I used to have a fridge magnet that said: “Keep Calm And Drink Wine!”
The message was spelt out in large capital letters and for a long time, it seemed to be my mantra.
If I wanted to relax, I drank wine. If I wanted to switch off, I drank wine. If I had a stressful day, then guess what? I drank wine, and lots of it.
When I started thinking about quitting drinking, the idea of coming home and not opening a bottle seemed unimaginable.
If you can relate, check out my tips below. When it comes to alcohol, stress and sobriety, there’s some stuff you really, really need to know…
Make sure you’re clear on what alcohol does and does NOT do
The first step to learning how to relax without alcohol is to understand what’s actually going on.
Alcohol does not have magic powers
The idea that alcohol can ease or relieve your stress is a myth – it’s all smoke and mirrors (and a bit of wishful thinking). You do not deserve to fall for this lie!
True relaxation is achieved by removing the source of discontent. Alcohol, by definition, just cannot do that. It can’t remove annoyances and stressors.
All booze can do is numb your brain and your senses. That doesn’t relieve you of your stress – it just zombifies you, and numbs you from your one and only life.
If anything, alcohol is a stress delayer
If you drink enough, you will pass out and therefore be unable to feel anything. That much is true. But when you wake up at 3am – thirsty, hungover, guilty and exhausted – that stress will still be there, tapping you on the shoulder. (And in the middle of the night, everything feels ten times worse.)
Look at your stress levels right now
If alcohol really was capable of gobbling up stress and making it disappear, then surely all drinkers would be super-chilled, laid back people? And if alcohol genuinely destroyed stress left, right and centre, surely your need for it would reduce, rather than increase over time?
“Alcohol causes low blood sugar, drains the body of water, overworks the liver, pancreas and kidneys and leaches oxygen from the brain. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me.”
Acknowledge the truth: alcohol doesn’t relieve stress, it creates it!
When you’re drinking, you’re literally pouring stress into your life, glass by glass.
Stop adding fuel to the fire
How many times have you said something you’ve regretted whilst drinking? Or perhaps you’ve missed a deadline, or forgotten something important as a result of being hungover. That kind of stuff sets you up for another stressful day and then another, and another…
In sobriety, you have less to stress about in the first place
How much time do you spend worrying about your alcohol intake, beating yourself up and battling with yourself about your drinking? That is all stressful in its own right! Cutting out alcohol means you cut out stress.
Sobriety makes you more resilient
Here’s the real kicker: alcohol reduces our ability to deal with stress and anxiety. (This article explains more.) The good news is that sobriety can help reverse this.
Cheryl, a student from my Getting Unstuck course, was taking two different antidepressants and a prescribed sleeping pill when she joined my class last year. She’s now 12 months sober and off all her medication. What a result!
Experiment with new ways of relaxing and unwinding
It’s time to find some new coping mechanisms. This is the fun bit, so get experimenting!
Find out what works for you
I think exercise is great because it releases endorphins that give you a natural high. I also like journaling because getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper helps me make sense of them (and take action).
I’d also recommend listening to music, practising meditation, calling a friend or doing anything that brings you joy, be it having a bath or listening to an audiobook whilst walking in the fresh air.
Don’t forget to take care of the basics: so often what you really need at wine o’clock is food and water. Hunger and dehydration are massive triggers that can be easily taken care of.
You have got time for this!
If you can find time to drink – and recover from it, worry about it and beat yourself up over it – then you can find time to do stuff that genuinely relaxes you.
Look at your current routine for clues
Think about what you already enjoy doing and look at what’s really going on there. For example, one of your favourite ways to ‘unwind’ might be talking to your partner over a bottle of wine.
Most drinkers have been trained to think that alcohol is the special ingredient that’s making that scenario relaxing, but as I explained above, that isn’t really the case.
However, there ARE some things about that scenario that are genuinely relaxing: you’re coming home and removing yourself from a stressful environment. Maybe you change out of your work clothes. You’re also spending quality time with your partner, talking through your day and getting stuff off your chest.
My point is, you can still go home and do all of that over a cup of tea – and it will be just as therapeutic, if not better.