With lockdown behind us in Victoria, people are celebrating in many different ways. How can we let off post-lockdown steam without ‘getting on the beers’?
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It seems like a long time coming, but many Victorians got a significant boost of morale this week with the easing of lockdown restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne.
Families and friends can now re-connect in their homes, cafes and restaurants are allowed dine-in customers and retailers are also opening their doors again (albeit there are still COVID safe measures in place for all these settings).
For many, this is a time to be social, to catch up with friends we haven’t seen recently and do things that were easily done pre-COVID. How can we release any built-up emotion carried over lockdown without harming our health?
What are the healthy ways to enjoy life as lockdown ends?
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio spoke to Raf Epstein on ABC Radio Melbourne earlier this week about how we can stay healthy while enjoying post-lockdown life. Click here to watch
Is it time to ‘get on the beers’?
The short answer, Sandro says, is no.
“It’s really important to find ways to reduce stress and unwind. There are some really healthy ways to do that, alcohol is not one of them,” he said.
“Alcohol is a bit of a ‘cheats’ way [of relaxing], because of the effects it has on your brain. It crosses the blood-brain barrier, meaning it’s one of the toxins we consume which can flow freely from our blood to our brain. Any alcohol you drink will be bathing your brain, slowing down brain signals which makes you feel relaxed.”
Sandro adds that the reasons for drinking alcohol products can vary from person to person, which affects their level of consumption.
“The issue is why we use alcohol. If you drink alcohol because you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, that’s very different to coming home from work and saying, ‘oh I’m so stressed, I need to circuit break with a substance that alters my brain’,” Sandro explained.
“If you’re drinking because that’s the only way you can unwind, in the interest of your long-term health you should be looking for other ways to circuit break that stress.”
Although the Australian Alcohol Guidelines state that a limit of 10 standard drinks per week reduces your risk of alcohol-related harm, Sandro says that no level of consumption is completely safe.
“Unfortunately, there is no ‘safe’ level of drinking and it’s best to have most days free from alcohol. If you do want to have a drink, keep it to a minimum.”
VicHealth and Hello Sunday Morning have released a joint campaign to help Victorian men reduce risky drinking behaviour. The campaign will encourage men to download the Daybreak app where they can access anonymous support to reduce their use of alcoholic products.
So, what are the healthy alternatives to drinking alcohol?
People take enjoyment from different activities and hobbies, so it’s important to find something that you enjoy doing. Sandro recommends trying to make a habit or ritual out of that activity every day.
“Particularly at the moment when our lives are so chaotic and so unusual, so different from what they would usually be, it’s important to have that sense of ritual somewhere in your day,” he said.
Some of the routines or ritual activities from ABC Radio Melbourne listeners included drinking tea, knitting, exercising and meditation.
Sandro recommends going for a walk or run, activities such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness which will benefit your health.
“There are some great apps out there for meditation and mindfulness, whether it’s taking a walk, going for a run, all of these things have a great evidence base that they improve your health,” he said.
“Now is a really good time [to start exercising] because habits can be really hard to break, and in our pre-COVID lives we had developed all these habits. Some we liked, some we probably don’t even remember why we do them and together they make our routine across a day.”
“So now is a good time, particularly as we come out of lockdown, to set up our new routine. Don't try and commit for long periods of time – start with a few days and if you enjoy it, you will then start to build it into your new routine.”
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio’s tips for letting off steam and stress coming out of lockdown
Don’t go hard on alcohol products. Although lots of hospitality venues are open again and the opportunities to catch up with friends in situations where alcohol products are available has increased, it’s important to limit your drinking. There is no totally safe or healthy level of alcohol consumption.
Take time to think about setting up new habits. As we emerge from lockdown, our daily routines are almost a blank canvas. You might choose to make time for new things or prioritise different things compared to your pre-COVID life. Think about what can be beneficial for you long term.
Try new things which could become part of your daily routine. Maybe you want to start exercising more, or you’re interested in trying yoga or meditation. Whatever it may be, try activities in small doses to see if you get mental or physical benefits from them. If you do, think about how you might be able to make that part of a daily routine going forward.
Remember to switch off if need be. “I would certainly recommend that across this time, depending on what watching the news or coronavirus press conferences does to your blood pressure. It is important to switch off your screens and social media at a certain point during the day and be in the present,” Sandro said.