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

How I stopped my wine o’clock habit

I’ve done Dry July the past few years with various degrees of success (last year needed a reset to Dry August). I’ve always admired those strong-willed people who have a month off the booze in sunny February or October. I can cope when we’re knee deep in winter but balk at the thought of giving up alcohol in a nice month.

It’s pretty easy to get into the habit of drinking. I had a general plan for AFDs (alcohol-free days) Monday to Thursday, but too frequently that was pulling back to Wednesday, maybe Tuesday on a bad day. The routine of walk in the door; keys down; glass out and pour is very easy to slip into and so easily sustained when it’s an almost daily ritual with your partner. It just becomes a part of your routine.

What goes hand in hand with frequency is quantity. A couple of glasses at wine o’clock  most nights adds up pretty quickly, right? Throw in a sneaky bubbly on Friday after work and a Saturday night binge sesh, and say ‘hello’ to a couple of empty bottles of Adelaide Hills pinot gris by Sunday.

I was pretty good at knowing how much I could drink and stay under the limit for driving. Sometimes I’d plan my strategy in advance – would I drink up in the first hour and then wait it out? Or would I drink over a few hours and hang in there? It’s an imprecise science at the best of times and obviously impacted by the wine goggles you’re wearing when you’re in the moment.

One of the bonuses of being a successful grown-up is the capacity to afford good quality alcohol. Drinking well adds to the air of sophistication and makes you think you’re a wine aficionado, rather than just someone who drinks too much. I was starting to invest quite a few dollars of my hard earned cash in alcohol and would reason that I work hard, so I deserve to let my hair down every now and again.

The interesting thing about drinking is how enjoyable it is in the moment and how shit it is the next morning. I was starting to find that my capacity to drink was pretty good so I could hold my grog with the best of them. With increasing regularity, though, I’d lose my capacity to bounce back and I’d suffer the next day blues with a fuzzy head and blocked nose. I reasoned it might be those nasty preservatives in the wine so I took up organic varieties for a while. Surprise, surprise, this didn’t seem to help.

Women in their 40s and 50s are among the biggest binge drinkers around and are fast catching up to men in terms of problem drinking. Teenagers are taking the rap for the mild-mannered mums who are putting away eight or more glasses per week. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey was released on 1 June this year and showed that for the first time ever, women in their fifties do more high-risk drinking than 18-24 year-olds.

What’s that all about? Are we managing our stressful lives with alcohol? Is it the modern day version of a Bex and a lie-down? What I know is that I needed to interrupt the very comfy pattern I was in.

I’ve never been too good at moderation. I’m the type that will open a bag of lollies or chips and eat the whole lot. The call of an open packet of anything in the cupboard has always been too tempting for me. But for all my shocking lack of moderation, I’m really good at going cold turkey. There’s something I enjoy about the denial, something about the challenge of giving things up that spurs me on.

So here I am over five months later with nary a drop of alcohol past my lips. When I started in January I didn’t really have an end date. Having come this far I’m thinking I will definitely go six months and then see what I think. My biggest fear is that I’ll have one drink and slip straight back into old habits. Just having the fear tells me I might need to go on a bit longer.

There’s been a positive impact on my partner, too, as we no longer egg each other on and enable each other’s drinking. I’ve done Dry July on my own in the past and have found it hard when my partner didn’t do it. Doing it together has helped both of us break bad habits and he’s so proud of how strong I have been.

I hadn’t noticed before how much time I spent thinking and reading about alcohol until my inbox started overflowing with unopened emails from various merchants and wineries. I subscribed to wine clubs and had a steady supply arriving straight to my door without me even having to think about it. My last call from my Vinomofo guy ended with a polite decline and an interesting chat about that time he gave up alcohol for 364 days. He’s calling me back later in the year to see how I’m going.

You don’t realise how much our social occasions involve alcohol until you’re not drinking. I’ve been through family birthdays (including mine), knock off drinks, work events, parties, long haul flights, overseas holidays, free alcohol in the Qantas club (yes, I even withstood free alcohol!). I’ve sat there with my sparkling water or my cup of tea and felt okay about it. I do have an honest suspicion, though, that I’m a lot more interesting when I’ve had a few.

It might not be surprising to know that when everyone is drinking and you’re stone cold sober, it is quickly revealed how uninteresting drunk people are. I’ve been making lots of observations of my unsuspecting drinking subjects in the wild. I reckon three drinks is the turning point. The point where the drinker’s face starts to contort a bit, the words slur a bit, the speech volume goes up a bit and the assertiveness goes up a notch towards aggression. It’s an ugly transformation to witness. Yet somehow in this scenario, everyone tells me I’m the boring one. If only they could see themselves. If only we could see ourselves we would know we are just the same.

I know that the cold turkey approach is not for everyone. If you want some help to reset your relationship with alcohol, head over to hellosundaymorning.org to access to their online supports and community.

Article by Hello Sunday Morning supporter Kathryn Jordan. Kathryn blogs at How to be Fifty