At Hello Sunday Morning, we are often involved in conversations with members about their health behaviour – the ways that they look after themselves and make sure things are running smoothly. Based on the individual, this could involve things like regular exercise to balance mood and stress, a healthy diet to make sure energy levels and weight remain stable, or a regular sleep schedule to be able to maintain concentration and focus through the day.
We are often really impressed by the ways that members look after their health – with diet and exercise being a focus and priority, despite other demands on time. As adults, we have gradually developed over time an awareness of keeping our homeostasis – that nice ‘sweet spot’ in between being stressed and bored, or between hunger and satiety. We know that we operate at our best in this state – relaxed, calm and focused – and that straying too far in either direction is going to result in some issues.
This is where our friends – alcohol and coffee – come into the picture. One of the less discussed ways that we seek to maintain this homeostasis is often through the use of external stimulants or relaxants such as these. Consider a morning where you are short on sleep – a double-shot coffee can shift us from zombie-like confusion to something closer to an alert, competent member of society. Similarly, a glass of cold white wine on a Friday afternoon can shift someone from a stressed, cranky state into one that’s more relaxed and sociable. Nothing is worse than that uncomfortable feeling when you are not ‘ready’ for the task at hand – sleepy before an important meeting, or tense and annoyed before a social event. Over centuries humans have used substances like this to hurry our physical and emotional states along into where we are supposed to be.
The use of these two substances to shift our cognitive and emotional state isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it can be handy to have these tools in our arsenal for when they are useful. They become an issue when they are our only strategies for inducing alertness or relaxation. For some people, this can look like a 5-coffee-a-day habit, or for others it can be an uncomfortable feeling at the end of a workday that is only alleviated by 2–3 glasses of wine. We know that over-using these stimulants and relaxants not only affects our health, but it means they become less effective over time – our bodies develop a tolerance to them and we need to consume more and more to achieve the desired effect.
In the context of our busy lives these days, the use of stimulants and relaxants makes a lot of sense; as our lives become busier, we tend to drop the things that are not essential. So things like sleep and stress management become optional, rather than the foundations of our general functioning. The things that get us over the line, like coffee and alcohol, become important and cherished parts of the day, taking on the role of ‘helper’ or ‘saviour’. We appreciate these things because they give us a quick fix, but they aren’t necessarily replacements for things like sleep or stress management.
So what is the solution? For many Daybreak members, it can be a matter of recognising that coffee and alcohol can be useful tools to have, but if we are using either to excess it might be a sign that there are some gaps in our health behaviour. Whether this looks like going to bed earlier, or practising some stress management during the day (in the form of exercise, relaxation or social support), having other strategies to help us relax or wake up can make a huge difference.
Many people find that being aware of this ‘sweet spot’ can make a big difference to their overall wellbeing and functioning. It can be helpful to reflect on the kinds of things you need to do in order to hit this spot – whether daily exercise, time to yourself or self-care helps you to function at your best, without a lot of help from these external helpers.
If you’d like to speak with a health coach about some of these questions, and the role of alcohol in your self-regulation, head over to www.hellosundaymorning.org/daybreak to download the app. If you are already using Daybreak, click on ‘Talk to a Coach’ in the app to start a conversation with one of our health coaches.