The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has brought a sense of hope after a full year living through the pandemic. But are the feelings of boredom, loneliness, fear, and anxiety truly gone?
Since new research published by the American Research Association found that adults in the United States are now feeling their highest levels of stress since the pandemic began last year, it is natural to ask how they are relieving this stress.
Unfortunately, people suffering from anxiety and depression are more likely to report an increase in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic than those without mental health issues, according to a new study by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health published in the journal Preventive Medicine . This study also shows that older adults with anxiety and depression were more likely to develop alcohol dependence.
Another recent study published in JAMA, found that alcohol consumption among adults increased by 14 percent from 2019 to 2020. Women, in particular, exhibited a 41 percent increase in alcohol consumption over a 2019 baseline. While the COVID-19 vaccines are giving people hope that the pandemic may soon come to an end, an increase in alcohol dependence may prove to be one of the long-term effects of this unprecedented time.
We recommend keeping an eye on the well-being of older adults and paying attention to the signs of alcohol dependency, including slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, agitation or anxiety, among others, according to the Alcohol Rehab Guide. We also recommend other coping techniques to help older adults relieve stress without alcohol, including:
■ Physical activity. Exercising regularly can increase overall health and sense of well-being. Unlike alcohol, exercising reduces stress in the long term. It is considered one of the best ways to reduce stress, according to the American Heart Association. While some recreation centers and gyms are still closed, it is easy to stay active during this time. However, check with your doctor if you plan on significantly increasing your physical activity. Some options you may want to consider include:
1. Engaging in at-home workouts in order to avoid physical contact with others
2. Taking a walk around your neighborhood (ensure proper social distancing from others)
3. Gardening and yard work
4. Dancing to uplifting music
■ Engage in mindfulness techniques. According to the National Institute of Health, people tend to consume alcohol when feeling stressed or anxious, so mindfulness exercises – such as meditation and breathing techniques – are recommended to naturally help your body and mind relax and release stress. Find a quiet place in your home and set a timer for a specified period. If you’ve never meditated, start off with just three minutes, and focus on your breathing.
■ Stay connected! Having a strong support system is key to helping you with the temptation of drinking alcohol to relax. It’s very important to stay in contact with close friends and family during stressful situations, so check in with your loved ones by phone, Skype, Facetime or other means.
■ Tap into creative expression. Creative outlets such as writing in a journal, drawing, music and dancing, can provide a way to manage anxiety in a healthy manner, according to the American Addiction Centers. Perhaps this is the right time to test your creativity with a new activity that can help you release stress!
■ Get help with alcohol use
If you are increasing your alcohol consumption to manage anxiety or stress related to COVID-19, you are not alone. In response to the outbreak, Optum has opened its emotional support helpline, providing access to specially trained mental health specialists. This is a toll-free number, and it will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for as long as necessary. This is a free service. Anyone in need of emotional support is welcome to call. The number is 866-342-6892. For more information about COVID-19 and the precautions you can take, please visit OptumCare.com
Dr. Jim Wang, DO, Southwest Medical