So, you’ve made it through January without a single alcoholic drink. Congrats! Now what?
If you were pleasantly surprised by how great you felt during your booze-free month, why not cut down for good? After all, there are plenty of good reasons to maintain a healthy approach to alcohol all year long.
“Drinking alcohol can have a number of physical and mental effects on the body. It can lead to issues with heart health and the digestive system, as well as increased anxiety, mood swings and difficulty concentrating,” says Professor Denis Kinane, founder of health diagnostics service Cignpost (cignpost.com).
Steph Keenan, operations manager at alcohol and mental health charity With You (wearewithyou.org.uk), points out how booze can affect your mental health and sleep patterns.
“Drinking alcohol can increase issues such as anxiety and depression,” she says. “Alcohol relaxes muscles in the body, which can feel like it helps you sleep, but it means you do not go into restorative rest enough to wake feeling refreshed.” Plus, cutting down can be beneficial for your bank balance. So, whether you managed to stay teetotal for the whole of Dry January or not, here’s how to reset your relationship with alcohol in the long-term…
If you enjoyed those 31 clear-headed, hangover-free days, you might want to consider extending your dry period and see how you feel.
“Popularly known as being ‘sober curious’ – an approach many celebrities seem to be taking – this is about cutting out alcohol for wellness reasons, to better understand how drinking may be affecting how you feel,” says Kinane.
“Understanding the impact alcohol has on your physical and mental wellbeing can help you decide how you would like your relationship with it to change.”
Whether you’re looking back on Dry Jan or continuing your booze-aware journey, tracking the positive impact of drinking less can be a great motivator.
You could calculate how much money you’ve saved, or journal regularly, to understand the affect on your mental health.
“Through health screenings and diagnostic tests – sometimes offered by your employer – you can track how scaling back your alcohol, or even going teetotal, affects your health,” Kinane continues. “Understanding what works for your body should be central to lifestyle changes.”
If you find yourself ordering a gin and tonic out of habit or saying, ‘Go on, then!’ when a pal offers to top up your wine glass, it could help to focus more mindfully on how much you’re actually drinking each week.
“Instead of completely cutting out alcohol, you could choose to drink more mindfully,” says Kinane. “Opting to only drink occasionally, instead of out of habit, could be a good place to start.” Apps, such as Drink Less (drinklessalcohol.com), allow you to track your intake, set goals and monitor your mood as you go.
Keenan suggests: “However much you currently drink, having an extra drink-free day each week is a simple way to make a change.” There’s now a huge range of low- or no-alcohol drinks to choose from in pubs and supermarkets, so give them a try, she adds: “Experiment with these until you find one that suits your taste and lifestyle.”
From meals out, to pub catch-ups, it’s easy for social events to revolve around drinking, so try to plan some alternatives.
“You could arrange to go for a coffee or a walk, see a show or host a craft afternoon,” says Keenan, who recommends telling friends and family you’re trying to cut down.
“When people know why you aren’t drinking, they will usually be more respectful of your decision.”
If pouring a large glass of red is how you relax at the end of a hard day, try some other stress-relieving activities.
“Alcohol can actually make you feel worse,” says Keenan. “If you need to take a break, find a quiet place to sit and do some yoga or meditation. If you prefer to be more active, go for a run or gym session.”
Even when you’re making great progress, you might experience setbacks or ‘fall off the wagon’, and go back to your old drinking habits. When you do, it’s important not to berate yourself.
“It doesn’t mean you’ve failed,” says Keenan. “In fact, it can be a chance to learn more about your triggers and how to avoid them, show other people how they can help you in future, and find new ways to cope with life problems. If you’ve had a setback, it can help to talk about it with someone you know.”