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The year 2020 has been a stressful time for billions of people across the world. The pandemic, in addition to its health implications, has caused unemployment, economic upheaval and isolation, as well as sudden and dramatic changes to life as we knew it. As we mourn the loss of our plans and dreams for 2020, many of us have noticed an increase in our consumption of alcohol, marijuana and other mind-altering substances. How can we prevent substance abuse and find healthier ways to cope during stressful times?

Stress is the body’s natural response to external events or changes, whether it’s a single event or a recurring issue. These events can be either positive or negative. You may feel stressed on the first day of a new job, even though you are happy and excited. Research shows there are three types of stress: routine stress from daily life, stress as a result of sudden negative change and stress as a result of a traumatic event. The pandemic has brought about all three types of stress in many people. Our daily lives are more stressful as we navigate the challenges of social distancing, homeschooling and working from home. We have experienced sudden negative change as the entire world adapts to the pandemic and its various implications. We experience trauma as we witness the deaths of loved ones and others around us. 

Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Everyone copes with stress in different ways. A common method of managing stress is the use of drugs and alcohol. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows there is a direct correlation between stressful events and substance use. With many spending increased time in isolation, there’s an increased risk of drug abuse due to boredom and depression. While drugs may provide temporary relief from stress, long term use of these substances can lead to several physical and mental health issues.

Most of the time, we cannot predict or prevent stressful events due to several factors outside of our control. Within our control is how we respond to stress and the mechanisms we use to cope with difficult situations. It’s very important to find healthy methods of dealing with stress so that we are less likely to rely on substances. Healthy coping mechanisms include exercise, reading, creating art, practicing a hobby or caring for a pet. Determine some activities that you can turn to when you are feeling stressed. 

Know The Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Risk factors are the situations that are likely to cause us to turn to drugs or alcohol. If there is a history of substance abuse in your family, you may be more likely to abuse substances, too. Perhaps you notice that your use of alcohol or drugs increases when you are stressed about finances or your relationship. Maybe you tend to drink more after watching the news about the pandemic, racial injustice or police brutality. Assess your habits and patterns to determine when you are more likely to use substances. This way, you can predict stressful situations and put measures in place to utilize one of your healthy coping mechanisms. 

Find Balance

People often begin using or increasing their use of drugs and alcohol when they are unhappy about something in their life or they are unsatisfied with the direction their life is heading. Maybe you love your job, but you are unhappy with your relationships. Maybe you are spending too much time at work and not dedicating enough time to self-care and your passions. It’s important to feel fulfilled in all areas of your life to create a feeling of balance and contentment

Seek Help for Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. Those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder may turn to substances to cope with the pain and difficult emotions brought about by their mental illnesses. It’s important to know that relief is possible by seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. Therapists and psychologists are trained in treating mental illnesses and are able to help you to manage difficult emotions in a healthy way. 

As we continue to cope with the daily and long-term effects of COVID-19, our mental and emotional health must be safeguarded. Flourish Psychology’s expert therapists in Brooklyn Heights, NY will help you overcome your challenges, change the way you think, and cultivate a resilient sense of well-being. Please contact us for a free consult to get matched with a therapist who best meets your needs. 

Sadi Fox