Seedlip offers a drink that is just as attractive as a nice, stylish bottle of gin. For those who want an alternative to alcohol and who still want to sip on something high quality, this is the drink for you. The beautiful graphics decorating the bottle make Seedlip feel like the real deal. They started in London and are now well-stocked in bars and restaurants globally offering three different blends: Spice 94, Garden 108 & Grove 42.
The Australian representative came to the Hello Sunday Morning HQ one day to explain their whole ethos and we all tried a few non-alcoholic cocktails at work. Happy to say we loved them and still had a productive afternoon!
Cost: The bottles retail for $50AUD
Recipe idea: Seedlip Garden is made with peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme. Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Seedlip Garden 108 and 4 ounces of a high-quality tonic like Fever Tree. Give a quick stir, then garnish with a few lime wheels.
Created for people to enjoy delicious drinks and not wake up with a hangover, the Australian team behind Altina Drinks are passionate about reducing the stigma about alcoholic drinks being the only choice when socialising.
“People should be able to drink on their terms, without being judged.”
The idea for Altina was born when one of the creators, Christina DeLay, started realising her drinking habits were starting to impact her health. “It just became such a big part of life and I found that I really wasn’t mindful of it at all.”
The Altina range is made from Australian native plant ingredients including bark, spices, flowers and herbs. Altina has started a crowdfunding campaign to build up their sustainable social enterprise.
These guys are based out of Melbourne, producing a non-alcoholic gin to provide a tasty alternative for those who choose to go sans booze. Created from locally grown ingredients, there’s a couple of blends to choose from.
Hearts is closer to your classic gin notes: a spicy mix of juniper, wattleseed, cloves, star anise, ginger, sage and pink grapefruit.
Spades has more of a citrus kick, forgoing juniper all together in favour of lime, grapefruit, cardamom, parsley and lemon myrtle.
Cost: $50 for a 700ml bottle
Best recipe: Hearts at the Beach 70ml Brunswick Aces Hearts Blend 70ml CAPI Yuzu 35ml Coconut Water Served in a martini glass with a desiccated coconut “sugar” rim and a charred coconut ribbon
For the beer lovers who don’t want to pass up a ‘cold one’ with mates on a hot Friday afternoon.
“It’s crafted with the same quality ingredients as our other beers.”
Carlton Zero is slightly hoppy with a fruity aroma and is a full-flavoured classic beer.
Demand for non-alcoholic beer continues to grow in Australia and internationally as people are becoming more health conscious. Low and mid-strength beers now represent 20% of CUB sales as consumers increasingly moderate their alcohol intake. Changing your relationship with alcohol just got easier as there are more and more social drinking options available for those who choose to be sober!
It is hard to pass up a rich red wine on a chilly night in, or while enjoying a delicious meal with company. You don’t have to rule out wine just because you may be thinking of cutting back or quitting drinking.
This wine is made in a sustainable winery in Paso Robles, California. After fermenting in stainless steel it’s aged in oak barrels, and just before bottling, the alcohol is “gently removed by cold filtration.” Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of black currants, cherry, blueberries and chocolate, with soft tannins and a dry finish.
Recommendation: Best served with Italian food and rich tomato sauces.
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.
It is common for our Daybreak members to report feeling fatigued and low in energy.
Here is the double edge sword: sometimes feeling lethargic is the thing that triggers an urge to drink (for an energy boost at the end of the day). However, often people feel fatigued because of their drinking.
Drinking in the evening may help us fall asleep, but it will affect the quality and duration of our sleep.
For many people, sleep and energy is a major concern. While we are improving in health-related behaviours in general like eating and exercising, our commitment to getting enough sleep has not quite caught up.
Alcohol can allow you to hit that pillow pretty fast, but this intoxicated sleep differs to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Studies have found that the depressive nature of alcohol disrupts the body’s natural ability to enter REM sleep.
Not getting enough sleep means we won’t be able to function at our highest rate. We may be moodier and more lethargic. It also can lead to more serious problems later in life like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Here are some (alarming) stats about sleep and health:
■ Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the nightly eight hours of sleep recommended by the World Health Organisation. ■ Centre for Human Sleep Science in California found that an adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60’s without medical intervention. ■ A 2013 study from the University of Southern Denmark reported that men who slept too little had a sperm count 29% lower than those who regularly get a full and restful night’s sleep.
