Opinions

Ostrum: The importance of managing stress without alcohol

Posted 5/2/22

We all have stress in our lives. Whether it’s a demanding job, juggling responsibilities at home or simply dealing with the challenges that life inevitably brings.

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Opinions

Ostrum: The importance of managing stress without alcohol

Posted

We all have stress in our lives. Whether it’s a demanding job, juggling responsibilities at home or simply dealing with the challenges that life inevitably brings.

In recent years, living through the unprecedented uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other global external factors, compounded this stress. According to a recent American Psychological Association poll, the pandemic, war in Ukraine, inflation and money issues pushed U.S. stress to alarming levels.

Unfortunately, in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, the American Psychological Association found that COVID-19-related stress was also associated with unhealthy behaviors, including increased drinking. The American Psychological Association found nearly one in four, or 23%, of adults reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress. This statistic is particularly worrying, as recent research shows the number and rate of alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25% between 2019 and 2020, during the first year of the pandemic.

Finally, stress and alcohol issues are related and often compounding issues as people suffering from anxiety and depression are more likely to report an increase in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic than those without mental health issues, according to a study by researchers at New York University School of Global Public Health published in the journal Preventive Medicine. This study also shows that older adults with anxiety and depression were more likely to develop alcohol dependence.

I always try to teach my patients healthy coping skills to manage stress without alcohol. Some of these include:

Physical Activity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. In addition to strengthening your bones and muscles, helping with weight management and reducing your risk of chronic diseases, it can reduce your risk of depression and anxiety.

Some options you may consider include taking a walk around your neighborhood, gardening and yard work, dancing to your favorite music and engaging in at-home workouts

Stay Connected

According to the CDC, conversation can be a powerful coping tool — talking to friends and family, or people you trust, about your feelings and worries can relieve stress and promote resilience.

Engage in mindfulness techniques

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, exploring a relaxing activity that incorporates meditation, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises can improve your mental health.

Coincidentally both Stress Awareness Month and Alcohol Awareness Month occur in April, and both initiatives are great reminders to be aware of how stress and subsequently turning to alcohol to relieve that stress can be harmful to your health. Next time you are feeling stressed, it may be a good time to try one of these healthy coping skills.

Optum disclaimer: Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Tara Ostrom is Optum medical director,

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