As we’re now a year into COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions, let’s reflect on how we’re managing our stress. The part of the pandemic where we were all baking bread and perfecting quarantine recipes seems like a lifetime ago, and the jokes about the past few months feeling like a fever dream have begun to get a little too real. Amidst the general feelings of anxiety, loneliness and grief we’re collectively facing, rates of substance use have increased among the general population. I am approaching this from the standpoint of a harm reduction educator, since substance use can be an emotionally charged and tricky topic to navigate.
Harm reduction refers to the choices we can make in any situation that lessen the chance of negative consequences toward ourselves and others. It is a principle that health educators apply to everyday life. Chances are, you’re already practicing it too. From wearing a mask at the grocery store and choosing Zoom parties over in-person gatherings, you’ve been reducing the harm caused by the spread of COVID-19 for the past year (thank you!).
But how have you been reducing harm caused to your own health and well-being during this pandemic? The great thing about harm reduction is that it’s applied from a values-neutral standpoint, so even if you feel that you haven’t been handling stress and negative emotions in a healthy way, I’m not here to tell you to beat yourself up about it or to radically change your behavior overnight.
If you’ve found yourself binge-drinking more frequently, could you put a sticky note up as a reminder to have a glass of water between each drink? Making sure that you’re eating well-balanced meals can reduce headaches and hangovers, and generally makes life feel much more manageable. Keeping Naloxone — a medication that can reverse opioid overdose — around your home or in your car and knowing how to use it in case of an emergency for yourself or a friend can be a good way of feeling safer and more secure (for more information on Naloxone, visit utahnaloxone.org). There are countless ways to practice harm reduction and to tailor it to what fits your individual lifestyle.
There are also many resources available at the U, and we’d like to highlight a few. The University Counseling Center offers no-cost therapy and counseling for students; the Center for Student Wellness offers bystander intervention training, Safer Party Culture presentations and workshops on healthy relationships and sexual wellness; the Union offers a multitude of services for a range of student needs.
My preferred method of reducing stress during the past couple of months has been diving into the pile of books that I’ve checked out from the Marriott Library. I’m barely scratching the surface of the vast number of resources available here at the U, but I wanted to bring them up to remind all of us that harm reduction is easier to implement and practice when we do it together.
It’s been a volatile and unexpected year, to say the least. Here’s to hoping that our community stays safe, healthy, and happy both during the duration of the pandemic and after.