You’re probably used to drinking at nice dinners out with friends. Or meeting the girls for a happy hour cocktail, maybe having a mimosa at brunch. Of course, there were the occasional game days, or fun nights out where you might get a bit too tipsy, but those were the exception, not the rule.
Since the pandemic hit, we’ve all been spending more time in our homes with less socializing. The days of meeting up for drinks or nice dinners with fancy bottles of wine might feel like a distant memory.
If you’re like most people, you might have got in the habit of bookending your (at home) workdays with a cocktail or craft beer. But now that we’re nearly a year into the pandemic, you might find yourself asking, do I really need to drink?
Understanding Health Drinking
The lines have been blurred around what “healthy” drinking is for years. TV shows like Mad Men don’t help because they show us how popular drinking (and smoking for that matter) was years ago. New traditions and delicious new options have been brewed since then leaving us to wonder, what is healthy when it comes to alcohol consumption?
While we can look around and find several reasons to drink – our social scene is filled with establishments that promote drinking alcohol. Stores that sell wine and beer have stayed open through the pandemic (some restaurants even deliver them!). Aside from the occasional months dedicated to sobriety – dry January, or “sober October” – we can’t find much evidence for moderation.
Meanwhile, researchers continue to debate the potential health benefits of moderate drinking—three drinks a night is almost certainly too much, but a drink or two might help us live longer.
Either way, we get the overarching message, that alcohol is like junk food: You know it’s not explicitly good, but consuming it offers a mental release and a momentary pleasure. When we start turning to alcohol for daily stress relief, help with anxiety, or to distance ourselves from the challenges of daily living, it brings into question whether or not the relationship is healthy.
If you’re having difficulty maintaining moderation and healthy boundaries around when and how much you consume, it might be time to consider making a change around your alcohol consumption.
There are Advantages of Cutting Back
Despite making you feel calmer in the moment, alcohol induced calm causes your neurochemicals to swing back in the other direction as soon as you’re sober. That means there’s a larger spike in anxiety waiting for you when the alcohol wears off.
A night cap might make you fall asleep easier, but it prevents you from entering a deep sleep and getting the quality of sleep your body needs to function optimally.
Alcohol also dehydrates and messes with your gut microbiome. There’s no denying that without it, you’ll have more endurance and energy for workouts, and your body will better absorb nutrients.
Steps to Cutting Back
You don’t need to wait for January or October to decide to cut back on the amount of alcohol you consume. The choice also doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Here are some steps to help you get started:
- Set a drink limit. Decide to limit the number of drinks per night to 1 or 2, or the number of nights you drink.
- Swap out alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic beer, cider or even mock cocktails.
- Break the pattern by changing your scenery. Used to having a beer on the couch after work? Go for a walk after work and decide to have a beer with supper (if you want one). When you change the routine, you’ll change your conditioned response.
- Tweak your hobbies. Hanging out with friends over drinks might be the usual, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it up for an afternoon hike, movie night, or board game session instead.
- Move your body. Adding exercise to your day will increase endorphins that will make you feel good as you change your habits. Try a Zoom Zumba class, go for a walk, or join a virtual MoveCamp session for free.