So, You’re Trying To Take A Break From Drinking…Now What?

Self-Care Strategies You Can Use To Lift Your Mood And Fill Time

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For what felt like the hundredth time in the past two months, I found myself sitting in front of a computer screen listening to someone tell me that they want to slow down on drinking, but they don’t know how to stop. Like many others, they explained that they begin each day intending to take a break from drinking, and yet they almost always find themselves drinking each night.

It seems that downtime can be a blessing and a curse. Two months into social distancing, cabin fever is starting to wear on all of us. I have witnessed a distinct change in a lot of people. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more people that never had a drinking problem before becoming daily drinkers, and people that were strong in their conviction to abstain from substance use start to rationalize that using again isn’t a big deal. Maybe it’s a loss of hope or just the weight of the situation feeling like too much to bear.

At the beginning of social distancing, these individuals were able to distract themselves and/ or talk themselves down, but the longer we stay in, the harder it is for them to silence that voice in their head that tells them that it would be so much easier if they just drank.

How Do Some People Stay Sober?

So, how do people make the leap between deciding they want to cut back and actually cutting back? Like I used to say to my patients when I was a full-time addiction counselor, part of it is your commitment to change, and the other part is about setting yourself up for success.

Telling yourself NOT to do something that has become a habit without actually replacing it with an alternate behavior or filling up your time is not a recipe for success. Changing is hard; the more you can do upfront to set yourself up for success, the easier it will be for you to follow-through with the change.

Whether you are trying to stay sober or are experimenting with a break from alcohol, you would benefit from building a self-care plan full of non-drinking related activities.

Add Structure To Your Day

Idle time is the enemy of anyone that is trying to avoid thinking or doing something that they are accustomed to doing. If you are used to drinking during certain situations(social situations, downtime, etc.), then it is going to be a lot easier for you not to drink if you avoid those situations at the beginning of your journey.

What is the easiest way to make sure that you avoid those situations? Develop a consistent daily routine that spans from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed.

*Remember that maintaining structure in your life ensures that you incorporate all of the essential self-care elements into your day. Make sure to include time for sleep, exercise, bathing, getting dressed, socializing, relaxing, having fun, and eating.

Exercise

This one is a win-win- Not only is exercising a great time filling activity, but doing it for just 30- minutes a day three-five days a week can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

There are many great at-home workout programs that you can use for now. If you like to get out and about, you can go for a run, a bike ride, or a walk.

Relaxation

Stress is a big drinking trigger for a lot of people. I’m not saying that you won’t drink if you are relaxed, but I am saying that the more coping strategies you have in your toolbox to use when you are feeling stressed, the less likely you are to automatically seek alcohol when you are stressed.

Mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises are wonderful for slowing or stopping your stress response. Incorporating mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine can go a long way to reduce your stress level.

Relaxation Apps

  • Headspace- This app offers hundreds of guided relaxation exercises to help with stress, focus, anxiety, and sleep.
  • Sanvello: Stress & Anxiety Help: This app checks in with you throughout the day and asks you questions about your week. This information is then used to track your mood and to suggest guided relaxation exercises.
  • Calm- This app offers a variety of guided relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, sleep stories, and relaxing music.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition is linked with stronger immune functioning and good mental health. It is especially important for people that are in early recovery to eat nutritious meals because it is relatively common for people that drink a lot to have vitamin deficiencies.

In addition to the many health benefits of eating a balanced diet, there is also the added benefit that planning and preparing healthy meals takes time and attention. Any time that you spend focusing on a task is time that you are (hopefully) not focusing on drinking!

If you are not a great cook, there are many online cooking classes and meal delivery services that can simplify the process.

Manage Negative Thoughts

Managing negative, self-sabotaging thoughts is critical when you are trying to change a bad habit. Without developing strategies to challenge the thoughts that may pop up, you will have a tough time following through with your commitment to stop.

If you don’t learn how to challenge your negative thoughts, how are you going to keep yourself from drinking when your mind starts saying things like “It’s just one drink, it’s not a big deal,” “what’s one more day? I can cut back tomorrow,” “ I need this to feel better,” and “I can’t have fun without drinking?”

