them” problem. COVID-19 has made us “them.” We’ve been made aware that the issue is there and it cannot be ignored. You can’t forget the reality of what you know regardless of how much alcohol you pour on it. I know this from the days I drank more to forget that I was drinking too much. As soon as the alcohol wore off, my problem was still there—it was just accompanied by the crushing anxiety that alcohol tends to exacerbate.
Drinking to forget is, at best, a stopgap measure and it quickly and inevitably will fail to make the situation better in any way. Instead, it is like the plug in the dam that will burst and cause massive destruction.
This is not the time to drink. We all need to have all of our faculties and resources available not only to protect ourselves but to be able to help those around us. Alcohol drains all of our resources. Alcohol affects our health by weakening not only our immune system but also by chipping away at our mental health. For those still working or working from home, alcohol steals our ability to think clearly and lowers productivity. It increases our irritability at a time that tensions are already running high. And it drains our finances during a time where we need that security more than ever before.
If this is not the time to drink, how can we cope with the uncertainty and panic that seems to be overtaking us? We’re discouraged from congregating together. Entire states and countries are locked down and for many of us, we just feel so alone.
If we can’t forget, how do we come to peace with where things stand?
First and foremost, I think it’s important to remember that no matter how much we drink or do not drink, this situation is beyond our control. We can’t fix it, but we can do things to prevent making it worse. That includes auxiliary things that drinking alcohol can contribute to such as placing more strain on an already taxed healthcare system due to accidents caused while drinking. Of course, no one intends for that to happen when they drink, but by nature alcohol causes one to be more accident-prone.
Next, there are simple ways we can preserve our mental health which might not allow us to forget but can prevent us from dwelling on the crisis. If you can—unplug. Put the phone down, step away from the computer, and turn the TV off. Go for a walk, go sit outside in the sun, listen to the birds chirp—do whatever brings you peace. Set limits on your exposure to the media. I have designated 1 p.m. as my time to check in and read the latest news every day. I give myself 30 minutes and after that, I check out. I’m not hiding my head in the sand but too much information can cause more harm than good.
What has really been difficult for so many of us is the isolation that has been forced upon us. Even those who normally choose to keep to themselves are feeling caged in just because it’s now been ordered. I’m familiar with how being told I can’t do something at all (like drinking) makes me want to push back and do it even more. In this case, though, the reward of physically being with others is not worth the potential risk.
Technology has really been a savior for me during this time. From a video virtual book club I’m participating in to keeping a weekly coffee date with my best friend via Facetime—still connecting with people has kept me from feeling detached. Even work meetings are something to look forward to now!
Coping has also been easier because I’ve been writing about it. In fact, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, fears, and anxieties through emails, on my blogs, and in social media posts. Simply getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper helps me to examine them and work through them. Often, when writing them down, I’m able to see that many of them are unfounded and that it is okay to release them. So whether you use a journal, a grocery store receipt, or another form of communication, taking your concerns out of your head and releasing them into the world can be so cathartic.
Finally, I think it’s important we stop fighting our feelings during this time. We all have every right in the world to feel the way we do right now. This is an unprecedented time and experience for all of us. We don’t need to apologize for our fears, downplay them, or feel ashamed for having them.
Instead, we should accept them and allow them. Show compassion and grace for yourself and others.
If you are curious about your drinking, and don’t want to hit “rock bottom,” join me for The Alcohol Experiment. You will receive encouraging and mindset shifting daily videos and emails and an incredible community of 110,000 people also experimenting with their alcohol intake. It is completely free (and always will be): join here.