Is wine part of your self-care ritual?
2018 has been the year of self-care. Everywhere we hear about the importance of looking after ourselves, making space for ourselves in the midst of chaos and finding ways to recharge and boost our emotional resources.
Being able to make choices about our personal wellbeing is powerful and can make a huge difference to our quality of life.
It can give us a sense of control and mastery over our lives, which is important when our lives are busy and stressful. There is a growing awareness that our busy lives and multiple commitments (especially for the sandwich generation) have resulted in a generation of people who are stressed, anxious and in desperate need of ‘me’ time, but sadly do not have many options for this.
Alcohol use as self-care
Many use alcohol as a way to unwind and relax after a chaotic, stressful day. On one hand, it is kind of a great self-care tool. It can be physiologically relaxing, has a pleasurable taste and is often consumed when relaxing on the couch with something nice to eat.
On the other hand, it is a somewhat risky self care tool. One that is hard to cap at one or two, largely because it is almost too effective at helping us to unwind. We generally stop at one bubble bath, or one cup of tea a night – but alcohol is a self-care tool that is fairly difficult to shut off, due to its powerful effects on a stressed out brain.
Often, particularly if someone has had a stressful day, they might crave that release. However, at the same time, the release is then followed by a desire to keep the feelings going. Many people also experience this effect with sugar and junk food. The mechanism is similar, but with alcohol it is even more profound, since it is affecting multiple parts of the brain and reward system, as well as switching off the consequential thinking part of our brains.
Making the day after harder
What starts out as a gentle way to recover from a hard day, often becomes something that can make the next day even harder. Someone might find themselves finishing the bottle of wine in the quest to replenish those emotional resources. What follows is poor food choices, poor sleep and lower energy, making it less likely we will have the day we were hoping for.
Many members on Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app describe this conundrum. The very understandable aim to treat themselves to a drink after a long day (self-care), balanced with the equally important need to look after their health and energy levels. The perennial question: How can I practice self-care in the way that I want, without taking away from my quality of life? I’m trying to relax and recharge after work, but I end up waking up the next day feeling awful and even further away from my wellbeing goals.
Consider the importance of rituals
Many people will describe the pleasure of coming home and pouring a glass of wine and sitting on the couch to relax. Often there are things like sound, smell, taste and even temperature that can inform the ritual and make it something that is repeated. You probably have other rituals that you do daily that have similarly grounding and comforting effects. Whether that is taking a coffee break in the sun, or the process of getting ready to go to bed in the evenings.
Perhaps we can also be a bit critical of the idea of alcohol as a form of self-care
Some questions to ask might be: Is this really helping me to recover from the day? Is this making my life better in the long run? Is this all I need to top up my emotional resources, or are there some other things that will also help?
Rituals often ground us and provide a predictable framework for us to behave. Often this is why people might start to feel relaxed when they get home and have poured a drink, even before they have had a sip. It is not the alcohol itself that is grounding and relaxing – it is the knowledge that they are home and have the next few hours just for them. Many self-care rituals are similar – we benefit both from the activity (listening to our favourite music) as well as the action (knowing that we are doing something for ourselves).
Consider what other kinds of rituals might accompany, or replace alcohol
This might look like creating a new evening ritual of having a shower as soon as you get home, and then going for a walk. Or it might involve pouring that glass of wine, but also pouring a large glass of soda water. It might involve calling a friend or family member for a chat after you put the kids to bed, so that when you get to the couch you are in a good mood. It might involve having that glass of wine, but only after you’ve done a few other things first that have calmed you down and set you up for a good evening.
Often, when we look back on the most difficult or stressful times in our lives, we can see that the rituals that give us a sense of safety and stability have often fallen over. We do need things like this to give our life structure and allow us to feel grounded and safe.
The good news is that if we can find rituals that actually work for us, we are likely to see improvements in our quality of life and wellbeing. If you are finding that alcohol is a big part of your nightly ritual, consider what kinds of small changes you can make to allow room for other things to fill some of those gaps.
Original Article written by Hello Sunday Morning Health Coach Briony and published by Ten Daily
Glass Half Full or No Glass At All
If you find yourself having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, should you just stop altogether? Or should you try to moderate your drinking? Our Daybreak health coach helps you discover the best option for you.
