Alternative stress mediators to alcohol

Whether you were adhering to ‘dry January’ or not, that month is over and the pressure is off. However, many people who temporarily quit or limit drinking for the new year aim to keep the ball rolling beyond the first month, for the betterment of both their health and their performance at work. Mark Pinches,head of coaching at Westfield Health, offers advice on ways to enjoy time outside of school that don’t include drinking

The new year is a great time for resolutions and fresh starts, though many struggle to stick to pledges and find themselves reaching for a glass of their favourite tipple after a busy day at work. When feeling stressed, it’s often easy to turn to alcohol.

Whilst a small amount of pressure can help people work harder, intense stress can have a major impact on both physical and mental wellbeing, so it is important to know how to manage it effectively.

Take up a hobby
If you’re needing a way to unwind that doesn’t involve alcohol, consider taking up a hobby in your spare time. Doing something new outside of work will challenge your brain in a different way, take your mind off of workplace stresses and help you relax. Hobbies can be as active, or as stationary, as you like and don’t have to be regimented – though some may find meeting for a scheduled class helps them to commit.

The social interaction that comes with group hobbies will give you the chance to form new relationships outside of the workplace and help relieve stress. Alternatively, hobbies like gardening, cooking and writing are all solitary and can be picked up ad hoc.

Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your awareness and attention to the present moment. It combines meditation, yoga and various breathing exercises that not only reduce stress, but also help build an inner strength against stressful situations. Mindfulness will give you a chance to pause, and step back from your thoughts, at the end of a busy day – allowing you to refocus on goals for the following day.

If you feel too busy to take time out for relaxation, plan ahead by setting aside space in your diary. Not only will this improve your mental wellbeing, over time, it will also help make sure you don’t fall off the wagon.

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Exercise
Exercise is a great stress release and something that people of all abilities can take up. When we do physical activities the brain releases endorphins which are ‘feel good hormones’, giving a natural high and boosting mood. A good way to stick to this is to commit to exercising a couple of nights a week with a friend or colleague, as you’ll be less likely to cancel last minute. Not only will this improve your mental health, but the combination of less alcohol and more exercise is bound to pay off physically, too.

Prepare
Organisation and forward planning will not only alleviate stress, but will also prevent it occurring in future situations. It can be easy to go home, have a drink and turn your head away from the looming problems of the following day – but this will only lead to additional pressure and, eventually, burnout.

In general, the more you familiarise yourself with a problem, the more comfortable you will be with it, and, therefore, less stressed. However, it is also important to remember to shut off from work, so aim to get preparation done early in the evening so you can zone out, and focus on something else, to help you unwind before going to bed.

Healthy eating
Giving up alcohol is a great opportunity to also eat clean, as fast food and drinking often come hand-in-hand. As well as improving your physical health, sensible diet and nutrition choices can improve stress levels as, in general, comfort foods increase the hormones that make us feel stressed. Likewise, certain foods are more likely to boost mood and reduce stress levels.

Eating carbohydrates increases serotonin levels in our bodies – a hormone that improves both mood and concentration. It is, therefore, a good idea to incorporate a sensible amount of carbohydrates into your diet, without going overboard.

For more information, visit: www.westfieldhealth.com/blog

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