Are your new coping strategies damaging you?


We are back with Russell Green, National Lead Psychiatrist for Health in Justice, who’s here to give us a little advice around some of the new habits we may be inadvertently forming.

We all have our own strategies to cope with stress. And some, unsurprisingly, are better for us than others.

For many of us, one way to combat stress is to meet up with friends and family, people we can laugh and moan with, forget the bad times and remember the good times with. This is sadly something which we simply cannot physically do right now if the ones we would usually turn to are not in the same household as us.

Instead, we’re searching for new ways to fill that void for the time being, developing new habits and routines. And while it is good to get into new habits, it’s important to check in with ourselves and make sure these new habits are not damaging.

Alcohol: As the empty shelves show, many of us are buying more alcohol and, potentially, drinking more. Alcohol’s immediate effect may be relaxing but if you drink more over time you will experience worsening mental and physical health. Consider keeping the drinking to celebrations only. Plan a ‘night out’ and skype friends, have a dinner party or celebrate someone’s birthday. Don’t make alcohol part of your daily routine, let it be a treat once in a while and part of something social.

Cigarettes: As a healthcare professional, I should know better, but I do admit to being a smoker. I also admit that my smoking has increased since the start of this pandemic. Through boredom, habit or stress, I blame all three, but I know I must get a hold on this before it gets worse. Now may not be the best time to decide to give up, but it’s a good time to try and reduce the amount of cigarettes smoked in a day and to give nicotine replacements a go.

Food: If, like me, you’re working a lot closer to the kitchen than normal, the temptation to endlessly snack may be strong. Try to stick to your normal meal routines and keep some healthier snacks around like apple slices with peanut butter, dried fruit, vegetables cut into sticks or hard-boiled eggs. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional slice of chocolate cake, but probably not every day!

Sleep: It may be tempting to start staying up late and getting up late, and while this is fine from time to time, altering your sleep pattern will not be helpful in the long run. Stick to your normal sleeping routine as often as you can during the week, and save the lie in for days off and weekends.

Exercise: Do build in your fresh air exercise time to your daily routine, it doesn’t have to be a sprint but make the effort, you will feel better for it.

Speak to people: At the start of this pandemic, the enthusiasm for skyping loved ones, House Partying with friends, joining in with an online quiz or other online games, was catching. Now, as with anything that quickly becomes ‘the norm’, interest in these activities is fading fast. This means, not only are we not going out socialising, we are also no longer taking advantage of technology and keeping in touch with friends and family virtually. Staying in touch with others is good mental boost not just for you but the ones you talk with too. So give them a call.

Now is not necessarily the time to try to give up all vices but it is important that we try to stay reasonably healthy and avoid developing habits that are going to damage us long after the current situation is over.