Members on our supportive community app, Daybreak, often debate about whether it is possible for someone to be able to moderate their drinking, or whether this is not going to be possible for them.
Some people believe passionately in abstinence, having learned through repeated relapses and difficulties, that it is not possible for them to moderate their alcohol consumption. Others work towards moderation, finding the balance between using alcohol as a social lubricant, while not becoming too reliant on it to regulate difficult emotions.
The truth of the matter is, it is a bit of both
It may be the case that there are certain groups of people who would be much better off not drinking. This can include people with serious mental illness, a history of trauma or neglect, or ongoing chronic stress. That said, there are people with these profiles who are also able to have reasonable and positive relationships with alcohol. It is just a lot harder to achieve.
There is a relationship between an individual’s response to stress and their reaction to alcohol. This means that the reward and regulation systems of someone who is stressed, anxious, depressed or generally suffering, can become sensitised to alcohol.
Taking the edge off
A glass of wine after a busy work day might feel twice as rewarding to someone who is suffering from anxiety or grief. This could be because they are already feeling in need of comfort and relaxation, even before their stressful day. Our brains quickly learn what kinds of things are effective in taking away pain and replacing it with something more rewarding. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of those things that works as a socially acceptable anaesthetic.
This is often why we might find ourselves drinking more than we would like to during stressful times in our lives. It is also why, when things settle down a bit, we might be interested in pulling back from alcohol a little and focussing on our health and other aspects of our lives.
For people with ongoing mental health difficulties or ongoing stress, this can be a lot harder. Sometimes thing don’t settle down, and alcohol becomes something that is used as habitually as coffee as a way to regulate mood or energy levels.
So how do you know which group you fall into?
If you answer yes to the following questions, it is possible that total abstinence is a safer option for you:
– Have you always struggled to stop drinking after one or two drinks? This might indicate that you struggle with moderating the effects of alcohol, and your reward system has become sensitised to the effects.
– Have you experienced significant stressful or traumatic events in your life, after which you had problems moderating your alcohol use? This might indicate that alcohol has been incorporated into your emotional regulation, and you may benefit from a long or permanent period of abstinence.
– Have people around you commented or expressed concern about your drinking or about not having an ‘off’ button? This might mean that while you don’t necessarily notice the effects of alcohol, those who care about you might be getting concerned about the level of intoxication you are reaching.
If you feel that the above don’t apply to you, and you are more suited to moderation, here are some ideas that might be helpful for you and reduce the risks that come with drinking:
– See if you can reflect on situations in which you consumed more than you intended to, and see if you can identify some things that contributed to the problem. For example, ‘I went out when I was exhausted from work and hadn’t eaten, and drank very quickly’. Another example might be, ‘I had a fight with my partner and knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to go out drinking’. Often, looking back, we are able to see that there were things that we could have done differently.
– Monitor your alcohol usage over the week. Take note of how much you drink each session, and how many drinks that equates to over the week. Set yourself some guidelines for how many drinks you would like to consume each week, and on what days. Consider having some alcohol-free days during the week to allow your body to recover.
– Gauge your limits. If you find that it is hard to stop after two glasses of wine, make sure that you take your time in reaching that amount. This may mean pacing yourself with sparkling water in between drinks, or not opening a bottle until dinner is served. Doing this will help you to keep your blood alcohol content below a certain amount, and give your body the chance to process the alcohol properly.
– Consider who you are drinking with, and what you are drinking. Often we are influenced by those around us in terms of volume and pace of consumption, and we can sometimes find that certain people or situations will reliably end up exceeding our limits. For example, having friends over for dinner, or a celebratory night out with work colleagues. See if you can set expectations early on about how much you can drink, or limit the availability of alcohol like only keeping one bottle of wine in the house.
– Consider the situations where you feel you are relying on alcohol to change your mood, and then avoid drinking in these situations! These are what we would refer to as risky situations, in which we are using alcohol to regulate our emotions. Using alcohol in this way is risky because we can lose the ability to regulate our emotions in other ways. We can also over-use alcohol if the emotions are particularly overwhelming. For example, alcohol might help to temporarily relieve a feeling of anxiety, and so we tend to use a lot of it when we feel a lot of anxiety, but of course, this isn’t effective at all.
