Hey, living through a pandemic ain't easy. If stress has you relying on booze as part of your five a day and you fancy a break (hello Sober October), Kate Bee, founder of The Sober School, is totally here for you
If you’re struggling to relax during the pandemic, you’re definitely not alone. Many people are struggling to cope with the ‘new normal’, and many are turning to alcohol as a method for dealing with the stress of it all.
But, as it turns out, drinking to cope with difficult emotions doesn’t actually help you deal with them. In fact, drinking might actually be making your stress and anxiety worse.
Sure, alcohol can be a distraction, but it’s more akin to sticking your head in the sand versus actually relieving any of the stress – just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s gone away. (Spoiler: it hasn’t.)
And while some people are fully aware that drinking doesn’t actually solve any of their problems, they don’t actually care. They want the respite alcohol gives them from the current state of overwhelm, but – what you might not realise – is that science shows that drinking can actually add to the burden you’re dealing with, meaning you’re not getting the break you desperately need.
In a recent study, researchers ran a test on two groups of mice — one that lived normally while the other was fed a daily dose of alcohol for an entire month. At the end of month, the mice who were drinking alcohol daily were much more fearful and anxious, and their ability to handle stressful situations was significantly impaired. Even when the things that were stressing them out were removed, these mice still struggled to overcome their anxiety.
Not only is alcohol doing nothing to actually fix your stress, it’s making you less capable of dealing with any kind of stress in general.
Because here’s the deal. If alcohol was actually an amazing stress reliever, then everyone who drinks regularly would likely be feeling fairly calm right now. They wouldn’t be as stressed – since they got the ‘break’ they were looking for – and likely wouldn’t need to turn to a glass (or several) every night to unwind.
But we know that’s not the case. In fact, more often than not, the opposite is true.
If you actually want to reduce stress, now is a fantastic time to experiment with sobriety
If you want to make that happen, start with a solid commitment. Giving up alcohol can be scary because we often approach it with only two choices – continue drinking as we normally do or quit drinking forever – which can be overwhelming to say the least. We try to find a middle path through moderation, but it’s actually much harder to control your intake of a mind-altering drug like alcohol because it’s designed to make you lose control.
Instead of moderating your alcohol intake, try taking a break
If you only give yourself the odd day off now and again, you’ll never actually experience the benefits of sobriety. Staying sober during the week might seem like a fantastic idea, but when you drink over the weekend, you’re only making yourself go through the struggle of giving it up every Monday, again and again and again.
So give yourself a true break – sans alcohol – for a set amount of time. The first month can be challenging, so I recommend sticking to it for a few months so you can really start to experience the benefits of a sober lifestyle.
Learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress
Without alcohol in the picture, do you have a set strategy for coping with stress, anxiety, and overwhelm? Take a look at what you really need in times of stress. When you feel like drinking, what is it that you’re actually looking for?
We’ve been conditioned to turn to alcohol instead of processing and dealing with uncomfortable emotions, which is exactly the problem. Instead, we need to learn to pause and address what we actually need.
For many of us, escapism is something we’re looking for, and that’s completely valid. We’re being bombarded by constant news, insane amounts of information, and a baffling amount of uncertainty – and alcohol seems like the perfect solution to turning it all off for a bit.
However, there are plenty of other alternatives to give you what you’re needing – it’s just a matter of finding them. If you want to check out mentally, don’t feel guilty about binge-watching Netflix for an hour or two. Dive into a book, go for a walk in the woods without your phone, or try practising guided meditation to give yourself the mental escape you deserve.
Finally, seek out connection
As human beings, it’s something we all crave, and – while we’re practicing social distancing – it’s easy to forget that we need to feel seen, heard, and connected to others. If you’re not getting that, it can cause you to feel a lot of stress, loneliness, and anxiety. Instead of turning to a glass of wine, try reaching out to a friend. Spend some time in connection with yourself and your loved ones, and don’t be afraid to sift through difficult emotions. It might seem scary, but I promise you that it will be worth it in the end.
* For more tips from Kate on how to quit drinking, go to thesoberschool.com or follow Kate on Instagram @thesoberschool