I’m going to level with you: I’m a smidge hungover as I write this. You might think that makes me a hypocrite, but in actual fact, mindful drinking isn’t about cutting alcohol out entirely – unless that’s what you choose to do. It’s simply about figuring out why you’re drinking and making sure it’s for the right reasons. My reason for drinking last night was a family Zoom quiz and, for me personally, that was a great reason.
When the UK was plunged into lockdown madness all those weeks agao, every single one of my friends admitted that they’d started drinking most days, and I was the same. But why? What was the reason for the sudden increase in our alcohol intake? “Boredom”. “Sadness”. “Stress”. “It’s just a way of telling the difference between the days and evenings”. These were some of the answers I got when I asked.
“Alcohol sales have been booming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not good news,” says Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. “If people start drinking at times they wouldn’t normally drink, they may then develop bad habits. Tolerance to alcohol also quickly develops. You then need to drink more to get the same effect. This could happen for example, if you start to drink wine at lunchtimes, or start to drink earlier in the evenings.”
Hearing this and realising that “being bored” was not a particularly healthy reason for cracking open the rosè (or buying a keg of Doom Bar if you’re me…), I started thinking about mindful drinking, and how it’s even more important during these uncertain times we’re living in right now.
To re-iterate, mindful drinking is not about cutting alcohol out of your life completely, explains Rosamund Dean: author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life. It’s about potentially cutting back and figuring out when you actually want a drink as opposed to when you’re drinking for the sake of it.
“I wrote the book because I knew I was drinking too much, but I didn’t want to give up altogether. A nice G&T on a Friday evening is something to look forward to, particularly during lockdown.”
But drinking excessively will, inevitably, do more harm than good. Especially when it comes to your mental health.
“Drinking may temporarily blur feelings of loneliness, money worries or career anxiety but, when you wake up the next day, you still have those worries – and now you have a hangover too, Rosamund explains. “Stressful times are a trigger for over-drinking but, despite the short-term buzz that makes you relax, alcohol actually depletes dopamine levels – causing anxiety, insomnia and even depression. So, it can be a vicious circle, because you drink to relieve negative emotions and then they come back ten-fold.”
Despite what we may think, alcohol is not always a good coping mechanism for stressful situations, and Millie Gooch of Sober Girl Society wants us to keep this in mind when we reach for the booze.
“Alcohol can also exacerbate anxiety which we’re all feeling at the moment. The problem is, it’s very easy to slip into a cycle of using alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety. First of all, you drink to feel less anxious but in fact, drinking will only make you more anxious and before you know it, you’re reaching for another drink again. Not only will your tolerance levels increase (meaning you need more booze to get the desired effects) but you’ll also start creating a habit of using alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress which could have longer-lasting impacts post lockdown.”
So, how do we know when we’re drinking for the right reasons?
Millie says, “There’s a well-known phrase in the sobriety community which is H.A.L.T (meaning hungry, angry, lonely, tired). Before you reach for a drink, always check in with yourself to see if perhaps you’re drinking because you feel one of these emotions. Could you take a nap instead? Do you just need to eat? Can you reach out to a friend? I’d also extend H.A.L.T to include boredom and Corona anxiety because we’re in very unusual times!”
It’s not just our mental health that will no doubt be affected by excessive drinking, but our bodies will ultimately suffer too.
Millie explains, “There’s already talks about lockdown boozing being the next health crisis and our NHS is struggling as it is.”
And on the benefits of cutting back on alcohol, Rosamund says, “Drinking less alcohol will give you better skin, increased energy, sharpened concentration, fewer regrets, improved memory, extra disposable income, less anxiety, improved moods, deeper sleep, greater productivity at work, improved digestion and weight loss.”
Think about the reasons behind your drinking
Millie: “Remember H.A.L.T (hungry, angry lonely, tired). Before you reach for a drink, always check in with yourself to see if perhaps you’re drinking because you feel one of these emotions. Add boredom and Coronavirus anxiety to this, too.”
Make a plan
Rosamund: “Simply aiming to ‘drink less’ is way too vague a goal. Decide how many days a week you will allow yourself a drink, and how many drinks you can have on a drinking day. Then keep track (the Drinkaware app is good for this) and stick to it.”
Rosamund: “If you struggle to have one glass of wine without polishing off the bottle or can’t help pouring yourself a G&T every night when there’s gin in the fridge, then you need to stop stocking up on booze. If you can’t resist it, don’t have it in the house.”
But be kind to yourself
Rosamund: “We’re all adapting to uncertainty right now, so do not beat yourself up if you reach for a drink more than usual. Feeling guilt, shame or regret will only make you more likely to over-drink again. It’s a vicious circle, but one that can be broken.”
Drink because you’re happy, not because you’re sad
Millie: “This is one of the main bits of advice to anyone who is looking to take a more mindful approach to drinking. It means not drinking because you’re stressed, bored, anxious etc. (because this is how you form unhealthy coping habits). Have a couple of drinks on the Zoom chat with your friends if you want but perhaps avoid that 4pm wine because Boris’s latest briefing has stressed you out.”
Mix in alcohol-free alternatives
Millie: “While the wine aisle in your local supermarket might have been pillaged, the shelves of alcohol-free drinks are gloriously stocked and these days there’s everything from alcohol-free spirits to Prosecco. If you’re feeling the pressure to drink on a Zoom with your colleagues, an alcohol-free beer in a pint glass will trick anyone and it means you don’t have to answer questions about taking a night off.”
Rosamund: “Sometimes the ‘clink, fizzzzz’ of opening a bottle and taking a sip can actually satisfy cravings for booze. I love Shrb, Jarr Kombucha, Square Root and Seedlip.”
Find healthier coping mechanism
Millie: “While exercise is an obvious one, if you’re not a lover of the active life then even things like taking a long bath or having herbal tea can help you feel less anxious. It’s really important to find a way to relax for you that isn’t always booze.”
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