A guest post from Gayle from Sober Bliss, an expert on living without alcohol happily.
Aaaand relax! Who doesn’t look forward to that warm, soft fuzzy feeling when you finally get to sit down and relax at the end of a busy day? Finally, you can let go of the noise, the chatter, the thoughts and the doing, and have some relaxing alone time, just being. For most people, this is achieved with the help of a glass of wine or a few. But what if you are not drinking? What if you want to take a break for a bit? Just how do you relax without alcohol?
Does it have to be a challenge to relax without alcohol
Before we get into how to relax without alcohol, let’s understand why it seems such a difficult or sometimes scary prospect. Primarily, it’s simply because we’re not used to doing so.
If your usual routine in the evening after work, or after the kids have gone to bed is to crack open a beer or pop the cork on a bottle, then, of course, the thought of not doing that will throw up some uncomfortable feelings.
What does alcohol do to us?
The thing is, you get used to the blanket of relaxation that covers us after the first sip or two and come to rely on it and expect it. We think that the only way to relax is by having a drink. It’s quick and it’s effective. But the reason that we immediately feel all soft and mellow after a drink is that alcohol is a depressant.
Everything is immediately numbed out. All the thoughts and the feelings, just melt away, the good and the bad. However, the experience rarely lasts and we end up chasing that initial soothing feeling that never comes back, we drink more and more and end up feeling worse, usually in the middle of the night.
Why we need to drink more
The more we drink, the more we feel the negative effects of alcohol which undo that moment of relief and relaxation we get with the first sip, so how do we relax without alcohol?
What else is there and how can we get that glorious feeling as we kick off our shoes and sink into the chair without the negative after-effects of alcohol?
If you take a moment and think, there are loads of things you can do which will leave you feeling chilled and calm – no need for chemicals to help you relax and unwind. And, actually that craving or need we feel just before we do grab the bottle and glass is simply the anticipation that we will soon be relieved of the stressful or anxious feelings we are experiencing.
Being aware of how alcohol works
Awareness is so important. So, start by being curious. Explore and ask. When you reach for the wine or your tipple of choice, what is it you really desire? It is rarely the alcohol. We think we are using alcohol to relax or unwind but what we are really doing is dulling how we are feeling about the things gone before, the never-ending to-do list, the crazy workload, family pressures, demands on our time.
What is it that you are really trying to achieve? And, how else can you do this?
How to relax without alcohol
Here are some ideas on how you can relax without alcohol.
Have a bath or shower
Considering that we are made up of over 70% water and we spent the first nine months of our life underwater, it is no wonder that being in, on, or near water promotes a soothing and relaxing effect on our mind, body and soul.
The quickest and easiest way to get this connection is to jump in the shower. But, unlike your quick morning rinse, take your time. Really get into the moment and allow the relaxation and the water to wash over you.
If you’ve more time, indulge in a long, luxurious relaxing bath, light candles, add essential oils and feel your troubles float away.
Listening to water sounds is also a great way to relax, so anything like waves, waterfalls and even rain will produce relaxing chemicals and hormones.
If you’ve got more time then get yourself to the beach, a lake or river. The combination of water, fresh air and being in nature will soothe and relax like nothing else can.
Do something you enjoy
What do you enjoy doing and when was the last time you did it? What would you like to do? Fun family activities are great ways to spend time with your loved ones, boosting your happy hormones, creating memories and savouring moments. What about spending a bit more time on your hobby or outdoor activity that you have always wanted to try?
Spending time doing something that genuinely brings you joy will help reduce your overall stress and when you’re not stressed you feel more relaxed. Laughter too really is the best medicine, it relaxes the body and well, makes you feel good. Having a good laugh can help to release any physical stress or tension too and the effects can last up to 45 minutes. What’s not to love about that?!
Doing some sort of exercise, especially if you can do it outdoors has so many wonderful benefits, not least in sobriety. Exercise is a great way to manage cravings, get out of your head for a while, relieve some of the day’s tension and enjoy being in nature.
