It can be easy to fall into negative habits with alcohol in lockdown (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)
The first few days of January 2021 were full of promise. But then Boris put us back into a nationwide lockdown, and the existential despair hit us hard.
For those of us who had pledged to do Dry January – a month with no alcohol – the thought of spending weeks sitting at home without even the pleasure of a warming glass of red wine, or a cold beer, seemed unfathomable.
Lockdown life is hard enough – why make it harder with self-inflicted sobriety?
But, although it might be tempting to abandon Dry January amid the news of a third lockdown, experts say you should stick with it – it could be the best thing for your body and mind.
‘With the bleak news of another lockdown, it’s easy to think that we might as well just give up now,’ says Sam Adams, The REAL Life Coach.
‘I get it. Most of my friends feel flat and tearful, and this is totally understandable. Our emotions are all over the place due to the constant moving of goalposts.
‘But if you’ve already started Dry January, my advice is to dig deep and stick with it. Because the benefits will be worth it.’
Sam’s golden rule is that if she feels really lo, she won’t touch alcohol – because it only heightens your emotions, especially the negative ones.
‘Sticking to Dry January will force you to look for other, perhaps healthier, ways to relax and de-stress’ (Picture: Getty Images/fStop)
It’s actually very easy for people to quickly fall into a new habit or behaviour, and if we choose a negative one, Sam says we can end up on a slippery slope.
‘Challenging ourselves is great for our confidence, doing this in one area of our lives can impact others positively,’ says Sam.
‘Sticking to Dry January will force you to look for other, perhaps healthier, ways to relax and de-stress, and it will actually help you feel more in control.
‘You set this goal for a good reason and here’s why I think you should stick with it and why it’s needed more than ever in this uncertain time:
‘When we set goals or challenges for ourselves it can improve our motivation, self confidence and esteem and lead to success in other areas.
‘Each day you get further along, the challenge is you entrenching a new pattern of behaviour and likely improving the feel good factor within yourself.
‘You started this because you believed in yourself enough that you could do it, and because it will have a positive impact on your health. So remind yourself of that, and that you have the ability to find other ways to relax.’
How to stick to Dry January in lockdown
‘Dry January is a concrete goal, and anchor we can attach too in times when uncertainty rules,’ says Lee Chambers MSc MBPsS, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant.
‘It shows us the possibility of what we can do, how we can find other options and solutions and is practicing having a possibility mindset in action.’
To maintain focus, Lee says it’s important to remove the chance to be triggered.
‘We can’t let our human impulsiveness dictate our drinking habits, instead, give yourself the space to make an empowered choice,’ he says.
‘Move alcohol out of the kitchen and out of eye-line, and plan for those occasions when your willpower is depleted.
‘Remember that making a 100% decision is more comfortable than a 98% decision, and you cut off all options and won’t have that nagging voice of the 2% testing you ever time you think about it.’
Dry January may be easier than cutting out alcohol at other times of the year due to the lack of social occasions where drinking is the norm – and lockdown is just an extension of this. But with so little to do, it can be tempting to use booze as a distraction.
Here are Sam’s top tips to help you stick with your teetotal goal for the month:
Create the right environment
Eemove alcohol from home and replace with your new go-to items and things to relax and de-stress you.
Setting goals can improve our mental health and level of personal and professional success. It’s important to keep the future benefit in the front of your mind.
Focus on what you can control
Which ultimately is your thinking and behaviours.
Form positive habits
Around 40-50% of everything we do on a daily basis is habitual, we spend half our lives on autopilot.
So, looking at our habits is super important. When you have a negative thought you have to learn to become conscious and self-aware, and ask yourself ‘is this empowering me, is it limiting me, will it hinder me?’
‘Taking on Dry January puts you in a position of power, over your own life, your own behaviours and your own health,’ says Sam.
‘In such times of uncertainty, these aspects of self-awareness and control can really impact how you feel about external events that we are powerless over.’
Sticking to your goals in lockdown
Think about your wider goals and the context for your challenge
Why do you actually want to do this? Is it just to set yourself a challenge that you know you might find hard but you want to know you can achieve it? In which case, you might find a national lockdown could make achieving your goal even easier without some of the social cues and peer pressure that may have otherwise thrown you off.
