The first lockdown in the UK caused a massive surge in addiction problems and a crisis in mental health. According to the Independent, ‘high-risk drinking doubled’ during the lockdown, and the BBC reported a rise in ‘suicidal thoughts’.
Unfortunately, with a second lockdown now upon us, we are facing many of the same problems. So how do we deal with the stress that lockdown puts on addiction recovery and mental health? We’ve compiled a few tips for you.
Addiction and poor mental health thrive when we are isolated and disconnected. This is one of the main reasons why the UK has experienced such a huge rise in addiction problems during the pandemic.
In order to combat this, it’s important to keep up connections and maintain relationships as much as possible. It’s easy to let friendships fester when you can’t see people face-to-face, especially if you don’t like technology.
Unfortunately, these sorts of technology (Zoom, Skype, texting, phone calls) are the only way we have to keep in touch with people at the moment. So, even if you’re a technophobe, it’s worth making the effort to call people up and keep those relationships going.
You’ll find that the simple act of talking to someone who’s in a similar situation to you makes a big difference.
For those following the 12 Steps, make sure you stay in touch with your sponsor. For others, consider joining an online support group. And for everyone, keep in touch with friends and family!
Don’t rely on alcohol to improve your mood
It’s important to not rely on alcohol to improve your mental welfare. If you are reaching for a beer or glass of wine each night, then you are heading for trouble. Drinking too much could mean you become physically dependent on alcohol. Afterall, alcohol is a very addictive substance.
If you have drank too much alcohol over the course of the pandemic, you could require alcohol rehabilitation in order to overcome potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you experience withdrawals, seek out the help of your local GP clinic as a first port of call.
Establish a routine
Addiction loves isolation; it also loves chaos… and there’s plenty of chaos at the moment, both on the global stage and at home.
The best way to fight that chaos? Establish a routine.
It can be hard when you’re working from home, or if you’ve been furloughed, to keep to a routine. It may feel like there’s just too much dead time in a day. But for the sake of your recovery, and your mental health, it’s absolutely crucial.
It might be a good idea to actually write down a routine for yourself, where you wake up at a certain time, have meals at certain times, exercise at certain times and so on.
You’ll find that as each day passes, it becomes easier and easier to stick to that routine.
There’s something in our genetic makeup which seems to react well to routines: it’s been proven, for instance, that having a sleep routine is a great way to ensure a good night’s sleep.
So do yourself a favour: get a routine, and stick to it. You’ll feel better for it.
Stay away from social media
Having praised the benefits of technology in my first tip, I’m now going to talk about some of its dangers.
Social media can sometimes offer a false sense of connection. We refresh our Instagram feeds obsessively, desperate to know what everyone else had for dinner, or we check Facebook for the millionth time, to find out what that girl we went to school with thinks about the US Election.
This is not connection. If you want connection, call someone up and have a real conversation.
Be careful what you read
A lot of us get our news from social media now, so this is related to the previous point.
There is more of a risk now that reading the news can act as a trigger for mental health and addiction relapses. With coronavirus sweeping the planet, the news is pretty bleak at the moment. If you suffer from anxiety, especially, there is a lot to be said for avoiding the news as much as you can.
Perhaps try reading something comforting: a favourite book, for example. Reading can be a great form of escapism in these distressing times, and it’s better for the mind than just watching TV.
Keep up a healthy lifestyle
One of the best ways to look after yourself – regardless of the pandemic – is to keep eating well, sleeping well, and exercising.
It can be easy to give up on these things when you don’t have such a strong routine. That’s why a routine is important: it helps you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Food, diet and exercise are like the three pillars of mental wellbeing. If you get these right, then you give yourself a good chance of avoiding a relapse.
Focus on the positives
This point also ties in to the one about the news. There’s a lot of negativity around at the moment, and it can be difficult to stay positive.
One way to do this is through a technique called mindfulness. When you notice yourself having a negative thought, stop for a moment and write it down. Then try to come up with a more positive alternative.
Similarly, if you find yourself having a craving, make time to call someone, perhaps a sponsor, a friend or a member of family. Remember that staying connected is one of the best antidotes to addiction.
Don’t go too hard on yourself
If you notice that you’re not being as productive at the moment, or you’re not exercising as much as you’d like, or whatever it may be, remember that this is a really difficult time for everyone, and cut yourself some slack.
That’s not to say you should use the lockdown as an excuse for destructive behaviours: obviously, you still need to avoid those. But it’s OK to not be realising your full potential right now.
Remember, things will go back to normal eventually. Hang on in there, stay connected, stay safe, and hopefully we’ll all come out the other side of this in one piece.