As we collectively manage living in quarantine due to the Covid-19 pandemic, overall stress is increased by daily global changes, cohabitation, limitations in freedoms, and drastic changes in lifestyles. Many people are managing heightened experiences of anxiety and depression. You may notice an increase in comfort, pleasure seeking, and/or escapist behaviors to manage uncomfortable emotional experiences. Pay attention to increases in marijuana use, pornography, alcohol consumption, eating.
Marijuana. With the increasing legalization of marijuana across the nation, accessibility has broadened. Many people who may have experimented with marijuana use occasionally, may notice an uptick in more casual use due to the desired physiological and psychological effects. Marijuana can function as a depressant, stimulant, and/or hallucinogen. As stress increases, you may notice marijuana usage increasing to cope with emotions like worry, sadness, insecurity, and anger.
Pornography. Quarantine and isolation may increase pleasure seeking behaviors. It is not uncommon for activities like masturbation and pornography consumption to increase as self-soothing, pleasure seeking behavior are triggered by emotions like worry, sadness, insecurity, and anger.
Alcohol. Alcohol consumption is another behavior that one may notice increasing. This is particularly salient as society attempts to renegotiate how we socialize. Engagement in virtual happy hours and virtual parties may contribute to increases in drinking behavior. You may also find yourself drinking more during weekdays and evenings.
Eating/Snacking. Many people may notice they are eating more frequently and in larger amounts. While this may be a consequence of boredom and accessibility, changes in eating behaviors can be related to management of uncomfortable emotions. For example, you may notice engagement in “anxious eating”, where one’s increase in worrisome thoughts and feelings triggers an eating behavior.
While simply engaging in these behaviors are not in themselves indications of addiction or compulsivity, an increase in any of these behaviors warrant self-reflection. Slow down the process between thinking about doing the behavior and doing the behavior. Check-in with yourself when thinking about turning to the behavior. Before you engage in the behavior identify your emotional state, your goal in engaging in the behavior, and what is happening in your life at that moment? Consider responding to these questions in a journal entry. When you review your journal entries, do you notice any patterns in when you engage in the behavior, how you are feeling, and your goals?
Increase other methods to manage increases in worry, sadness, and other emotions. Many people are experiencing the same emotions, consider having a supportive conversation with an empathetic family member or friend. Make a virtual appointment with a mental health counselor or joining a virtual support group. Be intentional about increasing daily mental health self-care behaviors that are designed to manage and improve your mood, like GRAPES.
Here are a few guidelines that indicate these behaviors may be more than just an increase in usage and require specialized treatment intervention. Answering yes to the questions below suggest you may need professional assistance from a mental health clinician or treatment program that specializes in compulsive behaviors and/or addiction.
Are you engaging in these behaviors even when you tell yourself you will not.
Are they beginning to interfere with your daily responsibilities like work, taking care of children, pay bills, etc.
Are these behaviors causing conflict in your relationships?
We are all managing the emotional impact of this COVID-19 pandemic. You are not alone. Be intentional about managing your mental health.