Redefining our relationship to alcohol needn’t be about abstinence, but rather about putting self-care practices in place before the holiday hangover
Are you contemplating drinking your way through the holidays? If you are, you certainly aren’t alone. At-home alcohol consumption skyrocketed during the pandemic, and shows no signs of slowing down soon.
If you’re feeling like this might be the solution to get through this time of year, I can relate.
I used to drink my way through the holidays.
In addition to using alcohol to get out of my head and all of the work I thought I ‘should have’ been doing, I also used it as my coping mechanism for pent up stress, familial expectations and unresolved issues that seemed to flare up during the holiday season.
The problem was, I often ended up feeling worse for the wear. Hungover, bloated, bad skin breakouts, and anxious from lack of sleep — were not the holiday gifts I was looking forward to, though that is what I somehow always ended up with.
Worse, I’d often get sick and spend the few days I had at home with my family stuffing feelings and symptoms by self-medicating with Dayquil and sneaking Kahlua into my coffee. How else was I supposed to fake that holiday cheer?
Over the years, I’ve refined my approach a bit.
These 6 strategies show that the path of moderation can actually bring the most benefits, including the ability to indulge a bit while staying healthy and having a better handle on stress in the process.
Set Your Intentions
Too often, we accept the holidays as an inevitable ‘all or nothing’ affair… vowing to get back on track in January with all the other resolutions. (Isn’t that what ‘Dry-nuary’ is all about?)
What if you were to navigate the holidays in a way that didn’t lead you to feel like a detox or sober month was necessary at the end of it all?
Set some time aside (the sooner the better) to set your intentions for the holidays.
How do you want to feel during the holidays? Now get more specific and think about what might be potentially triggering this year — whether it be the isolation, the on-going stress of having EVERYONE AT HOME ALL THE TIME (and now for the holidays too!?), the disappointment around lack of holiday travel or whatever it may be (this list is likely longer than Santa’s). Ha.
Ask yourself — How am I really feeling about this? Allow the thoughts, feelings and emotions to flow. Then follow up with — How would I like to be feeling instead? Finally, ask yourself the question — What do I need in order to be feeling MORE of what I want?
The thing is, alcohol isn’t really a long-term sustainable solution. It might work in the moment to numb out or provide a brief respite, but when you wake up the next day, the trigger is still there (not to mention all the undesirable side effects).
Getting clear on how you want to feel and setting your intentions based on that, then creating a plan or guideline for yourself, will help you feel more in control and less of a victim of circumstance.
Take the time to write it down. You are far more likely to follow through on your intentions if you take the time to get clear and externalize them by writing them down. There’s just something about putting pen to paper and declaring things. It makes it real. Bonus points if you share your intentions with someone else who can support you to stay on track — go ahead and buddy up, grab an accountability partner!
Plan Your Alternatives
It’s one thing to say “I don’t want to drink as much this year” or “I’m not going to eat the whole pie or my weight in candied yams,” (my personal fave) but without alternatives in place, these intentions can fall short.
Why not use this increased time at home to try some new mocktail recipes? I recently learned how to make cordial at home (a concentrated syrup that can be added to sparkling water or tonic). I’ve been playing around with flavor combinations and my new favorite is mandarin-cardamom. There are so many holiday spices and ingredients that you likely already have in your fridge and pantry that you can use to try different infusions and blends.
Now’s the perfect time to try new recipes. A simple Google search of “healthy non-alcoholic holiday cocktails” will bring up myriad of options with seasonal ingredients such as ginger, allspice, pumpkin, apple, cranberry, peppermint — in a variety of hot and cold options. Remember, pouring it into a fancy cup and adding garnish will make it feel like more of a treat and less of a consolation.
Start Your Day The Healthy Way With Holiday Rituals
During the holidays, try to stick to your morning routine as much as possible.
I’ve noticed that I’m a lot less likely to go overboard on booze and unhealthy treats when I start my day healthfully and with intention. For me that means sticking to my morning ritual of water and lemon juice, green tea and then green juice or green smoothie. I try to start my day with a few minutes of meditation or journaling, and this can be a welcome break to get centered during family gatherings as well (if those are even happening this year).
During the holiday season, I make an extra effort to stick to my morning routine because I know it sets me up well. It eases my mind to know that I’ve started my day giving my body a boost of vitamins, minerals and alkalizing foods. Taking a few moments to myself each day to ground and center myself also helps prepare me for any potential stressors that may come flying at me — and will help me remember my alternatives to drowning my stress in alcohol.
Yeah, the holidays can be stressful, no doubt about it. This year might be serving up different kinds of stress, as we try to navigate situations and regulations that are unfamiliar and potentially isolating. We might feel as though our home is a pressure cooker that’s been simmering for too long and is about to explode.
Try to create boundaries around your time and your sacred space and routines. It’s also important to cut yourself some slack. Give yourself a break and acknowledge the effects of the accumulated stress from this year. Try to go easy on yourself as much as possible.
Take stock of your stress management techniques and start practicing self-care, now. Don’t wait for it to barrel you over. Book a massage (if possible), take relaxing baths, listen to a guided meditation to take a mental break — in a word: chill. Create moments of stillness and calm for yourself. You deserve it (and you’ll need it).
Peace Begins With Me: An Easy Tapping Ritual
This easy ritual is a blend of a kundalini yoga practice and ‘finger tapping’ — an EFT technique. Theexercise is very simple, and you can do it anywhere (even with family around)! Repeat the mantra Peace Begins With Me as you tap your thumb on the side of your pointer, middle, ring and little fingers consecutively, in the space between the end of our finger and your first joint. Each word corresponds with a different finger.
Peace — Pointer
Begins — Middle
With — Ring
Me — Little
This meditation redirects your mind, reduces stress and supports your overall wellbeing by pressing on the different fingers. Hint: This can even be done in the middle of dinner or a difficult conversation if need be. Simply hold your hands in your lap under the table.
We all know that any situation can become even more irritating or taxing if we are sleep deprived.
Imagine making this holiday as restorative as possible.
Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. If you are drinking alcohol, remember that drinking more than the recommended amount as well as drinking right before bed can actually disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep. (If you are curious about the recommended amount for the evening, ‘low risk guidelines’ suggest no more than 2 standard drinks for women or 3 standard drinks for men.
If possible, have your last drink at least an hour before bed, and try a cup of calming chamomile or sleepy time tea instead. Of course, powering down electronics and treating yourself to a relaxing bedtime routine will also help you unwind. Another trick is to drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks — it slows you down and hydrates you.
Here are some additional questions you can use for reflection as you approach this holiday season:
What are the gifts available to me this holiday season?
Without office parties, social gatherings, and family obligations — what becomes available to me?
If I had the opportunity to use this time for healing, rest and reflection — what could be possible?
What shifts do I need to make to reduce stress and decrease isolation?
We all know that this year will be different…and maybe next year will be too. Continuing to numb or distract from this reality isn’t going to make it go away. What if this holiday season could be approached as a time to establish some healthier habits without the pressure of outside influences?
It might not be our favorite thing to be changing familiar traditions, but if we can start to see the opportunity rather than the lack, we can potentially create new traditions and healthier habits that will not only benefit us, but also our families, in the long term.
You may also enjoy reading Daring to Disrupt: The Healthy Deviant’s Holiday Survival Guide, by Pilar Gerasimo