So what can you do if you are just not getting enough sleep?
Ideas to improve the quality of your sleep, as well as your energy levels the next day:
Regularity– going to bed at the same time each evening is helpful in allowing ourselves to start to wind down automatically.
Light – limiting screen time or dimming the lights on our phones and computers can be helpful. As well as switching off the lights in our house several hours before bed. This helps our melatonin to rise before we go to sleep, making it easier for us to become drowsy and fall asleep faster, as well as sleep more deeply.
Temperature – it is easier to sleep in a cool room, and our brain needs to drop its temperature to sleep. The reason we often feel drowsy after a hot bath is that during the bath we experience vasodilation (blood rushing to the surface). When we leave the bath our core temperature plummets, making it easier for us to sleep. Sleeping in less clothes can also help with keeping the temperature low. Additionally, it is generally rising temperature that awakens us in the morning, rather than light. Keeping your room cool may help you to sleep longer in the morning.
Bi-Phasic Rest – everyone, regardless of their diet, experiences some degree of a postprandial dip in alertness after lunch. This usually happens between the hours of 2-4 (those with a more carbohydrate rich diet might experience more of a dip). Many people find that (if possible) a siesta can help with this, or else lunchtime exercise can help to activate and increase energy levels.
Familiarity – When we are in unfamiliar settings (such as hotel rooms or travelling), part of our brain is still active and we tend not to sleep as well as we normally do. Finding ways to make our environment more familiar when travelling can be helpful. Like sleeping by the window as you do at home, or engaging in grounding rituals (eg. hot shower before bed and reading) can help to mitigate some of the disruption to this familiarity.
It’s a routine thousands of people get stuck in: come home from a stressful day at work or with the kids, kick the shoes off, undo the belt and poor a glass of wine or crack open a beer. Sure, this is a nice way to relax and mark the end of a day, however, when that one drink turns into a bottle, things can start to get out of control.
If this is you, don’t worry – you are not alone. Statistics from our Daybreak mobile program show that nearly half of our members drink after work.
Most of our members (90%) have tried cutting back, however, few experienced any long-term success in changing their relationship with alcohol. These numbers show us that it is HARD to break the routine once we have developed a dependence on alcohol to unwind at the end of the day.
So how do I stop drinking when I get home?
1. Identify the need There are a few techniques we recommend to our members who are trying and break this habit. The first one is understanding what the need for the alcohol is at the time. In this case, the drink would fill the need of wanting to switch off from ‘work/mum mode’ and relax into the evening. When we recognise and understand why we are drinking, it can help us realise that there are alternative, healthier ways to relax.
2. Swapping out the alcohol For some, a drink after work is a way to mark the end of the day. So this could still be done with swapping an alcoholic drink to a non-alcoholic drink. We have had feedback from members in our community who recommend having a selection of tasty alcohol-free drinks at home ready to go. Daybreak Members have also shared with us a great tip – pour your alcohol-free drink into a nice glass, so that way you feel like it is more special!
Alcohol-free drink ideas: Soda water with lime Apple Cider Vinegar and tonic Seedlip and tonic Homemade ginger beer Kombucha
3. Finding an alternative activity If you know you get home at 5:30/6pm and pour yourself a drink, you could try something different at that exact time instead. A good idea could be to go for a walk, as moving your body after sitting at a desk all day can help you feel physically and mentally better and more clear minded. If you find you don’t have the energy for any physical activities, you could run yourself a bath or find a quiet place at home and listen to a guided meditation for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you’re a creative person, you could start a creative project to work on after work like sewing or making something crafty. Our members have found it can be helpful to try a few of these different activities to see what works best.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for support There are a lot of people in the same boat as you! Online communities like Daybreak are a great way to have support at your fingertips. You could also follow blogs you like, and read up on Hello Sunday Morning’s blogs and social media posts, as they are created to inspire you with some great ideas to help you change your relationship with alcohol.
