I don’t know about all of you, but half-way into this term and I am truly sick of being on my computer. Amid the Covid-19 health crisis, it has become harder to cope with feelings of stress, boredom, and anxiety about the future. After so many days of relying on a screen to help me feel connected, to engage in my coursework, and to complete work tasks, I would happily walk away from my laptop for a long while.
I’m currently employed as the Alcohol & Other Drugs graduate employee at the University Counseling Center. So, as I sit here on my laptop for what feels like the gazillionth hour this week, I’m thinking about substance use. I’m thinking about people who, like me, are in need of comfort. We need help to deal with life stressors, such as paying rent or getting groceries. We need support as we navigate virtual classes and remote work for the first time. And we need coping skills to help us manage our loneliness and anxiety about the future. As each of us adapt to these challenging times, it is likely that we will engage in some forms of unhealthy coping.
As many of us are confined to our homes during the pandemic, increasing our use of substances may feel like a good way to pass the time, to distract from our worries, or to simply feel better. And it can also feel like there is less risk if we are drinking at home. After all, we don’t have to drive anywhere, and we are already in pajamas most of the day. However, it is important to remember that all substance use has risks and all substance use has the potential for negative consequences.
I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of a virtual happy hour until about a month ago. Prior to the health crisis, I doubt many people would have been excited to stare at their friends on a computer screen while they sit alone on their couch with a beer or a cocktail. However, given our limited options at the moment, virtual happy hours have sure become popular. I mean, we miss our friends, don't we!
But the next time you sign into Zoom for a happy hour, keep a few things in mind:
- Even though you’re in you living room, it is definitely possible to go “too hard.” Saying or doing something you later regret is just as possible online as it was in person.
- Our bodies have to process any alcohol or drugs we put in our systems. Drinking more than we should can put a serious strain on our physical health.
- Substances are expensive. Have you checked your bank account recently? Trying totaling up how much you’ve spent on substances in the last month . . . it may surprise you.
- Alcohol is packed with empty calories and certainly doesn’t support a healthy and balanced diet.
- The more we drink, the higher our tolerance becomes, and the more we’ll need to drink next time to feel the same effects.
And virtual happy hours are by no means the only new substance use concerns during the pandemic. As more of our lives move online, some folks have increased the amount of time they spend under the influence. Even though we use to wait until after our classes or for the weekend to drink, online life may make it more tempting to use substances much more frequently.
As you reflect on how substances are showing up in your life these days, please consider a few questions:
- Am I using substances more frequently than I use to? Has the amount increase?
- Have I been under the influence during a class or important meeting? If so, would I have gone to an in-person class or meeting while under the influence?
- How is my substance use impacting my relationships?
- Why am I using substances? Is it because I’m bored, stressed, overwhelmed, or lonely? If so, are there other coping strategies I could be using instead?
A variety of healthy coping strategies are available that could help you improve your overall wellbeing. A quick peek at other Be Well Blog posts will give you many ideas of how to incorporate positive coping strategies into your life, including during this current period when options can feel limited. I encourage everyone to check out these blog posts: Coping with Covid, Preparing for Spring Break.
Right now, it is crucial to remember that at some point, this way of life will end. One day we won’t wear masks in grocery stores and we won’t rely on our laptops to connect with our friends and families. But, just because we will be able to safely leave our face mask at home, does not mean that we will easily leave our habits behind. Coping strategies are habits, and the habits we form during the Covid-19 crisis are likely to stick with us. If unhealthy substance use becomes your habit during social-distancing, it likely will not stop with the end of the pandemic. Therefore, it is vital that we all think ahead about being kind to our future selves. Let’s not hand our future selves a psychological, physical, or emotional dependence on alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs.
As you reflect on your current substance use, some of you may realize you’d benefit from more support. Maybe you’d like to learn more about how to limit your substance use to a level that’s right for you? Other folks may want to learn more about the healthy coping strategies they can incorporate into their lives. If you’d like more support, please contact the University Counseling Center (UCC) at (541) 346-3227. You can access in-person drop-in and other counseling services, teletherapy (for students in Oregon, California, Colorado, and Texas), consultation with case managers to help you figure out how to find mental health support in your area, and an after-hours support/crisis phone line (541-346-3227).
Dani Wilson, Graduate Employee
Counseling Center & Collegiate Recovery Center