Stress is an inevitable part of our everyday lives. But it is possible to
manage stress and stay sober. This blog outlines why alcohol is bad
for stress and provides you with 5 simple techniques to help you deal
with stress the sober way.
Picture the scene. You’ve had a busy day, the kids are playing up, you’ve got a million and one things on your to-do list, and you’re feeling tired after a restless night. Wine O’Clock can’t come quick enough. Finally, 6pm arrives, and you’re reaching for that glass to pour your drink of choice. After all, this is your time, time to relax, unwind and forget about the stress of the day.
But before you know it, pouring that glass of wine at the end of the day becomes a habit. One drink turns into 2 or 3, which eventually turns into a daily bottle. Alcohol is no longer your stress solution. Instead, it’s silently increasing your anxiety – driving up your stress levels and luring you towards dependency.
If you recognise this scenario, you’re not alone. An online study carried out by the University of Liverpool showed that the number of people using alcohol as a coping strategy has increased, particularly during recent lockdowns and Covid. The study highlighted that those people using alcohol to help with anxiety were more likely to increase their overall consumption over time to hazardous levels. And that’s a very concerning outcome.
Why alcohol makes stress worse
Emotional pain can often hurt as much as physical pain. Alcohol is a sedative that affects the central nervous system and can help anaesthetise your pain for a short time. It enables you to relax and forget about your worries. But when you regularly turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, you begin to build up a tolerance. To gain the same ‘relaxation hit’, you need to drink more and more.
Alcohol is also a depressant. So although you may feel relaxed for a short time, the alcohol affects your serotonin levels and disrupts the chemicals in your brain. Over time this leaves you feeling anxious (it’s where the term ‘hangxiety’ comes from), restless, and unable to cope without another drink. It’s like being on a non-stop merry-go-round. Only there’s nothing “merry” about this vicious cycle.
Drink to relieve stress – short period of relaxation – effects wear off leaving anxiety and more stress – drink to relieve stress.
Alcohol may provide a short-term fix. But it doesn’t help you learn how to cope with your problems in the long run. Stress won’t magically disappear with every glass of wine you drink. Any difficulties will still be there in the morning. Only dealing with them with an added hangover will be even more stressful.
Check in with yourself: Worried your drinking levels might be increasing? Find out more about grey area drinking here.
5 ways to manage stress without alcohol
It’s ok to not be ok. We all face daily stresses and strains. The more you get used to dealing with stress and emotional difficulties without resorting to alcohol, the easier it will become. You’ll slowly build up your resilience levels and boost your mental health. And if you’re a parent, modelling these good habits will also teach your children how to manage stress the healthy way.
Serotonin is the hormone that controls our happiness. Alcohol in small amounts can boost your serotonin for a short time, giving you the impression of feeling happier. But this feeling doesn’t last long, and in the long term, alcohol can lower your serotonin levels. This is why after drinking a large amount of alcohol, you often feel depressed and anxious.
The good news is that exercise also boosts your serotonin levels. Running, walking, cycling, swimming (any aerobic activity) raises your oxygen levels and sends out a surge of ‘happy hormones’. After a time, these hormones balance out, leaving you feeling more balanced and better able to cope with whatever life throws your way.
And whereas drinking alcohol increases the stress hormone cortisol, when you exercise, you decrease cortisol in your body.
Repetitive motions can also help you focus on your body rather than your thoughts, allowing you to switch off from any negativity.
Better still, you can exercise for free. So rather than spending £50 a week on wine, why not get outside and enjoy some fresh air. By building exercise into a daily routine, you’ll help clear your mind, you’ll feel stronger, and you’ll approach any difficulties with a clear thought process.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Scientific research proves that meditation can reduce stress levels. Hidden within our brain lies a section called the amygdala – the control centre for our moods, decisions, memories, and senses. Studies have shown that regular meditation and mindfulness can lower stress levels.
Meditation doesn’t have to be about sitting cross-legged on the floor chanting.
You can meditate anywhere and for any length of time.
When starting meditation, it’s best to start with short sessions. It takes practice, but it’s an excellent way to settle your mind. Here is a short meditation practice that you can try.
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position. You need to be alert and awake but also relaxed.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in ad exhale out slowly.
- While focusing on your breathing, scan down your body in your mind. If you notice any areas of tension, breathe deeply and release the tension as you exhale.
- If thoughts drift into your mind, don’t fight them. Instead, recognise them and let them drift on like clouds in the sky or a flowing river.