5. Be compassionate with yourself It is not going to be an easy routine to break, so be kind to yourself, and give yourself credit for trying! It might help to set small goals like, “I am only going to have a drink after work three nights a week, and the other nights I’ll go to a fitness class or read my book on the couch.”
If you become overwhelmed by strong urges when you get home from a hard day and all you want to do is pick up that wine glass, it may help to try this exercise one of our Daybreak health coaches shares with people who need support:
Think of the ocean, the urge is a huge wave, you know it’s big and it’s strong but it will subside if you hang in there. The waves/urges will become smaller and you will become stronger, and in time the waves become even smaller and further apart and far more manageable to deal with.
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people who are taking part in initiatives like Dry July, Ocsober, FebFast and others. You might say that an increased focus on public health by high profile organisations and sponsored by high profile public figures, is a universally positive thing.
This is because we are rethinking our patterns of consumption. These initiatives also give us the opportunity to break patterns of behaviour that we know to be harmful and occasionally destructive. In addition to this, we are given the opportunity to raise money at the same time – to support just those causes.
Opening up a conversation
Approaches like this are a world away from twenty years ago, when the thought of going for a month without alcohol was derided and mocked. The normalisation and visibility of these campaigns has opened up the conversation about why someone might choose to take a break from alcohol and made it possible for people to openly say that they are choosing to abstain.
There is only one potential issue with approaches like this. From a behavioural perspective, addressing an issue like alcohol consumption by going ‘cold turkey’ might not actually result in lasting changes. When we are considering our relationship with alcohol, we are acknowledging that it is a part of our lives, day-to-day. Stopping for a month may be a good way to get into shape and have a break, but we are not necessarily working on the way that we use alcohol itself.
For some people who do Dry July, their experience of having a month off alcohol will be so positive and profound that they may never drink again. For the majority of people, however, they will return to drinking and likely slip back into old habits and patterns of alcohol use. As a psychologist, I often have clients describing a positive experience doing Dry July. Things like improved mood, weight loss, more energy and money saved, are then undermined by what happens when alcohol is reintroduced.
From a behavioural perspective, it is nearly impossible to change the relationship with something when it is out of your life. You actually need to be coming into contact with it in order to understand how to best manage it!
Many of my clients express frustration about how well they did in Dry July and then the issues they have had with starting to drink again and feeling that nothing has really changed. The big challenge is finding a way to still have alcohol in their lives, while not necessarily using it every day, and in large quantities.
Consider you were going into relationship counselling with your partner. Yes, you would likely benefit from individual sessions. From these sessions you might get some insight into relational patterns and how you are being affected by the relationship problems. However, the real work would be done in the sessions with your partner. This is when your triggers are activated, when you have to struggle and experience in real life some of the issues that have led you to make changes.
It is the same with alcohol. Changing our relationship with alcohol is, essentially, a learning experience. We must re-learn how to use alcohol and how to manage its effect on us. Taking a break and then hoping we have ‘reset’ may not be enough. It is beneficial but is not really a longer term option, particularly if we intend on reintroducing alcohol into our lives again at some point.
So, if you are nearing the end of Dry July, what kinds of things might be helpful to keep up the momentum and observe some lasting changes? Here are some ideas:
– Consider what you might like your relationship with alcohol to look like. What kinds of things did you enjoy about Dry July? Was it the increased energy, better health or financial savings? How might you need to moderate your intake of alcohol to still see these benefits?
– If you are wanting to re-introduce alcohol into your week, consider what kinds of goals you might have. Whether it is four alcohol free days a week, or setting a limit on the amount you drink each day, think about what might be realistic for you.
– Reflect on how much you are currently drinking in a week (eg. 3 standard drinks each day, equalling 21 standard drinks per week), and see if you can set a new goal for yourself. Most of the risks that are associated with alcohol come from drinking daily and in high quantities, so reducing one of those variables is likely to be beneficial.
– Consider what is happening behind the scenes of your alcohol use. Is it being used to manage stress, deal with negative emotions, or temporarily lift your mood? Developing other strategies that can meet these needs may mean that alcohol feels less necessary. For example, having a shower and getting into comfortable clothes at the end of the day might be helpful in ‘closing a chapter’ on the day.
