Many of us use alcohol as one of our primary stress management tools. Unfortunately, the reality is that it causes more problems than it solves. It can add to your stress and anxiety levels in many ways. It lowers your inhibitions which can lead to negative behaviours that come with their own set of consequences. There’s also the long-term damage to your body (liver, brain, and heart functions to name a few) to consider. If you recognise yourself in these statements, you should take steps to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume.
Here are my top ten tips to help
1. Identify the underlying reasons
Spend some time thinking about the reasons for your drinking. Stress may be a factor. If it is, begin to identify the causes and work out how to tackle them. If you’re going through a period of stress or heavy workload at your job, look into what you can do to address this.
2. Start keeping an alcohol journal
Record every drink. Include specific quantities and alcohol strengths. NHS (The UK National Health Service) has a great smart-phone app to help you do this. Start by answering the questions: How often do I drink? Do I drink over the recommended limits? Most importantly, be honest.
3. Introduce an additional weekly drink free day to your current drinking pattern
Plan the day ahead and decide what you’ll do to entertain yourself without drinking alcohol. Often, small changes like this can be more successful than sweeping resolutions which you’ll break after a month or so.
4. Buy lower strength alcohol
There is a whole range of alcoholic drinks. Even a difference of a few percentage points (%abv – reflects the strength of the drink) can result in a dramatic reduction of your alcohol intake over the long term.
5. Create obstacles to replenishing your drink
Don’t stock up. Only buy enough for each occasion. If you do have alcohol in the house, store it in a hard to reach place, and return it there every time. If you’ve got to work for it, you might find you don’t want it that badly after all.
6. Intersperse your alcoholic drinks with soft drinks and water
This will help keep you hydrated and reduce the effects of alcohol. By keeping hydrated, the concentration of alcohol in your blood stream is diluted and remains lower.
7. Create a cut-off point for each evening
Aim to stop alcohol intake at least 90 minutes before bed. Use this time to slow down and unwind naturally. This will reduce the disruptive effect that alcohol has on your sleep.
8. Have a meal
This will slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, and hopefully also slow down the rate at which you consume it.
9. Do the opposite of super-sizing
We’ve gotten used to larger everything from popcorn to plate sizes. Research shows that by reducing the size of the container, we can mindlessly reduce the amount we consume. If you drink wine, get a smaller glass and fill it half full each time. If you drink beer, use a glass and make it a small one. If you drink spirits, use a small glass and measure how much you pour instead of free-handing it. You’ll be surprised how much less ends up in your glass.
10. Seek help
First things first. If you have any concerns at all that alcohol has taken control of you, or you are experiencing health or psychological problems as a result of or even alongside your alcohol consumption, get help. Talk to your family and friends, see your GP, or check with support websites such as NHS Choices or Alcoholics Anonymous.
While we may find ourselves using alcohol to relax and reduce our stress, the reality is that this is a short-term answer. The root of your stress will still be there tomorrow. And too much alcohol consumption will most certainly add to your stress and create a host of other problems as well. If you reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, you will be better able to manage stress and anxiety over the long term. Hopefully, you will find these tips useful toward that end.