Ask me anything: How do I unwind without a drink?

Question: “I’m finding it hard to cut back on how much I drink. I’m in the routine of having a glass of wine to wind down from the stresses of the day.”

“The problem is that once I have the first glass, I pour another, then another. And then I wake up the next day feeling like crap. I know that I probably just need to change the habit but nothing else seems to work in the same way.”

Having a drink at the end of the working day is so common that there’s a phrase to describe it: ‘Five o’clock = wine o’clock’.

Many of us use it to help us switch off from the stresses of the day and to treat ourselves.

It’s effective in the short term because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that makes us feel relaxed. The problem is that the brain then releases counter chemicals –stimulants – to bring us back into balance.

So, when the alcohol wears off, we are left overstimulated and start to feel anxious and worried.

If you’ve ever woken up at 3am worrying about things, this may be the reason.

It’s a Catch-22 as the short-term solution to take the edge off (i.e. having a few drinks) ends up adding to our stress.

So what’s the alternative?

While pouring a drink at 5pm may be a habit, it may take more than a change in routine if you’re finding that you’re drinking more than you would like.

To make a lasting change to the way you drink, you need to get curious about the reasons why you are drinking at that time, which may not be something you’ve ever consciously thought about.

Next time you think to yourself “I need a drink”, delve a bit deeper into this thought:

  • What does that drink/s give you?
  • Is it working? (It’s alright if the answer is ‘yes’ as alcohol does have that short-term effect.)
  • Is it working longer-term?
  • Why do I enjoy this?
  • Is this really serving me?

I’ve written more about this in my blog post: The power in asking why you want to change your drinking.

What to do instead?

And, while habit change alone is not enough, I do encourage my clients to implement changes in their routines for those trigger times when they automatically reach for a drink.

Some suggestions include:

  • A walk around the block, a run or a gym session if being active helps you to unwind.
  • A short meditation or some yoga if calming practices are more your thing.
  • Taking a 10-minute time out and going into your room when you get home and playing music you love or journalling about your day.
  • Listening to podcasts or reading books that inform and inspire you.
  • Having an alcohol-free drink (keep the ritual, change what’s in the glass)

It may take some trial and error to find what works for you. I encourage my clients to build up a toolkit of things they can do to meet the needs they were trying to achieve with alcohol.

If you need support, you can reach out to me directly by replying to this email or booking in a free discussion call.

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