– Be curious about patterns and themes with your alcohol use. Perhaps there are some friends that you are likely to drink to excess around, or certain situations (after work, when alone, when nervous) that alcohol is being over-used. Similarly, perhaps there are some situations where you don’t feel like drinking at all, or at the very least do not struggle with the urge to have another drink.
– Set expectations with those around you. if you are wanting to make some longer-term changes with your alcohol usage, let those who are close to you know what your goals are, and what you might like from them. Even asking a partner not to buy wine on the way home, or organising coffee with friends rather than drinks, can be a useful way to set up situations that will support you to change. This way you’re not in a situation where drinking is expected.
So if you are nearing the end of Dry July – well done! It is a great first step in making a big change in your relationship with alcohol. At this stage you will likely be conscious of a lot of things that might trigger an urge to drink, as well as the strategies that are effective in doing things other than having a drink. Now is a great time to consider what you might like the rest of your year to look like and how you might be able to create lasting change.
Mummy needs a break; supporting mums on Mothers Day
Looking at social media and the news in the past few months, you might have noticed more and more people talking about the challenges of motherhood; the physical, emotional and financial toll it can take on a person, and how the end result may be feelings of stress, anxiety and exhaustion. Many mums may end up feeling guilty about these challenges, feeling that they should be more like other mums and this in itself feeds into more negative feelings.
The good news is that this conversation is now being had openly, and we have an awareness that this is a really big issue. As wonderful as the experience of becoming a mother might be, in reality there are also challenges and the need for support.
Many movies and jokes on social media will involve mums drinking copious amounts of wine to cope, and bonding with each other over boozy evenings out where they get to shake off their responsibilities. It is a hard (perhaps the hardest) job and there does need to be a release!
At Hello Sunday Morning, we are well aware of this as a lot of our Daybreak members are mums who have had this exact situation. They all have busy lives, busy schedules, full time caregiver roles and not a huge amount of support or time to look after their own needs. Having a wine at the end of the day represents the closing of a chapter on the day, some ‘me’ time and the opportunity to switch off and recharge those emotional resources.
The only problem is that, after a while, alcohol tends to take more than it gives. One glass becomes two or a whole bottle, and those emotional resources don’t get topped up, but rather becomeso much as drained even more from hangovers and disrupted boozy sleep.
That need for some ‘me’ time and unwinding becomes something that steals some of your energy for the next day, that actings like a big foggy blanket over a daily routine.
On top of this, alcohol actually affects our sleep as well so even if we go to sleep more easily after having a couple of drinks, our sleep quality is much worse when we’ve been drinking, and we don’t get as much REM sleep, which is the really good quality, deep sleep.
Better ways to unwind
Many Daybreak mums come to the conclusion that alcohol is perhaps not the best way to unwind (at least, not every day) and that there are other ways of topping up those emotional resources.
Here are two lists – one for mums, and one for those who are supporting mums. We generally know that when we have ways to replenish our emotional resources, we are more likely to feel better at the end of the day, and less likely to feel exhausted, drained, frustrated or just sad.
Tips for Mums:
If you are finding that you are drinking more than you would like, visit our Daybreak app to chat with some other members about what has helped them. Often other mums will be experiencing similar pressures and rituals, and will be able to offer support and advice. Sometimes even just checking in with the community during the time you are most vulnerable, is enough to change that behaviour.
Tips for family and friends of mums
If you are a partner or a friend of a mum who is struggling with stress or pressures, here are some things that you can do to help:
– Offer to help out for a day so that she can have a break to go and top up those emotional resources – whether this is to go out to see friends, take some time to herself or head to the gym. Offering to do this might be invaluable for the mother.
– Give feedback. If you know a mum who is doing a great job, let them know! They might be feeling like they’re not doing well at all. Giving support doesn’t have to be all practical, sometimes it can be a text message or a passing comment about what they are doing right and it can be much appreciated.
