While ideally these times of being in such close quarters with our loved ones would lead to quality time and growth, for most of us, it is bringing out our anxieties surrounding these uncertain times and creating discord and annoyance instead.
However, there are ways to cope with anxiety and strategies to deal with the baffling recovering addict behavior.
Coronavirus outbreak adding to stress and addiction
These times are difficult for everyone; men, women, children, the elderly, though it could be doubly difficult with those struggling with addiction or are in recovery. Stress and addiction go hand in hand.
Dangers of isolation entail depression and anxiety.
Addiction here is any kind of addiction- addictive thinking, substances, behaviors, or impulses.
I am writing this in an attempt to offer an understanding of how dealing with addiction in a time of Coronavirus can be facilitated.
Also read on some applicable techniques to stay sane and help us all get through this time of isolation and confusion, as some of us are thrusted with disasters like dealing with addiction.
Managing stress and anxiety is something that a person struggling or dealing with addiction is constantly aware of.
They have the incessant nagging of being “dysfunctional” and the anxiety of having to maintain their temperance.
A lack of of safety and stability
Any added stressors where they may feel even more powerless over the outcomes such as the coronavirus pandemic would greatly impact the feelings of safety and stability for anyone but most definitely those struggling with addiction.
From a brain and somatic/body-based perspective, I would say stress activates the survival mechanisms, the (fight, faint, freeze or flight) for everyone, including those dealing with addiction.
It elevates levels of anxiety and triggers the limbic system to respond somatically, which creates the physically uncomfortable experiences we have of like, racing heartbeat, restlessness, headaches and body aches, tightness of chest, being chronically out of breath, etc.
For addicts, dealing with addiction, the way they have historically calmed those physical symptoms has been through substance use.
Where non-addicts are able to find other ways to calm those symptoms using alternative methods, those dealing with addiction, have historically only been able to do it with substances, or found substances do it quickest and most effectively, which is incredibly tempting if their symptoms are extreme.
Addiction is very much about relationships and using their relationship to their choice of drug in lieu of fostering healthy relationships with people.
And these procedures of forced isolation will highlight the feelings of loneliness that they have at one point assuaged through people, control, food, sex, shopping, drugs, alcohol etc.
Retaining sanity and calm is an arduous task to achieve without the support of social outlets, pleasant outings, activities, and services that provide 12 step programs or such other facilitating factors.
The tsunami of Covid-19 could result in relapses
There are potential implications for the individuals dealing with addiction during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Financial uncertainty is also adding to the stress and giving a push to cravings in those struggling with addiction.
Economic uncertainty also heightens the need for escape, but the isolation is creating conditions for a quicker relapse.
As much as we can organically and diligently calm those somatic responses to stress and anxiety as possible, our minds will actually follow, calming our emotional response to the stress.
Stress isn’t just the things that are being put on you, but at times things that are unknown or uncertainty or the absence of these freedoms that bring about these manifestations of stress and anxiety.
HALT is an acronym that’s helpful to address
These four fears are your worst enemies during the global pandemic whether it is for those dealing with addiction or non-addicts.
Aim at managing these 4 things through the course of the day, and make efforts to keep at least one of them in check to help keep emotions at baseline.
4, 7, 8 is a breathing technique that works as a direct link through the Vagus nerve, also called the 10th cranial nerve, the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves.
The vagus nerve runs from the brain through the face and thorax to the abdomen, to the brain to take the person out of the anxious state in activating the amygdala.
Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts and breathe out for 8 counts.In addition to the above, I would say limit exposure to the news.
It is important to remain informed, but overexposure can create more anxiety and even panic. Both for non-addicts and the ones dealing with addiction.
Along those lines, I really emphasize listening only to doctors and public health experts (like zoonotic disease experts, epidemiologists, disaster prevention and preparedness experts, pandemic modeling experts, etc.).
Doctors and public health experts’ focus is on the health
Doctors in particular have an oath, and more importantly, laws and ethical codes that bind them to communicating accurate information to the general public.
They can be trusted to give accurate information. I suggest connecting with doctors who are family or friends and asking them what their sources of information are so that they can follow the same sources.
Check in with loved ones frequently, and perhaps even send them care packages.
Listen to them and emphasize as an outside perspective that this situation is temporary, because they will need to hear it.
Remind them of the strengths that they have leaned on to achieve their “sobriety” and healthy/functional lifestyle– the ability to take things a day at a time with the long term vision to see past the pandemic and see a positive future.
As someone who is dealing with addiction, they have to be motivated to be able to envision a better future for themselves in order to have hope to get past their addiction.
Most importantly, listen with absolute non judgment and not panic.
People dealing with addiction have a sense of survival
Surprisingly, people dealing with addiction have a sense of survival, innate strength and an ability to bounce back, and see past the horrible times.
Addicts dealing with addiction have faced insurmountable obstacles and have a lot of wisdom to offer from that perspective.
It would be helpful to learn from their inner strength, and draw from their experiences, ask for their perspectives, and in this way, you will build a stronger mutual connection.
We, in this field of mental health, are using this opportunity to continue to build strength and resiliency while enforcing the need for healthy coping mechanisms for non-addicts as well as for those dealing with addiction.
We are continuing to offer sessions through telehealth as at times, we are an escape and voice of reason for our clients based on where they are in their journey.
Set goals during the Coronavirus pandemic
We are encouraging our clients to use this time to reach their goals that they otherwise do not have time for; self-care, exercise, more family time, spring cleaning, picking up a new craft, establish a new habit etc.
We are using our social media to reframe this time of isolation as a reset to the new year resolutions.
Anxiety is just our minds trying to tell us that something is amiss and that we are losing control.
The best way to manage this anxiety is to do the things that bring control over the situation.
To gather just enough information to be able to maintain your sense of safety and to know what to look for and what to do in the meantime.
Then telling yourself what it is that you are doing or have done to control what you can. Staying home is something we are actively doing to prevent the spread, even though it doesn’t feel as active.
Washing our hands, reducing how much contact we have, keeping up with personal hygiene and physical care to strengthen our immune systems are all active and conscious choices to control the situation.
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Habiba Jessica Tran is an experienced Professional Counselor. She helps people dealing with problems related to self growth, depression, anxiety, life transitions, grief, abuse, trauma and relationship struggles. She has a Masters degree in professional counseling from Georgia State University.