Is the COVID-19 lockdown stress making you binge non-stop?

Girl works at a computer and eats fast food. Unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, cola. Junk food, concept.

Girl works at a computer and eats fast food. Unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, cola. Junk food, concept.  

If your anxiety is leading you to drink, snack, game like never before, here are signs you need to stop before it turns harmful

Each time our screens refresh, the global COVID-19 mortality numbers add up. Instinctively, we turn to whatever gives us a brief sense of detachment from our current reality. We find solace in snacks, in wine, in reality TV show marathons — whatever our preferred brand of comfort may be. But when does solace turn into dependence?

“Anything that is in excess to the required amounts, and anything whose absence leads to craving, both physiologically and psychologically, amounts to dependence,” says Dr Vasanth R, consultant psychiatrist at Fortis Malar, Chennai, who specialises in addiction treatment. A dependence can be on substances, such as alcohol and drugs; or on behavioural habits like excessive screen use and gaming.

Behavioural dependence may not result in the same physical signs as with substance dependence, notes a 2012 study, ‘Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction’, published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine. However, it goes on to say that from a neurobiological point of view, behavioural addictions indirectly affect the neurotransmitter systems of the brain.

Each time you have a drink or play a video game, for instance, substances like dopamine, also called the ‘happy hormone’ are released. The body, naturally, asks for the substance or behaviour to be repeated, in order to feel that sense of well-being.

“With the current lockdown, there are two types of people with a dependency problem: people who had a substance issue and are now going through withdrawal as they lack access to them. In this case, they need to take professional help from psychiatrists online,” says Dr Vasanth. “And then there are people who have been diagnosed with an addiction in the past and quit, who may relapse now.” So how do we catch our habits before they turn bad?

Why are you indulging?

When you feel like bingeing on something, ask yourself why you are doing it. “Differentiate between a general sense of anxiety (which is natural, given the times) and boredom,” advises Dr Vasanth. “If so, look for other distraction techniques like meditation or falling back to your hobbies of dancing, gardening, painting and so on. Get help from professionals online; they will advise you on how to bring your anxiety under control,” he says.

Man having snack and drinking beer late night in front of the refrigerator

Man having snack and drinking beer late night in front of the refrigerator  

It is difficult to tell a person who is anxious by nature or who has been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder not to be anxious. The only thing we should be monitoring is how we try and soothe this anxiety.

What is the frequency?

What amounts to dependence? “One of the big indicators is frequency,” he says. You could be a social drinker, who has been consuming alcohol on and off over the years, but now, you can monitor the change in weekly frequency since the lockdown. For instance, if you drank only over the weekend, but now find yourself drinking much more often, that’s a red flag. “For behavioural dependencies, you could start by maintaining a daily log,” he says.

Can you say no?

Another clear indicator of a dependence is a test of willpower — the fact that you need to exercise it in itself is a clear indicator that you may be on your way to a dependence. So if you find yourself in the situation, use willpower to break the habit, until it stops being one.

The inability to control the urge, or use distractions means you are starting to be dependent on this particular behaviour. It can get to a point where you start planning your whole day around it. “Unavailability of these substances can then lead you to becoming irritable, impulsive or angry over petty things,” he says.

Does it hamper your daily routine?

Often, we protect ourselves from the stress of our realities by finding other things to obsess over. “You can take a break by gaming or watching TV. The only question is, is it hampering your daily routine? Are you so invested in it, that you are not taking a bath, not cooking enough, not interacting with family members,” he says. To break the cycle, “Fix a daily routine, and divide the day into small sessions; allot that activity for that time period.”

Is the COVID-19 lockdown stress making you binge non-stop?

But can we replace one obsession with another hobby, without that turning into another addiction? “Yes, as long as it is being replaced by something productive, that will do less harm to your body and help you as an individual.”

The need to reach for something to keep ourselves calm or occupied may need to be dealt with professionally though. “But remember that the circumstances we are in are highly unusual. Nobody is used to being locked up at home for 45 days. Right now, we just need to tide over this period, and then if the problem persists, we can look into it.”

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 11:41:40 PM |

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