– For partners of caregivers, perhaps encourage her to make time for herself, whether that is by organising someone to mind the kids, arranging to work from home or take a leave day. For primary caregivers, down time and time to themselves can be of huge importance, but might not actually happen. As someone who is not at home during the day, perhaps you are able to recognise the need for ‘me’ time more than them and make some suggestions on how to make that happen.
– Remember emotional resources are hugely important when you are a mum – they are what we need for empathy, energy and planning. When we are feeling tired or drained, our emotional resources are also low and so we may struggle to keep on top of things. Finding ways to support yourself and asking others for support, can be a really good step. In addition to this we know that wine often goes hand in hand with unwinding or socialising, but when we are using it to top up our emotional resources, it can quickly become a drain rather than a booster.
If you’re finding yourself stuck in this pattern, have a look at what others have to say on Daybreak, other members can be a great source of advice and support, and you can also access health coaching for some additional advice on how to manage stress and drinking.
‘Rachierach’, a member of Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak program, shares her story about how she struggled for years to change her relationship with alcohol, until a big wake up call.
I started binge drinking at 14 years old. I was sneaking out and drinking every night, spending my nights at the skate park or a friend’s house.
My drinking didn’t continue steadily from there. I really only drank heavily for a year and then would only drink on social occasions and weekends, but always drank A LOT when I did drink. Back then I thought drinking competitions were so much fun; silly, looking back!
My first son was born when I had not long turned 18, and my second son was born 22 months later. I didn’t drink through pregnancy except for a couple of occasions; even then, it was only a couple of glasses. Life was pretty cruisy. I lost contact with my entire family when my first son was born. It was a drama-free life for myself and my young family when we moved from country Victoria to Queensland.
When I look back, I was drinking every night from when my second-born was a baby. The boys’ dad worked nights and I was home alone often. But I didn’t look at myself then as having an alcohol dependence.
I was dealing with many emotions from my childhood, like the lack of contact and interest from my own family. It wasn’t until 2006 when my marriage went down the tube that I really amped up the drinking. My boys were nine and 11 and I felt like I had failed them. I never wanted them to go through the things I had to. My Dad left when I was six and I didn’t see him again until I was 16. We don’t talk now; the relationship was never a good one.
So in the year of 2006, thanks to the stresses of a pending divorce and the feeling of failing my boys, I had a full-blown mental breakdown. It lasted 12 months. I was drinking more than a bottle of vodka a day and was also on anti-depressants as well as anti-anxiety and sleeping pills. I was suicidal and an outright mess.
There were so many events that year I have zero memory of. I was blackout drunk every single day. I was lucky to have an extremely understanding boss that allowed me a lot of time off. So from there, with a new partner that enjoyed drinking, I just kept on going, not blacking out every night but drinking every night.
It was about five years ago that I knew I had a problem. I was desperate to get home from work each day so I could drink, and often stopped at the pub on my way. Sometimes, I even stopped in for the odd beer during my lunch break just to take the edge off. I tried giving up but found it all too hard. With my now-husband working nights, my drinking increased again, to a point where I would black out regularly.
My life turned around
In October of 2015, I had some routine blood tests done because I was lacking energy. My liver results were not good, but I chose to ignore it for more than a year. I kept telling myself that I was only 39, I was too young to have liver issues. And there was no way I was giving up before my 40th party; the one I had waited my whole life for.
As it happens, it was at that very party in November 2016 that I knew the time had come for me to quit. I had repeated my liver test from the year before and my results were actually 10 times worse than just 12 months earlier. Eventually, I was barely getting through each waking day without needing to take a rest to stop fainting, which I soon learned was my liver saying ‘no more’.
I started my journey on my own, without telling a soul except for my husband. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. My initial goal was to have a dry spell and then drink moderately on social occasions. I went 47 days and then had the odd glass here and there on five occasions. Australia Day was fast approaching and I was dreading going through that without drinking but knew that it had to be all or nothing for me.
That’s when I joined Daybreak, when I was most desperate for some support. My husband was far from supportive; he wasn’t ready to lose his drinking buddy.