We all have scary, fearful, and depressing thoughts that pop into our heads, but the degree to which we hold onto those thoughts determines the level of distress that we experience as a result of those thoughts. If you are someone that struggles with anxiety or depression, you probably have a harder time letting go of those negative thoughts. When those thoughts pop into your mind, delay taking a drink for at least 10–15 minutes, and do your best to challenge your thoughts.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How will I feel tomorrow if I take this drink?
  • Is the urge to drink just as strong now that I have waited?
  • Is it objectively true that I NEED this drink?
  • Am I drinking to avoid something?
  • Am I trying to change my mood with this drink?
  • Is there a better way for me to cope?
  • What can I do right now instead of drinking?
  • What would I tell a friend that shared this thought with me?

Mental Health

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to white-knuckle their way to sobriety, or to try to quit without support. If you need support, schedule a teletherapy session with a therapist. Addressing mental health concerns early decreases the likelihood that the symptoms will progress to a crisis level.

In addition to teletherapy apps like TalkSpace and Betterhelp, many mental health professionals around the country are now offering teletherapy. The sooner you start to address the symptoms that you have, the sooner you will begin to feel better.

Gratitude

When you are trying to give something up, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the things in your life that you cannot have. So, practicing gratitude for the things that are going well in your life is a great way to intentionally shift your attention to good things in your life. The more you focus on the positive aspects of your life, the better your outlook will be.

Make Time For Fun

I am a firm believer in making time for fun EVERY SINGLE DAY. Why? Because making time for fun every day ensures that you are enjoying at least part of your day. This might seem frivolous, but intentionally making time for fun will cause you to shift your focus to the things that you enjoy.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to only have fun on days that you have an abundance of free time. On some days, you might only have two minutes to have fun, and others you might have a few hours. The amount of time you dedicate to fun each day is not as important as making sure that you are finding enjoyment in your day.

Whether it is watching a funny Youtube video, playing a game, singing, or dancing- make sure that you are doing something fun!

Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill is a great way to focus your attention on something positive. Not only will you (hopefully)come away with a new skill and more confidence in yourself, but you will also spend a lot of time on something productive.

Skills you can learn online for free:

  • How to paint
  • How to draw
  • How to do your hair
  • How to do your makeup
  • How to train your pet
  • How to speak another language
  • How to cook
  • How to perform CPR & the Heimlich Maneuver
  • How to do home repairs
  • How to play card games
  • How to communicate effectively
  • How to juggle
  • How to dance
  • How to sew
  • How to properly clean your house
  • How to use computer programs

Connect with Social Support

Building a social support network of people that will be supportive and respectful of your effort to cut back on your drinking is very important. Why? The more time you spend around people that are drinking and/or pressuring you to drink, the harder it is going to be for you to resist.

  • If you are having a hard time finding people in your life that are supportive of your decision to cut back, you might want to think about attending an AA meeting.

Live Your Life

Focus on what you can do right now rather than on what you cannot. Sure, you can’t drink right now, but there are A LOT of things that you can do. This is an excellent opportunity to finally tackle that at-home project that you have been putting off, to video chat with friends, to do some spring cleaning, to organize your house, to read some good books, to have a game night (virtual or at-home depending on if you live alone), to get caught up on your favorite shows, play games, or to spend some time on a hobby.

Move/Remove Alcohol

Disrupt the ritual that goes along with your drinking habits as much as you can. Creating a schedule to help you avoid your alcohol triggers is one way to disrupt your ritual; another way is to move or remove your alcohol.

If you are trying to quit drinking, it will be much easier for you to do so if you do not have any alcohol in your home. If that is not possible, consider moving your alcohol to another, harder to access, location. Why? The longer it takes you to get the alcohol, the longer you have to talk yourself out of drinking.

Conclusion

Whether you have already made the decision to cut back on your drinking or you are thinking about cutting back, I commend you for getting this far! I know that it is incredibly hard to make significant life changes. It takes so much strength and determination to see a problem and make a commitment to yourself to change. The more you do to set yourself up for success, the easier it will be for you to accomplish your goal.

If you are having a hard time cutting back on your own, you may need to seek professional support.

*It can be dangerous for people that were drinking daily to quit cold turkey because there is a risk of having a withdrawal seizure. If you have been drinking daily, please seek medical advice before stopping your alcohol use (I know that this sounds counterproductive, but it is a safety issue).

Written by

Mental Health Counselor, Substance Abuse Counselor, Wellness Instructor, Digestive Illness Advocate & The Human Half of a Therapy Dog Team

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