The Long-term Effects of Lockdown Excesses
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That “Friday feeling” has looked a little different for me over the years. When I was younger, and I used to drink alcohol, I’d be shutting down my desktop on a Friday afternoon filled with anticipation about whatever rave I was going to that weekend. When I eventually gave up alcohol a few years ago, I still managed to get that “Friday feeling”. All of my friends still drink so for me, it was the idea of no work for two days and being able to catch up and spend some time with my girls. But the concept of finishing work on a Friday afternoon and going out for a meal or drink as a “treat” is one of the many things the lockdowns have taken away from us. Granted, I’ve found other ways to have “treats”. Some of these are harmless (magazines in a nice bath with some candles), and some are just as bad as the alcohol (takeaways). The truth is, we are all navigating such a complex range of emotions. My personal opinion is that lockdown number three is the hardest so far because we’ve actually all got to the point now where we are grieving for our freedom. It’s such a distant memory, we are clinging to anything that makes us feel either numb or normal. But what are people turning to, to get through such hard times? And what are the long-term effects of their excesses?
As alcohol is so accessible, there is little wonder it has become one of the “go-to” choices. I’ve read several articles about people developing drinking problems during lockdown. I’m not just saying it because I have given up alcohol myself, but it is a slippery slope. I only used to drink at weekend, and my mental health would suffer for days. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like drinking every day, but one of the cruel tricks lockdown has played on us is making “every day a Friday”. With people on furlough as well, if you do wake up feeling a bit rubbish, what is to stop you from having another drink with no work to get up for in the morning? The trouble with lockdown is, the situation makes it so easy to slip from casual drinker into an alcoholic.
But it isn’t all bad. It’s hard for me not to come off as judgemental when I don’t drink, but there are a few big plusses to drinking at home. When you are out and drunk, if you are not with a group of people who will look after you, you are vulnerable to many nefarious things like being drugged and taken advantage of and being robbed. At least if people are drinking more, they are drinking safely. This generation of teenagers will try their first sip of Diamond White safe with their parents, rather than in the park. There also really isn’t a lot you can do to make home celebrations fun at the moment either, aside from ordering a cool balloon installation and getting the prosecco in.
If you over-do it a bit because you have more free time, you will likely cut down naturally when things get “back to normal”. When everyone is back to work full-time again, midweek drinking won’t be such an easily accessible way to relax. Realistically, over-doing it for a year or so shouldn’t have too many long-term effects on your physical health, but it’s worth remembering how much alcohol can impact your mental health. If you feel like it gets worse around the times you have been drinking try cutting down and seeing if it helps. I swore by this book about giving up alcohol by Allan Carr when I stopped drinking.
This has been one of my downfalls. Because, how easy is it to get a takeaway nowadays? Again, it is something seen as a “treat”. I take my Mum out for dinner every payday, but now we are in lockdown what do you think has replaced that? Weirdly, we see things like fast food as a “treat” when actually, the opposite is true. Having more time to shop and cook seems to have encouraged some people to maintain a healthier diet, but I have to admit a lot of the people I speak to have hinted their diet has got a lot worse in lockdown. Realistically, a few extra takeaways until this is all over are probably not going to do a huge amount of damage, but the thing to keep in your mind is that if you eat rubbish you feel rubbish. After being physically unwell last week, I spent the whole week eating healthy food like Mediterranean Salmon and I feel much better for it!
Even if you class yourself as someone with a significantly low number of vices, you will probably have fallen into the trap of spending more time on your phone during the pandemic. One of the major explanations for this is more than likely to be that people are simply searching more for news. We are in uncertain times, and, particularly in the UK, the COVID-19 rules can change by the hour. But as well as using our smartphones for practical purposes, we are also using them to replace something that we have been deprived of for nearly a year; social interaction. As well as connecting with friends and family, I’m seeing more and more people connect to their wider network of “acquaintances” just for some semblance of normality. If you are worried about your screen time, this article has some helpful tips on managing it.