Joining Daybreak was my saving grace. I will be forever grateful for the wonderful community that has supported me through some really tough times and cheered me on through some victories. It has been more than nine months and I am still on Daybreak almost every single day because I get great joy in encouraging others to live a better life. Some of the friends I have made through Daybreak are friends I will have for life. They get it like no-one else can.
I can truthfully say that there are ups and downs on this road and the first few months were an unbelievable roller coaster of emotions including shame, guilt, sadness; you name it.
But all those things don’t last forever. Once you get past them and accept that the past is the past, and that’s not the person you are anymore, there is an overwhelming feeling of freedom.
So even though I have a really tough personal event to get through coming up, I’m feeling confident that this day will be a whole lot different to what it has been my entire life. I have confidence in myself that I have never had before and life feels good. Damn good!
As a health coach for Hello Sunday Morning’s app, Daybreak, I have noticed that anxiety is a really common issue for our members. For some people, it is a chicken or egg scenario – is my drinking a way that I am managing my anxiety, or is my anxiety partly a result of my drinking and all the things that come with it? And, where does stress fit into all of this? Is it the same, or separate to anxiety?
One thing I have noticed is that stress in our lives greatly increases our vulnerability to high-risk drinking, as well as being overwhelmed with strong emotions.
I wondered why that was, and what kind of relationship there was between these three factors. My sense was that if I, as a health coach, had these questions, our members might as well – so I have put together some pointers that my coaching clients have found helpful in exploring the relationship between anxiety, drinking, and stress.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a tricky thing to define but is generally our brain’s way of responding to some kind of threat – whether that is a threat to our safety, our reputation, our relationships or our sense of self. It can be affected by our genetics, our environment, and our personality. Stress is often a precursor to anxiety – stressful situations put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode that helps us to protect ourselves from various types of threat.
Can you be predisposed to anxiety?
There is a lot of evidence that links stressful life events (SLEs) in our early life with issues later in life, including anxiety, depression and, sometimes, substance use.
SLEs don’t have to be life or death situations – they can be things like witnessing parental divorce, economic adversity or mental illness. The evidence indicates that experiencing two or more SLEs in early life significantly increased a person’s chances of developing an issue with their mood, such as anxiety or depression.
Of course, if you are a child who is vulnerable to stress, you are probably going to be affected more by something like a divorce or economic hardship– which is where individual factors come in. An anxious or sensitive temperament and stress early on in life can create a ‘perfect storm’ for some issues later on down the track.
Not everyone who feels anxious as an adult has been exposed to SLEs, but there is a really strong relationship between SLEs and anxiety or depression. It is good to remember that the active component here is the ‘stress’ – when kids are exposed to ongoing stress in their lives, it impacts how their brains develop and respond to threats in their environment. But more on that later on.
A good thing to remember is that SLEs in adulthood can also create issues with our moods – if we have a number of stressful events with little opportunity for respite, we can find that it is much harder to keep positive.
Perhaps we start to feel really anxious after a bad breakup that just keeps going on, or very down and helpless after some chronic stress at work. Our brains don’t deal with ongoing stress well, particularly the kind of stress that we feel we can’t do much about.
Remember – stress often comes first, and if it keeps going, that is when problems can develop. Often when we look back to difficult times in our lives, we can see that a number of different stressors led up to it.
What is the science behind this? It sounds too ‘tell me about your childhood’!
Emotions and stress levels
There is a lot of research into SLEs, as well as the actual mechanism that creates this relationship between our exposure to stress, our moods, and our relationships with alcohol. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of heavy duty neuroscience, but essentially:
We know that SLEs can change how our brains develop and even which genes are expressed; in particular, in the dopamine reward pathway which is a major player in high-risk drinking.
Research has found major disruptions in our dopamine signalling (for motivated behaviour and reward seeking) associated with SLEs. The part of our brain that controls this system also affects our stress and anxiety levels.
Throughout our lifetime, stress causes us to produce cortisol which helps us to survive and stay alert. However, when these stress responses are activated over and over again, a person can become vulnerable to later problems with anxiety and depression.
One way to think about it is like a button that gets pressed over and over again. At first, it works well, but over time it wears out. Sometimes it will get stuck in the ‘on’ position, and other times it won’t work at all and we’ll need to keep pressing it until it does.