You can do any kind of exercise you like, do it alone or with friends and family. Plus the benefit of exercise in terms of relaxing is that after actively using your muscles, your body will naturally relax, as will your mind. Choose something you like and if you haven’t done anything for a while then start small. A brisk walk in the afternoon or some yoga before bed is a perfect way to begin.
Make a soothing drink, non-alcoholic of course
We find comfort in routines and ritual. The opening of the fridge or cracking open a beer is often all we need to feel calm, at home, that the day is over and we can now relax. Make a ritual out of preparing a new drink. Indulge in fancy teas and posh coffee.
Go all out and prepare mocktails, add garnishes, make it look pretty and luxurious. Take your time and enjoy the ritual of fixing yourself something wonderful that tastes delicious.
Get lost in a mindful activity
Drinking and mindfulness are complete opposites. Most of the time we drink without really thinking about it and often rush through our drinks just to get the end result. However, when you are really engrossed in something it is deeply relaxing and you don’t think about anything else.
Exercise is an excellent example of mindful activity, as is cooking, knitting, sewing, colouring-in, or creating anything. Even washing the dishes, folding the laundry, walking the dog or reading a book is something that you can get lost in. Choose something that brings you joy and where you can easily lose yourself for a while, this is such a nice way to relax without alcohol.
Embrace the power of music
When was the last time you listened to a song and really heard it? The melody, the beat, the lyrics? Have you heard something that made you feel anxious, annoyed or uptight? Do you have a favourite song that takes you back to that time on holiday or invokes another wonderful memory?
Find some songs or music that soothes and calms and listen to it on the way home from work or before bed. Better still, create a playlist of chill-out music and just allow yourself to sit there and take it all in.
When you are stressed or anxious, your breathing is shallow and quick, usually happening in the chest. When you are calm and relaxed, your breathing comes from the belly, it is slow, rhythmic and deep. Just as your mood can affect the way you breathe, the way you breathe has a direct impact on your mood. If you want to relax your body and mind, then the quickest and easiest way to do this is by focusing on your breath.
There are loads of breathing techniques you can try but my favourite is ‘box breathing’ or ‘square breathing’
Breathe in deeply through your nose for the count of four (put your hand on your belly if you like to feel the breath going in and out)
Hold your breath at the top for the count of four
Exhale, slowly through your mouth, again for the count of four
And hold at the bottom, to the count of four
Repeat this breathing pattern for 5 minutes and I promise you will feel so much more calm and relaxed.
Just sit down, put your feet up and close your eyes
Sometimes we don’t want to ‘do’ anything. And that’s okay. We are so used to rushing through our days that we hardly ever do ‘nothing.’
But, ten minutes of nothingness is very soothing to the mind, body and soul. I love the quote by Etty Hillesum: “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
So go on, take a break and rest.
Can you make that change?
I know that it can be tricky, even scary at first to learn how to relax without alcohol, but with practice, you will get better and find healthier ways to get that wonderful calming, soothing feeling you desire.
The negative effects of alcohol have such a far-reaching impact on our lives, that that brief moment of relaxation that you get with a glass of wine or a few beers come at a heavy price.
While it might take longer to really appreciate the joy and relaxation you get from reading a book, going for a walk or having a long luxurious shower, the effects are far longer reaching.
There is a strong link between alcohol and increased anxiety, so if your drinking is not relaxing anymore, if your drinking is causing more stress and anxiety than you would like, maybe it is time to try something which is more soothing, restorative and nourishing.
Even the act of drinking less or taking a break will be enough to reduce your general anxiety so you can experience the benefits of this alone, without doing anything else.
About the author
Gayle is a teacher and addiction therapist sharing with others how she lives a sober life and helping women like you and me to live a sober life too. She offers a free initial coaching call so you can see if you think her support would help you.