Late nights fall under a similar remit to eating more junk food. Without the motivation to be going out of the house to work every morning, a lot of people have got little incentive to look after themselves. In addition to this, the rise in screen time in general is not likely to help with sleep. Many people have described disrupted sleep during lockdown, but the general consensus is that once we all start to get back into our routines, normal sleeping patterns will resume.
You are not the only one
If you are drinking a bit more, not really looking after yourself, or struggling to home-school the kids, there is one thing you need to remember; YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This experience is collective, and while you might feel alone, the whole world are going through a similar thing. There is no need to beat yourself up. I spoke to a couple of people on my Twitter to get a bit more of a steer on some individual struggles for examples.
Pepper Valentine said “I’ve actually quit drinking during lockdown! But my unhealthy habit now is that I am so inactive. I’m eating more microwave meals now too since I’m not going out to eat and I’m too lazy to cook. I’m just home all the time and I’ve lost motivation to be active or even dress up.” (you can find her blog here). I think this probably resonates with a lot of people, as replacing one perceived vice with another is common.
Rachel mentioned that she is usually really organised and a “clean freak”, but is suffering from lack of motivation (you can find Rachel’s blog here). Motivation has been a huge struggle for me personally. Why is it when you do nothing, you have the energy for nothing?
Why do we turn to things like alcohol and our smartphones during times like these?
I wanted to dig deeper into why we have the disposition to “lean on” things during difficult times. I spoke to Maria, from Grief UK, who explained “From an early age, we are taught to replace feelings of loss and sad, negative emotions incorrectly. Instead of acknowledging how we feel, we end up storing this energy inside. An example of this would be a child coming home from school feeling sad about an argument with a friend and they’re given a biscuit by their mother ‘to feel better.’ In that moment, they’ve been given a message that feelings can be comforted and fixed with food. The feelings are now buried under the biscuit and the distraction.
When I talk about grief, I’m referring to conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour. We’re all grieving the loss of our normal lives, our safety, our health, and our families. In times of grief, we turn to our old and learned ideas to deal with our negative feelings. So, guess what? Many of us are turning to our old and learned ideas with how to deal with our feelings, which happens to be comfort food and drink for some!
We don’t just turn to food or drink. Others need to feel in control of their environments and turn to cleaning or hoarding. Some may turn to exercise, some isolate, or binge watch television, or read. Others may gamble or go online shopping or keep busy by throwing themselves into work. At Grief UK we call these short-term energy releasing behaviours.”.
But even if we become aware of behaviours we aren’t thrilled about, is now the best time to dal with that behaviour? Maria says “We’re all human, so we deal with discomfort any way we know how. Some may react to Lockdown by depriving themselves as their short-term energy relieving behaviour, while others may totally go the other way and binge. It’s important right now that we are patient and compassionate with ourselves. Overindulging or depriving ourselves every now and then never really harmed anyone. But it is helpful to become aware of what you are doing and acknowledge why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Being kind to ourselves is important, especially in view of the fact we still (in the UK at least), don’t really know what is going to happen in the long-term. So how can we find the balance between not doing too much harm and still treating ourselves kindly? Maria has some great advice for this “As we go on experiencing other losses, we carry on being strong and busy, thinking that it’s the right thing to do. What you’re doing is ignoring and burying the pain, disrespecting your emotional needs, building grief upon grief, and storing up problems for later in life. In fact, what you are really doing is surviving on the surface of life instead of experiencing it to the full – good, bad, happy, or sad.
Think about your grief as a garden full of weeds. You can keep cutting down the weeds, which will create short-term relief. Short term because the weeds will grow back. Or you can pull the weeds out of the ground and eliminate the problem altogether. That way, you won’t have lifelong battles with emotional substitutes and dependencies, such as food.
Write down or share with someone who will listen without judgement any behaviours that you’ve been using to ‘keep busy’. Now that you’ve recognised them, you may catch yourself next time (“hmm…am I really hungry for chocolate or am I actually just bored or feeling bad about something?”). You may still reach for the chocolate, but maybe you’ll think about telling someone you trust how you’re really feeling instead. The goal, of course, is to feel better – and chances are a chat with a friend will be more comforting than that chocolate, or gin.”