Around the second month into Kentucky’s COVID lockdown, I started contemplating having an extra glass of wine at the end of the day. Like many others, I had abruptly switched to remote work, which I tried to balance as I waded through online schooling for my middle-school daughter. Those major shifts in our daily lives, on top of the fear and uncertainty of this new virus, are all legitimate reasons to be stressed.
And whenever I look at social media, I find funny memes and jokes about drinking during COVID times. My favorite is a sign over a wine display labeling the wine as “homeschool supplies.” The message is clear: we’re home with our kids and many of us have had to navigate their schooling at home without the usual support systems or breaks – we deserve a drink and need it to navigate this new, unwelcome frontier.
But each time that thought crosses my mind, I have to do a quick personal calculation of the impacts I know excessive drinking can have on me: poor sleep, low energy the next day, and weight gain, to name a few. And worst of all, I think of how me functioning poorly could affect my daughter, who is going through her own significant stress. She needs her mother to be present, modeling healthy behaviors and reassuring her that she will be okay. I can’t do that if I’m inebriated or experiencing the cognitive depression.
I also have to think about the reality of expanding my definition of what I’m “allowed” to consume during the pandemic – is it really going to be easy to fix any unhealthy habits I create right now? Setting good habits is already challenging enough – and whatever the “new normal” looks like, creating a pattern of increased drinking would not serve me well immediately or in the long term.
Aside from the laughs we can share over memes and jokes about drinking, none of us is served well by this message. We are collectively facing some of the most difficult challenges we have seen as a country, in our communities, within our families, and our individual lives. To be the people we want to be on the other side of this, we have to commit ourselves to healthy options that increase our feel-good hormones and release dopamine – beginning with things like walking, laughing, and getting good sleep, which are highly attainable goals even in COVID times.
I wanted to write about this not because I judge those who do drink or who choose to drink more right now, but I realize how powerful the messages are that normalize increased drinking. From my own experience, I know we need to be honest with ourselves about what we are doing and why. Now, perhaps more than ever, we have to defend our mental health and emotional well-being by consciously choosing what is good for us.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I