There are many alternatives to alcohol!
I am listening to all the TV and radio debates on government proposals to increase the cost of alcohol to discourage us from drinking so much. The aim is to reduce the enormous costs to the NHS of alcohol misuse and the social and psychological impact of excessive alcohol consumption on drinkers and their families.
What shocks me as I am listening is that the majority of speakers assume that most of us turn to alcohol when stress strikes. This reflects a deep-rooted cultural norm; Think of the times you have heard or possibly said: “I need a stiff drink” or “let’s go for a drink and drown my sorrows” at times of stress or unhappiness.
Of course, alcohol also takes centre stage in times of joy and celebration where it is not uncommon for people to drink too much and behave badly. It’s time to question our relationship with alcohol when someone who is drunk, cannot remember the whole event, is sick, wakes up with a splitting headache and hangover that takes another whole day to clear and then, tells me that they had a brilliant time!
The dangers of excessive alcohol use are well known. What is much less well known are the healthier alternatives when faced with stress.
So, what are the alternatives?
Here is a list of 5 simple things you can do instantly instead of reaching for a glass and the bottle or can of alcohol.
- Put your coat on and have a brisk walk for 10 to 20 minutes. If the weather puts you off, then do something physical in the house. Walk up and down the stairs. Walk or run on the spot. Tackle the physical housework and so on.
- Write your feelings out instead of letting them fester within you. There are two ways to do this. (a) Free flowing writing- start by ‘I am feeling anxious/angry/ sad because……….’ and keep writing without analysing what is being written. Just keep it flowing freely. (b) Write an unsent letter to whoever is upsetting you. This way you can channel all that emotion out of your system without any repercussions. You often gain the clarity of your next step having let it all out.
- Search social media for relaxation and meditation techniques or listen to an app. Practice a few now and keep up with the ones that work for you whenever you are tempted to reach for alcohol again.
- Pick up the phone and speak to someone you trust. In the absence of this speak to someone at the Samaritans which is a free support line.You can also if available, access an Employment Assistance helpline if you have one at work or medical/personal insurance. Keep this number handy and use it whenever you are tempted to drink.
- Drive or walk up to a place of natural surrounding beauty. Nature is nourishing and has a mysterious way of enabling calm and clarity of mind. If you do not have the energy or inclination to do this, then download some natural images on your phone or computer and gaze into these. Save the ones you like for when you may be enticed to go for the alcohol again.
I have no issues with responsible alcohol intake, but it is a serious issue when its seen as the only way out of a stressful situation or when it is abused with serious implications on the workplace, society and environment.
It is time that we all, and in particular the media, did more to promote healthier alternatives to drinking in times of stress. For a start, let us see more of famous characters on TV using and emulating the five strategies above in scenes depicting distress. Let us start the dialogue that will raise the public’s awareness to these alternatives.
Think about the rewards of doing so: Our NHS saving millions and happier families that will not suffer the consequences of alcohol abuse.
It is not too late to turn the culture around and build an alternative coping repertoire at times of distress and difficulty.
Hansa Pankhania is the Author of
‘From Stress to Success’ – Five inspirational stories of overcoming workplace stress ‘
‘Stress to Success for Managers and Employees– A dynamic programme for total wellbeing’
She is a Fellow of the International Stress Management Association and has worked with over 100 companies nationally to promote the natural wellbeing message.