People who have some problems with regulating their emotions as adults will often have had lots of stressful experiences as children, which have caused them to become ‘dysregulated’. The button in their brain that controls anxiety, mood, and even motivation, has been pressed too much and is now worn out. They might need to drink lots of coffee to get going, or they might need to drink a lot of alcohol to calm themselves down.
If there have been many disruptive, challenging or stressful events in your childhood, this may have contributed to you experiencing some issues with anxiety as an adult. If you were an anxious child who experienced a lot of things as stressful, that may also be impacting you now. If you’ve just come through a number of stressors and are finding that your emotions are all over the place, this may also be something to consider.
How does this button fit in with my drinking?
It becomes even trickier as the way that alcohol works is by taking advantage of this ‘worn out’ stress button. People who fit this description may be more susceptible to the ‘pleasure’ pathway that occurs with alcohol.
Exposure to ongoing stress means that our brains produce less dopamine over time, and so we can feel flat and empty – which can cause us to seek out the ‘high’ of alcohol or drugs. Having a sip of alcohol sends excitatory projections to our nucleus accumbens, part of our reward pathway. A complex set of interactions occur which result in that ‘good’ feeling we can get from drinking, and in people who are vulnerable, it can be a really intense and rewarding experience.
In particular, if you are an anxious person who is under stress, you may be existing in a state of mild discomfort. It is not a comfortable feeling to be on edge or tense, and alcohol is something that significantly shifts that, really quickly. We become conditioned to believe that this is perhaps the only way to take away the discomfort, or relive the stress we are feeling – and so drinking becomes more and more of a coping strategy, particularly when we are having a difficult time in our lives and are stressed, burnt out or unhappy.
Perhaps at the beginning it is about having pleasure and getting enjoyment, and later on it may become about taking away unpleasant emotions and discomfort from not having the alcohol – which is a good indicator that a problem is starting to develop, and some support is needed.
But where does this leave me?
This may sound really bleak, but don’t worry! The good news is that being aware of this relationship is a big part of the solution. Daybreak members who have identified this link between stress, anxiety, and drinking, have found some of the following strategies really helpful:
• Talk to a counsellor or coach about what kinds of things are generally stressful for you like relationship problems, criticism, failure or rejection. Understanding your triggers means that they are no longer triggers, but rather situations which can be handled with care and understanding.
• Finding other ways to ‘self-soothe’. Things like relaxation and exercise are effective ways of lowering physiological arousal and increasing your production of dopamine. Importantly, they also give us a sense of control over our mood state, which is really important for our wellbeing.
• Find ways to reduce stress in your life. If your stress button has been ‘worn out’ by life events, it may be necessary to find ways to deal with stress differently, whether that involves a change in your self-care, seeking support from friends and family to help lighten the load, or problem solving ways to address sources of ongoing stress.
• Make a list of trigger situations and a plan to deal with each of these. For example, if you know that you are likely to feel depleted and exhausted after work, make a plan to go for a walk with a friend, or schedule some other self-soothing activity that will be effective in lowering your arousal.
During these times that we are under stress in our adult lives, we need to be even more careful with things like alcohol and ensure that we are looking after ourselves and keeping stress to a minimum. This might involve getting some counselling to help deal with the source of strong emotions, or even to help to resolve current stresses in our relationships, work life or friendships.
An excerpt from A Happier Hour, written by Sexy Sobriety‘s Rebecca Weller. Sexy Sobriety is an online life-coaching program designed for women who are ready to take control of their lives and unleash their authentic selves onto the world.
Back when I was in my corporate job, we were encouraged to take a ‘Defensive Driving’ course that involved performing a variety of manoeuvres on a race track. In one of the exercises, we were instructed to speed up and then slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a particular safety cone. Despite our best efforts, we all hit that cone.
We tried the activity again, but this time, rather than focusing on the cone, we were instructed to look for a safe place to steer the car. Same distance, same speed, same brakes; just a different intention and focus.
We were stunned. Every single one of us avoided the cone.
