Ahh… Coronavirus. The hot issue of the year. The common experience that’s replacing weather small talk and that thing that currently binds humanity together. And it’s not even alcohol related – although the name might remind you of a certain alcoholic beverage – so why would Hello Sunday Morning write another article about COVID-19? With social gatherings banned and pubs closed since last Monday, why worry about alcohol? Shouldn’t abstaining and moderating drinking be easier in this age of social isolation?
In this week’s blog, our marketing team has collaborated to write our first article encompassing different views on the topic: a quick look at social distancing, an interesting study on the effects of isolation and quarantine, stats on how loneliness can affect Australians, and some helpful tips on staying sane during isolation. Our aim remains the same to our readers – to inform and better support our HSM community, even throughout this COVID-19 crisis.
Although it’s important for us to keep our physical distance to contain the spread of COVID-19, there are hidden dangers arising from this situation.
The Lancet has published a review of studies into the effects of isolation and quarantine, and found that being required to isolate often resulted in symptoms of traumatic stress, confusion and anger. These effects become worse if isolation lengthens, or there are limited supplies, and with inadequate information.
It’s common for people in isolation to experience a sort of ‘cabin fever’ – restlessness, irritability and boredom. For people who are feeling well, being isolated can quickly become stressful and provoke anxiety. As COVID-19 spreads in Australia, we can expect to see more people requiring isolation, so it’s instructive to see how others have coped with this situation.
Early reports from Wuhan show that enforced isolation can cause psychological and relationship problems. One retired police officer in Wuhan has reported that domestic violence incidents had nearly doubled since China’s cities went into lockdown. The police station in Jingzhou’s Jianli County had received 162 reports of domestic violence for that month, more than triple the number reported in February last year. Reports from Hubei indicate increased household tension among isolated families. Idle time has led to increased alcohol consumption, and domestic and family violence has risen.
At the same time, many Chinese social services, including community centres and social work agencies, had to close down when quarantine restrictions were imposed. Many social workers and counsellors have since started offering services online.
We need to be alert to these risks in countries that are about to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases. People who relied on face-to-face meetings with counsellors and psychologists may need to find a substitute if they are no longer able to meet. At Hello Sunday Morning, we are ensuring that our Daybreak alcohol behaviour change app is able to meet an increase in demand.
Social isolation and distancing will cause loneliness for extraverts and introverts alike, and the situation will worsen as businesses go under and people scramble to find alternative work.
A couple of statistics from before the pandemic began give an idea of the scale of loneliness in Australia. We can assume these will be even higher in the new climate:
- 1 in 10 Australians aged 15 and over (9.5%, or around 1.8 million based on 2016 population) report lacking any social support (Relationships Australia 2018)
- 1 in 2 (51%) report feeling lonely for at least one day each week (Australian Psychological Society 2018).
So why is this important? Because loneliness is a strong trigger for alcohol abuse.
Consuming alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. It’s hypothesised that people who are cut off from their community are more sensitive to the rewards of dopamine, and produce it in greater spikes. People who are connected in their communities tend to respond less to these dopamine spikes because of the stimulation they receive through social interaction.
As drinking becomes more problematic, people may find themselves losing the support of friends and family, which may lead them deeper into isolation – and thus more susceptible to the pleasure that alcohol or other drugs may provide.
So it’s important that we stick together and find creative ways to get the support we need. Online Facebook groups, zoom meetings, etc. can all be viable alternatives to face-to-face contact.
Here are some helpful tips that may also help you over the coming months:
Establish a good routine.
Routine is always good, regardless of the circumstance of the moment. Having a predictable pattern in our day helps our mind to have a bit of normality amongst all the uncertainty.
Start with going to bed early. It helps you take care of yourself the next day.
Set a schedule for your day or your week. If your day-to-day is varied, have a ‘loose’ schedule to follow. Every person’s routine will look different, but make sure you include a favourite exercise activity and ‘play’ time each day. (Play means engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.) It’s also a good idea to exercise first thing in the morning. It will help you regulate your energy throughout the day, as you’ve already started it off with a dopamine hit!
Organise some down time for yourself.
If you live in close proximity with others it can be hard to not irritate each other. Schedule down time for yourself and let others know when it is, and how important it is for you to recharge. Normally, this down time starts when you arrive home – however, it’s sometimes hard to set this boundary when you’re at home all day, every day!
Try meditation or yoga; practising breathing deeply in and out can also help to reduce anxiety.
Find a project to involve yourself in.
Although it’s easy to entertain ourselves with social media or by binge watching tv shows, try to separate yourself from digital devices as much as you can. Try a DIY project, do puzzles with kids, finish a book or two, cook a new meal – it’s a great way to get creative with whatever resources you have.
Not a hands-on person? Why not try to learn something new, like a language or a skill? Try picking up that guitar again – the one that you haven’t picked up for months.
For some people, reaching out needs some intentional effort. But now, more than ever, social engagement is important, even if it’s not face to face.
Call and ask a few of your friends to check in with you. Schedule in a time to speak to them regularly, you don’t have to have a lot of deep conversations. Take the benefit of video calls.
Do you have your own helpful tips? Please share yours in the comments below.
Alternatively – check out our Daybreak community, check in with the members, and post how you’re going with your alcohol journey, even in the face of the pandemic! With increasingly banned social gatherings the Daybreak program can play an important role to support the community.