Re-learning a relationship with alcohol
Part of the process of learning to moderate is to ‘re-learn’ our relationship with alcohol, and move away from some of the problematic ways we are using it. We could be drinking to feel happy, as a way to escape unpleasant feelings of sadness or anxiety or as a way to numb or avoid painful things in our lives. Try to move towards using it to celebrate special occasions, and add to your experience of pleasure and enjoyment.
Many people enjoy alcohol, and the experience of sharing a bottle of wine or having a beer with friends. Often, members of Daybreak are reluctant to give up the opportunity to do this when the occasion arises, and often they don’t need to. It is just about being aware of how they are using alcohol, and how they can have it as just one part of their life, without it taking over the show.
If you’d like some more information about which is the best approach for you, head over to Hello Sunday Morning to read more about how to change your relationship with alcohol, and be part of a supportive community of people who are working towards the same goal. The Daybreak app also offers Health Coaching for people wanting some more information about how to achieve long lasting and substantial change.
Should I Choose Moderation or Abstinence?
Can I ever drink again?
One big question that comes up when people are making changes to their relationship with alcohol, is whether to stop drinking altogether or try to stick to moderation. This is a good question, and it is a good idea to consider this carefully. Some questions that can help guide your decision are:
Have I been able to drink in moderation in the past?
Is it possible for me to stop after one or two drinks?
Are there certain situations where I am likely to want to drink more?
How am I impacted by alcohol and what effect does it have on my body?
For some people, once they have looked at their relationship with alcohol, and made some changes to it, they may find that moderation is a good option. They may have made changes so that their consumption of alcohol is only in certain situations (like a glass of wine at dinner) and that there are some safeguards to prevent it from going further like asking their partner to support them in sticking to just the one drink.
For some people drinking mindfully will be effective in helping them to notice and enjoy the pleasant effects of alcohol, and understand when they have had enough.
When we are considering moderation, however, one really important thing to remember is that alcohol has a strong effect on the inhibitory parts of our brains, the parts that affect decision making and self-regulation. This is one of the reasons it can be really hard to stop after just one drink as our reward centres are buzzing with dopamine from that first drink, and at the same time, our ‘self-control’ centres are being taken offline by the effects of the alcohol. This is why we can sometimes have that war with our future and past selves, that part of us that was committed to going for a walk after the glass of wine might suddenly decide that it is a better idea to finish the whole bottle and watch a movie instead.
When we are considering moderation, remember this:
If we are trying to moderate our alcohol use, it can be really good to have some backup plans that can act as surrogate self-regulators. These could include having only a small amount of alcohol in the house, having a commitment where we need to be sober, having some replacement behaviours such as drinking sparkling water between drinks or having supportive people around us to gently remind us of our intentions. Checking into Daybreak is a good option as well since it can be an instant reminder of why we are wanting to make changes in the first place.
When might moderation not be a good option?
If you have never been able to drink in moderation, and have found that drinking generally results in losing control, then perhaps you are part of that population of people for whom alcohol just is not a good idea. We know that for some people, a combination of genetic and environmental factors result in them being really vulnerable to alcohol and their lives are a lot better when they are alcohol free. Attempting moderation can sometimes be stressful for these people, as it can be a huge challenge to stop at one drink and might lead to a person feeling discouraged and helpless.
Other times that moderation might not be a good idea might be when you are simply looking to take a break, to see what things are like without alcohol. It can be really refreshing to take a break from alcohol for a few weeks or months, even if you have no intention of stopping permanently.
The take home message from all of this is that, whether you choose moderation or alcohol free, the really important thing is to be realistic and guided by past behaviour.
Often when we first make the decision to change our relationship with alcohol, we will experiment with what works for us. Perhaps there are certain situations that we can drink in moderation, and others where we might find we drink more than we had planned most of the time. The key is to remain open and curious about these situations, and certain triggers. Considering what you would like your relationship with alcohol to be, in an ideal world, is a great place to start.