Our instructor explained that if something or someone jumps out in front of you, the worst thing you can do is look straight at it as you’re trying to avoid it. You need to focus on where you want to go, rather than where you don’t want to go.The lesson was powerful and I often found myself telling clients about it. Time and again, I noticed that when we focus on our fears, we often smash into them. And if we’re not focusing on where we really want to go, how can we expect to get there?
When it came to drinking, how many times had I given myself a lecture about not making a fool of myself, or letting the night get too messy, only to find that’s exactly where I’d ended up? Too many to count.
I thought about the next three months and everything I wanted to do, see, hear, taste, and experience in that time. Above all, I thought about how I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel playful, with confidence that was authentically me, not poured from a bottle. I wanted deeper connections, less anxiety, more space, more love, more potential. I wanted transformation, dammit!
I didn’t want to undertake a challenge that would make me miserable, and I was determined to make this experience a positive one. Sensing that overwhelm was not my friend, I decided to start with just two words of intention that inspired me most. I opened my journal to a fresh page, and wrote, My Sobriety Experiment.
My biggest fear around sobriety was that I’d never have fun again, so I decided to start with the big one. On the next line, I wrote, Playful. I thought about what playful meant to me. Creativity, fun, spontaneity, mischief, joy. I tapped my pen against the page, thinking about what I could do to feel that way without booze. I brainstormed on the page:
Choose love over fear. Trust. Believe. Tell jokes. Send funny messages to friends. Create fun, easy recipes. Schedule time off-line. Watch comedies. View each day as an adventure. Try new things. Take beautiful photos. Invite friends to lunch. Paint my toe nails. Create. Share. Skip. Giggle. Dance.
I took a deep breath as I reviewed my list. See? I told my inner critic. That doesn’t sound so bad. I turned the page and chose my next word, Radiant. I thought about what that word meant to me. Sparkly, healthy, glowing, connected, blissful. Obviously, just skipping the alcohol would guarantee that I felt infinitely more radiant, but what else could I do? I jotted down everything that came to mind:
Go to bed earlier. Stretch at sunrise. Juice. Run. Go to yoga class. Offer help. Eat fresh, whole foods. Feel sunshine on my skin. Splash around at the beach. Picnic in the park. Keep a gratitude journal. Meditate. Write. Create. Eat dinner by candlelight. Choose quality over quantity. Phone friends and family. Listen. Practice random acts of kindness.
I reviewed my lists, and started to feel tingles of excitement about this little adventure. Inspired, I switched on my laptop and created a secret Mood Board on Pinterest. I wanted something pretty I could look at on my phone whenever I felt wobbly; images to remind me how I wanted to feel, and why I was doing this. Why I wanted to change; what life might be like without this unhealthy habit; the kind of person I could become if I were free of its clutches.
Like a woman possessed, I spent hours clicking around the internet. Nutritious food, women doing yoga, women running on the beach, women splashing around in the ocean, click click click. Job done, and feeling marginally better about the whole endeavour, I decided to go one step further. I had a feeling this challenge would be one of the biggest of my life and I’d need all the safety nets I could possibly create.
For my birthday the previous year, Dom bought me the large vision board I’d been swooning over for months. It was gorgeous, with a huge expanse of white space to pin pictures, and a beautiful wooden frame, painted white. He’d kept it a surprise, filling the board with photos from our travels and other meaningful souvenirs. He snuck it into our study before coming in to meet me and a huge group of friends at a bar in the city. Naturally, because it was my birthday, I got rather silly indeed, downing cocktail after cocktail like it was the eve of Prohibition.
Dom had planned to surprise me with his thoughtful gift when we got home that night, but my actions robbed him, and myself, of the chance. I was a drunken mess and didn’t even remember the cab ride home. The next morning, when he took me into our study and showed it to me, I felt wretched with guilt and stupidity.
Now, I took a deep breath and lifted the board off the wall. It was time for an update: to the board, and to my life.
On 1 January 2017, I started an alcohol-free month. It was on the back of a classic ‘new year, new you’ moment (cliché, I know), but there’s something so neat and appealing about a bright, shiny new year. There’s also the bonus of New Year’s Eve, so you can go out with a bang.
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’clockmost 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