Build your Self-care Tool box
Stress is one of the top five triggers along with anger, fear, sadness and boredom that make us want to drink. We have always leaned on it as our quick fix to cope with stress. The problem(s) here is that alcohol actually creates physiological and mental stress so when we drink, not only are we not relieving the stress we are making it worse. Knowing how to lower your stress in ways that keep you healthy and don’t manipulate your emotions and make your stress level worse the next day is one of the most important sets of tools you can have in your toolbox.
After a long, hard day, we are conditioned to think that poring a big glass of “healthy” red wine (oxymoron) will make everything wash away. It’s a temporary numbing and it exacerbates all problems to make then worse. Alcohol’s seemingly effective handling of stress is a hoax because drinking actually makes it harder for your body to rebalance and get back to normal. Sure, drinking dulls the stress up front, as dopamine increases in the brain, but that’s only a temporary fix at a costly price.
What Happens When You “Stress Drink”
A healthy body’s response to stress includes a quick spike in cortisol levels followed by a rapid decrease in those levels when the threat or stress is over. However, when you drink alcohol, a flood of dopamine rushes to the pleasure center of the brain. The feel-good chemicals dance around for a bit, but the party only lasts for a little while. Dopamine levels dip back down, and feelings of anxiety follow suit leaving you feeling like the cool kids just left for another party and you better do something radical (drink more) to try to liven up the party again. This of course, never works the way you think it will.
To put it very non-scientifically, what goes up must come down. With repeated drinking, cortisol is released in your body to balance out the unnatural substance you’ve introduced. As a result, this alters the brain’s chemistry and the messaging basically tells your brain to continue drinking to feel “normal.”
You’re never actually coping with the stress – you’re numbing it and prolonging dealing with the issue. In other words, instant gratification becomes your solution, and your brain subconsciously urges you to repeat it. “I’ll just drink to not have to deal with it.” Alcohol’s memory muscle kicks in at lightning speed and you’re quickly back in the toxic cycle.
Remember, the stressful situation that leads to the craving will pass much quicker than the time it will take you to do the work from Day One again.
Since stress is not ever going to fully go away, here are some tools to help you handle it. Figure out the ones you like and write them down in your Tools Notebook.
1. Get Out
Stop what you are doing, get up, put on your shoes (not required), go outside and walk. Just 5 or 10 minutes in nature gives you a fast, healthy serotonin spike. Trees and birds and plants will calm you down and clear your mind.
2. Snuggle your Pet
Petting our furry family releases oxytocin and makes us calm and happy. It’s good for the animal, too. Just a few minutes of scratching and cuddling creates an instant mood shift.
3. Turn It Up
Play some music that brings life. 80’s Dance Party, Broadway, Metal, Worship. Do you, all the time. Turn the volume up loud, close the curtains and dance it out.
4. Check In
Text or call a friend or loved one to check in and see how THEY are doing. Channeling your energy and thoughts into uplifting someone else is a win win.
5. Belly Laugh
6. Tea Time
Have a cup of herbal tea. Bu instead of sugar, use monkfruit or liquid stevia drops. Find your flavor and make sure you are buying organic. It’s calming and in the middle of the day it will make you feel fancy and sophisticated.
7. Clip the Chips
Grab a snack, but make it a good one. Go for healthy + protein + crunch. Celery and peanut butter, cucumbers and carrots with hummus or homemade ranch dip, apples sprinkled with cinnamon, cheese sticks and nitrate-free pepperoni, cheddar crisps and guacamole. Make it satisfying and healthy. Steer clear of processed junk food and sugar. This will increase your angst and make you feel worse.
Admittedly meditation is my final frontier. Slowing down and reigning in my thoughts is a tough task, but I believe in the power of removing distraction and centering yourself so I have started using two apps to learn how to meditate. They are: Simple Habits and Insight Timer.
This takes a lot of practice, so start with just a few minutes and don’t give up. (Notes to self.) I see how taking the time to sit in quiet, focus on my breathing and set my intentions for the day (Jonathan Lehmann on Insight Timer) gives me a great morning routine and creates a shift in my mood to start the day calm and in control.
Another favorite is Soulspace. It is a Christian mediation app with a free and a paid version just like the others. This is a quick calmer-downer and it gives me purposeful time with God
Yep. I know it’s weird in the beginning, but it works. Focusing on your breathing pushes out everything else in the world-even if only for a few minutes.
When anxiety creeps in, take a deep breath in for 4 counts. Hold for tow and release it slowly at a count of eight. Try it right now. Breathe in: one-two-three-four. Hold for two. And exhale: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. I do a little guttural grown at the end if no one is around. And sometimes if they are, too. I’m 52. Stress relief wins over caring what other people think.
Here is a good one, too.: Mindful Breathing Meditation (5 Minutes) – YouTube
Spend a few days with Wim Hof doing this exercise Wim Hof Method Guided Breathing for Beginners (3 Rounds Slow Pace) – YouTube and tell me if you’re not convinced. I do one round in the morning to wake up and it gets the oxygen going to my brain. Plus, Wim telling me I deserve all the good in the world is pretty cool, too. I do one or two, not all three.
9. Move It.
Exercise is perhaps the number one best stress reliever in the world. It’s accessible anytime, anywhere. One of your biggest tools in sobriety is finding the things you like to do that require you to not be sedentary and raise your heart beat above resting. You may have been on exercise hiatus for awhile. It’s hard to drink a lot and work out simultaneously. These two are not yin and yang, but exercise instead of drinking is magic. It actually builds your brain and your self esteem, along with your stamina. Visit this article for my favorite workouts.
If you have access to a pool or any clean body of water, floating quells angst almost immediately. Alternative: take a bath. Put some epsom salts and organic essential oils in there like lavender.
11. Put on your Perspectacles.
Perspectacles are metaphorical glasses that enable you to cut through the crap and see the situation for what it really is. How important is what you are worrying about? Is it worth getting so worked up that you think you need to have a drink to deal with it? Will it matter in 6 months?
Give it up, Let it go, Stop carrying it by yourself. Release it to your spiritual power. I call that God/Jesus. You do you.
Here are a few bonus don’ts:
1. Be Anti Social:
Stop scrolling through Social Media. Few things will spike your blood pressure like comparison and uninformed opinions. Also, get away form people and center yourself. Few things will spike your blood pressure like comparison and uninformed opinions.
2 Resist Stress Eating
If you need something that feels sweet and decadent, a piece of dark chocolate with a couple of berries and a tablespoon of almond butter will do the trick. But a pint of Cherry Garcia will literally give you the opposite effect of the chill that you want to attain.
3. The NO Brainer: Don’t Drink
Drinking is like pouring gasoline on an anxiety fire. It makes it way worse and when the buzz wears off, you feel like crap, the anxiety is worse, and the problem is still there.
Listen, loves. You have gotten this far and you have proven your success by putting down the bottle and lifting up yourself. Clearly, you are strong and resilient, dear badass, so push through it. You CAN do hard things.