- Place your focus back on your breath. Do this each time your mind starts to wander but don’t judge or criticise yourself.
- After 5-10 minutes, bring your attention back to the room by wiggling your toes and fingers. Gradually bring your awareness back and end the session gently.
Once you’re able to focus for 5 minutes, you can start to increase the length of your sessions.
Mindfulness is slightly different. You can be more mindful at any time of the day and during any task. Mindfulness is about being aware of what’s happening in the present moment.
If you have stress or worries, they can often play on your mind continuously. Being mindful helps you push those worries to one side while you focus on the present moment.
Aim to be more mindful about your actions. For example, if you feel yourself reaching for alcohol, ask yourself why. Rather than give in, do something different instead, like taking a walk. Dig deep into your triggers, and each time they strike, you’ll know how to handle them.
Stress, worry, and anxiety can all lead to sleepless nights. And in turn, sleepless nights lead to more stress.
But turning to alcohol to manage stress only makes matters worse. Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, so although you may think you’re sleeping better, your actually not getting the deep sleep you need.
You’ll find it easier to deal with ongoing stressful situations when you’re rested and relaxed. Try these tips to get a decent and sober night’s sleep.
- Reduce your screentime an hour before bed. Mobiles and laptops emit blue light, which keeps your brain awake. Relax and unwind by taking a hot shower or reading a book.
- Avoid heavy meals. Try to eat earlier in the evening to avoid heartburn or indigestion.
- Enjoy a warm milky drink or herbal tea. My favourite sleepy teas are the Pukka Night Time or Twinnings Sleep Superblend. You can find both in most supermarkets.
- Listen to music or nature sounds. There are various apps out there that offer relaxation music. For example, the Calm App provides a range of “Sleep Stories” that you can listen to to help you nod off.
After a few nights of decent sleep, you’ll have more energy and be less agitated, meaning stressful situations will be easier to deal with.
Set boundaries and establish a Circle of Influence.
Daily stresses soon build up. Work gets busy, and the kids need ferrying around. Friends ask you to help them out, and family members come to rely on you.
It’s important to set boundaries so that your own mental health doesn’t begin to suffer.
I often use the Circle of Influence created by Stephen Covey. This model helps you focus on the aspects of life that you can control and prevents you from getting bogged down with those aspects that you can’t change.
Covey uses 2 circles. The inner circle is the Circle of Influence, and the outer circle is the Circle of Concern.
In the centre circle, place all the issues you DO have some control over. For example, some of the points I have within my circle of influence are –
My daily meditation practice
I have control of these things. I influence them. But I don’t have influence over whether it will rain when my friends come round for a BBQ, whether my family member’s health will improve or how the government will tackle tax increases after Covid. So all of these factors go in my outer circle, and I know there’s no point worrying about them. What will be will be.
This method will help you learn to prioritise your concerns and set boundaries around issues you can do nothing about. By accepting things as they are, you’ll lower your stress level and be less likely to give in to wine O’clock.
Talk to friends or family
A problem shared is a problem halved, or so the saying goes. Talking and venting to others helps you process your feelings. It prevents them from building up and allows you to start to understand why you feel so frustrated.
Studies even show that talking to yourself can be beneficial. The University of Michigan led a study that concluded that chatting to yourself in the third person can help you solve problems and alleviate stress. The study stated that “The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort.”
Opening up to friends and family can sometimes be tricky, particularly if the issues revolve around alcohol and drinking. It’s hard not to feel judged by those around you.
If alcohol is causing issues in your life, it’s often better to seek help from those who’ve been there. That’s what one of my clients did when her stress levels became overwhelming. On my website, she says –
“I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I had been a heavy drinker for over twenty years, and I drank wine most nights. During lockdown, I was working at home and homeschooling. As a single parent, this brought my stress to a whole new level, and I knew I had to take action. I was desperate to stop drinking, and thanks to Jojo’s support and guidance, I will soon celebrate my first Soberversary.’
Talking helps you gain clarity. And coaching helps provide you with the strategies you need to help you spot your triggers and find other solutions to deal with them.
If you’re struggling with problems related to alcohol, I offer a 12 week 1:1 coaching programme to help you overcome any obstacles holding you back and map a new way forward. After 12 weeks, you’ll have activated a new level of self-belief, using your new superpower to make empowered choices feeling alive, excited, and free.
You CAN manage stress without relying on alcohol to help you cope. Book a free discovery call with me today and regain your inner strength and confidence.