Create small, attainable steps for yourself to complete every day
Dig deep into the ‘why’ behind your new goal – this will help you understand what’s driving your desire for change. It can be helpful to write down this ‘why’ to remind you of your intentions.
Think about a replacement and recognise internal and external triggers
If you’re one of the 21% of Brits (according to Noom’s research) planning to cut back on alcohol or do Dry January, perhaps order in some speciality fruit teas or keep the bottles out of sight.
Physical distance doesn’t have to mean complete isolation
Goals are best achieved when you are supported by others, so perhaps go about your goals along with a friend so you can talk about your challenges and support one another virtually.
Track your progress
Keeping a record of your daily achievements can help you stay motivated and engaged, so maybe mark off a calendar to provide you with a visual representation of your little daily successes.
Plan a reward for yourself
Restricting something completely from your diet is not actually a good idea because it can lead to binge consumption and unhealthy choices in the longer run. However, for any challenge you want to achieve, it can be helpful to plot a reward system into your plans and goals.
Honey Langcaster-James, psychologist and ambassador for Noom
The benefits of doing Dry January in lockdown
The benefits of abstaining from alcohol for a month are well-recorded. We know it’s largely good for our bodies and overall wellbeing, but why could a booze ban be particularly beneficial during lockdown?
‘Having a target is really powerful for us as human beings, and this is even more vital when there is a lot of change and chaos in our external environment,’ explains Lee.
‘We feel able to control variables, and that gives us comfort and stability even in the harshest of times.’
Lee says that having a health goal is a conscious self-care choice, and this is increasingly powerful in a time when a pandemic is threatening our health.
‘Following a plan for our health makes us feel more empowered to tackle challenges we may face, and can help us start to feel that the pandemic is less of a threat to us, and more of a challenge for us to tackle,’ he adds.
‘Additionally, while alcohol initially masks elements of our mood and anxiety, it impacts our sleep quality, which in turn affects our emotional balance and regulation. This leaves us more anxious about our situation, meaning Dry January is a tool for happiness as well as health.
He says you should look at Dry January as setting a target and achieving it every day for a month – which is 30 wins.
‘These small wins should be celebrated,’ he says. ‘Tick them off a calendar, have a dance at the end of each day.
‘By celebrating, we generate some positivity resonance that builds up to protect us from future challenges.’
What to do if you have struggled with drinking in previous lockdowns
Alcohol consumption has been a problem for many people over lockdown.
A study during the November lockdown found that almost one in three (29%) were drinking at increasing or high risk levels over the past six months (over 14 units per week). Over half (53%) said they had drunk alcohol for a mental health reason – such as feeling anxious, stressed or worried, having trouble sleeping, or feeling sad.
If this sounds familiar, you might be concerned about your relationship with alcohol during this upcoming lockdown. But Lee has some advice:
‘I suggest you make a plan for any situations where you would normally drink, or be triggered into having a drink,’ he says. ‘Having a variety of different non-alcoholic can be beneficial, allowing you more choice, so you don’t feel deprived.
‘Remove the temptation too; we’ve likely got Christmas leftovers and new alcoholic presents in prominent places.’
As well as hiding or giving away your bottles of Christmas booze, Lee suggests getting a support team on board to keep you accountable and to support you when you’re finding it tough.
‘You can also motivate each other to keep going and celebrate together,’ he adds.
‘Get creative with what you can do, and don’t try to do everything at once. Explore some different activities and do more of the things that get you in flow, where the world just passes by.
‘Break the association of alcohol as a treat by treating yourself to something else that you enjoy.’
Alcohol can often be a coping mechanism or a way to relax, Lee says it’s essential to find another way of achieving this.
‘Whether it’s going on a walk, yoga or a hot bath, if we can stimulate the same benefits of alcohol without drinking, we start to see all the other potentialities without having to default to having a drink.’
Remember, if you’re really worried about how much you are drinking – or finding it impossible to go more than a day or so without needing a drink – speak to someone.
Talk to your GP for advice, or contact an addiction helpline – which can offer help anonymously.
And if Dry January is just too much of a stretch right now, there’s no need to put pressure on yourself.
Committing to cutting down on your alcohol – rather than cutting it out entirely – is still a healthy choice to make, and might be more sustainable right now.
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