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Sober Lawyers discuss…booze and lockdown

Annmarie: Well, Jo, things have got pretty weird since our last blog haven’t they? Over a month into lockdown now due to Covid 19 and I think we’re all feeling a constant low-level anxiety. How can we cope? There’ve been reports of some people drinking more alcohol in lockdown (reports suggest 1 in 5 people in the UK are drinking more) while others have cut it out completely.

What does this tell us about our relationship with alcohol?

Jo: Well it seems to be all or nothing!  But that’s too simplistic because the relationship with alcohol can be a complicated one, especially now. Alcohol usually helps enhance a social situation and increases conviviality. But there’s not much justification for that in lockdown; in one’s own home, either alone or with immediate family or housemates. There are no parties or trips to the pub.

The reality is that any drinking is plain to see, all those bottles going to the recycling. People may not have been aware of how much they were drinking; when going out with others it is easy to lose count.

Alternatively, people may simply be allowing themselves to drink as they please; not limiting themselves as they usually might. And why not? Furloughed, or quiet or no commute or my goodness having look after and home-school children while working are all justifications. Everything is different, why not have a drink and maybe even more than usual? Twitter is littered with references as to what time it’s acceptable to drink.

What do you think?

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Annmarie: As you say, everything is magnified due to the situation – people are more aware than ever how much they’re drinking. I’ve noticed that the tendency towards compulsive or habitual behaviour we all have (whether it’s in relation to booze, food, exercise, jigsaw puzzles whatever!) are a bit heightened by the current circumstances. It makes sense that that would happen given that we don’t have the usual distractions of the outside world to temper it. Given how scary and uncertain the world is at the moment, I think it’s also natural that we would turn to whatever gives us comfort and these things are usually a great source of comfort, even if they can also harm us.

Have you noticed any behaviour like this yourself since this started?

Jo: I have a tendency to overeat when anxious and be drawn to sweet things or carbs. Read pies and cakes and Cadbury’s Crème Eggs.  In a weak moment, I ordered online 12 gluten free savoury pies and 12 gluten free donuts!  I have decided to allow myself this for now. Wean myself off in time to lose some weight during lockdown or frankly I won’t have any clothes to wear!  You?

Annmarie: Haha, yes, my sweet tooth has definitely come out in force. The other thing I’ve noticed is that my thinking has been a bit more compulsive. I start to hone in on things that I don’t like, whether it’s something about the way I look or something about my life and, without the distractions of day to day life, it’s harder to reverse myself out of the rabbit hole of thinking about it. I also bite my nails when I’m nervous but so far I’ve managed to resist that!

There’s no doubt we all have our coping mechanisms for life, and we need them now more than ever. It’s just a good idea to try and find ones that you can live with and that hopefully don’t harm you or other people! I understand people drinking more at the moment but, given what I remember the general fear is like with a hangover anyway, I wonder if that’s heightened at the moment for people? Alcohol used to suppress my anxiety but then it would come back with force the next morning. What do you reckon?

Jo: Yes, I agree.  I am finding it harder to concentrate at the moment. I have a low level of anxiety pretty much all the time. If I go outside to walk the dogs it’s even worse because I’m worried about the distance people are keeping away from me and vice versa.  So, I’ve taken to getting up very early in the morning, which I won’t be able to sustain for too much longer.

The truth is, deep down, I know that I can’t eat my way out of all of this. So much of it is out of my control.  My powerlessness is plain for me to see. Acceptance is of course the key. What kinds of things do you do that help with accepting the current situation?

Annmarie: I find limiting news and social media intake really helps with acceptance. There’s so much noise out there and opinion about how the situation is being handled. What’s the point of me getting involved with all that when it’s outside of my control? I read an interesting article by a man who’d survived the Syrian War who advised that you focus on how you can live your values during a time of crisis. He described how, once the war broke out, he used his company bus to drive his competitor’s employees around as well as his own employees – doing the right thing rather than being a stickler for the rules. So acts of kindness, getting involved in community efforts, volunteering, thinking twice before cancelling services and subscriptions in an effort to help out other businesses are all good. Reading a lot of fiction helps too as does any form of escapism.

As horrible as this situation is, it is an opportunity to try and train your mind out of unhelpful habits. If you’re a bit of a worrier and a catastrophiser usually (as I am), you’re probably finding that that way of thinking is not good at the moment so you’re having to modify your attitudes in times of crisis. I’m having to do so and I think it’s a useful thing to learn…

Jo: The things that are good for us right now feel counterintuitive and may feel like yet MORE things to do.

Silence: sitting in silence even for 1 minute does wonders to calm the brain.

Meditate: this is sitting in silence and just being aware of your breathing. That’s it. We can all be good at it.

Paint, do a puzzle: anything that helps get you through.

These things help divert the mind long enough from the crisis, from the alcohol or the food or the online shopping or the online gambling to slow it down or stop it.

Actually, since admitting here (this has taken a few days for us to write) that I am waking up early to avoid people whilst walking the dogs I am waking up just a bit later each day!  I think telling you about my anxiety has really helped. I need to try and remember to feel my feelings, acknowledge them and then I’ll be ok.  No need to eat or drink on them.  Any other top tips?

Annmarie: Well, one thing I’m trying is telling myself that, yes this is an exceptional situation but instead of worrying about how I’ll cope with whatever’s going to happen I try to think about the evidence of the past: i.e. I’ve always coped (more or less!) with what life’s thrown at me so far so I choose to believe that I will cope with what’s thrown at me in the future. One day at a time!

Good chatting to you about it. Speak soon.