Can’t Face Dry January? Try Mindful January Instead

There is an easier way to drink less: no deprivation required

Woman drinking

by Rosamund Dean |

If you had been planning to embark on Dry January this year, your good intentions might have flown out of the window some time between hearing the phrase ‘Tier 4’ and frantically trying to find out if your kids’ school will be reopening this month.

I wouldn’t blame you: alcohol is a common coping mechanism for dealing with everything from stress and anxiety to loneliness and boredom, so it’s no surprise to learn that the stats show many of us drank more than ever in 2020. The trouble is that, although drinking numbs those negative feelings in the moment, alcohol is actually a depressant that depletes dopamine levels to the extent that the drinker needs more and more to get the same effect. Dopamine depletion is also associated with tiredness, anxiety, insomnia, low motivation and depression. NOT what you need right now.

So, if you feel that the first part of 2021 is going to be enough of a challenge without also trying to wean yourself off your G&T, then there is another way. Mindful Drinking is a more achievable goal than Dry January, because it takes the pressure off. Follow these tips and, you never know, you might actually prefer the less-alcohol you.

SET SOME RULES

Alcohol-free days are an important part of cutting back, so decide how many days a week you are going to allow yourself to drink. I generally go by the Rule of Three, so I have three drinking days each week, with no more than three drinks on those days. Keep track of your progress in an app like Dry Days or Drinkaware’s Track & Calculate Units.

DEFINE YOUR INCENTIVE

What are your reasons for wanting to drink less? Perhaps you want to improve your mood and have less anxiety. Maybe 2020 made you more aware of your physical health, and you want to improve your digestion and immunity. It could be that you want to lose weight and have clearer, firmer, glowier skin. Or maybe you simply want to save money. Whatever is your most powerful incentive, remind yourself of it every day.

KNOW YOURSELF

While many of us are drinking more than ever, interestingly, there has also been a rise in people stopping drinking altogether. This doesn’t mean that some people have adapted ‘better’ to a difficult year, or that they have more will power. It simply means that their triggers are different. Many people’s drinking danger zones are social situations, so they find it easy to drink less in a year of almost no IRL socialising (and they’ll struggle to control themselves once we’re all allowed out again). Maybe your danger zone is having a drink to unwind from work stress, perhaps it’s distracting yourself from loneliness or boredom, or it could simply be that you’ve got into the habit of opening a bottle of wine as a demarcation of the end of another day in lockdown. Whatever the reason, identify it and name it, then you can think of other ways to address it.

MAKE A LIST OF DRINK-FREE DISTRACTIONS

Feeling stressed? Turn some music up loud and have a kitchen disco to burn it off. Anxious? Call your mum or best friend to talk it through. Feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty? You can’t control the pandemic, but you can control what you do this evening, so make a healthy choice: have a bath, go for a run, read a book, watch a film – whatever makes you feel good without giving you a hangover.

MAKE IT INCONVENIENT TO DRINK

This sounds too simple to make any real difference but, honestly, human beings are lazy. Don’t keep alcohol in the house so that you have to go to the shop if you want it. Hide your corkscrew. Even something as silly as keeping your wine glasses in an annoying-to-reach cupboard can make the difference between having a drink and not bothering.

DRINK BETTER

My Christmas rule was: ‘only if it’s Champagne’, which made it easier to drink less, not least because it would have been bloody expensive to be mainlining Champagne every day of the festive break. I did break this rule occasionally, with the odd glass of good red wine with dinner, but I didn’t feel bad about it because I enjoyed it, and I didn’t overdo it. But even if I did overdo it, I wouldn’t feel bad about it because…

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

This is arguably the hardest, but most important, step of the process. There will absolutely be times that you drink more than you intended to, and it’s tempting to feel like you’ve ‘failed’, that alcohol has ‘won’, and you are powerless to control it. It’s human nature to be hard on ourselves but, instead, try and see it as an opportunity to learn about yourself: what were the triggers that led you to overdrink? How will you deal with them next time?

So take the pressure off. Don’t aim for sobriety and punish yourself for failing. Drink less – not because you think you should – but because it will make you feel better right now.

Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life by Rosamund Dean is out now. For January only, it's available on Kindle for 99p

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