With tensions already high due to the pandemic, and with the holidays fast approaching, health professionals warn not to overindulge in drinking alcohol this holiday season as a coping mechanism.
It’s important to find ways of navigating not only during the holidays, but every day, and in a healthy way.
Mental health experts at Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit integrated health care system, have observed heightened alcohol use in the wake of COVID-19 due to a variety of significant pandemic-related stressors — unemployment, lack of social interaction or connection, health problems, and others.
With the job market remaining precarious and with businesses continuing to close, alcohol sales keep climbing. There has also been an increase in domestic violence.
“People are at their wits’ end having to cope with so much uncertainty, and losing the things that kept them from feeling tense or anxious,” said Dr. Mabel Bongmba, board-certified psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente’s Bellevue location. “It’s hard to face many of these realities and find healthy alternatives.”
An important step anyone can take to avoid overindulging in alcohol is to make a plan.
“That may look like preparing a special dinner for you and your household that might also coincide with drinking,” said Bongmba. “If you recognize that you’ve had a problem drinking, it might be as simple as replacing that with some sparkling water. You don’t need alcohol to be in the festive spirit.”
Bongmba suggests incorporating a meditation hour in lieu of a cocktail hour — something that doesn’t have to be formal to be effective.
Becoming more intentional in how we deal with loss or conflict in a healthy way is especially important, and may take some creativity. Finding respite in exercise, virtual social interactions, the outdoors — generally trying to stay “in the moment” — are some effective strategies.
“Alcohol can take us away from what’s immediately around us, if we’re trying to avoid our worries,“ said Bongmba. “There are other ways, rather than escape, where we can be in the moment and really own it, and allow it to work for us in a positive way, and connect with our senses in ways that helps us feel better.”
The pandemic continues to have a major impact on society. Some impacts, though, can present new opportunities for change, both societal and personal.
“It’s a chance to really prioritize what you do have in your life, and what you do have control over,” said Bongmba. “Take action, and re-own your health. This ‘pandemic pause’ is not going to be forever, but it’s really important to find healthy ways of coping, and stay dedicated to making those adjustments to remain healthy.”
If you or a loved one has noticed patterns in drinking that could be a sign of alcoholism, increased depression, anxiety, physiological dependency, or feelings of wanting to hurt oneself, there are virtual support systems available like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or the Washington State 24/7 crisis hotline at 1-866-789-1511. Check here for additional options.