How to Stay Zen. Do you have a healthy relationship with alcohol?
Last Thursday saw World Mental Health Day.
Mental health awareness day makes us reflect, What is mental health? Am I ‘mentally fit’? When do problems, stress, depression, when do they become a mental health issue?
There are many ways to recognise depression, anxiety, chronic stress, the conditions themselves, and the way they present themselves.
In general, it might be helpful to recognise depression as fatigue, wanting to sleep, aching body, a feeling of heaviness, loss of social appetite, lack of interest, a feeling of being stuck (maybe in the past).
Perhaps anxiety as sleeplessness, being wired, tight body, perhaps heart flutters, shallow breath, a feeling of confusion, muddle, not being able to think straight, but thinking what shall I do next, what will get me out of this situation (looking to the future).
Both equations often come a greater dependency on booze.
Alcohol, wine, bottles of beer, G&T, part of our culture. Some of you reading this will not recognise this to be true, but a vast proportion of the people I know, professionals and parents, will.
It used to be “lets have a cup of tea”, now often it’s “let’s have a glass of wine”, “beer-o-clock”, “prosecco time”.
Now, before going any further I believe in honesty and authenticity – I too love a glass or two of wine, in fact many times in the past, and occasionally still, I have been found drinking too many cocktails and dancing all night, as my friends know – once I set an intention there’s no stopping me! But over the years I have closely followed my relationship with alcohol and given it some proper understanding and respect, and particularly over the last two years as we as a family have struggled with devastating personal loss, moving to a new house, financial concerns – crap stuff we all go through.
I am also more and more aware of having a teenage daughter and a ten-year-old son and how I am teaching them to cope with the demands and domesticity of life, do I want them to turn to booze as the answer. No.
Booze at best brings fun and laughter.
It is fantastic as a social stimulant to ease us into relaxation. There are studies that show us that moderate levels of alcohol can be good for us, if we do not drink to excess and drink purely for pleasure. It’s a super quick way to receive a hit of Dopamine after a long and heavy week. Alcohol, drugs, it’s all simply about the dopamine system and brain reward circuitry. Alcohol is an indirect stimulant. It makes us feel ‘alive’. Alcohol affects both ‘excitatory’ transmitters and ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitters.
But we do know that at worst, alcohol is a depressant.
If you are drinking because you are sad, angry, want to escape, you are down, anxious, can’t sleep without it, then that’s not a healthy relationship with booze. As much as it stimulates, Alcohol also suppresses the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and increases the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. So, with excessive drinking – as we may recall? – thought, speech, movement are all slowed down.
As David DiSalvo reports in his best-selling book “What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite”, The twist with alcohol is the oxymoronic way it works. ‘Alcohol increases your release of dopamine in your brain’s reward centre. The reward centre is the same combination of brain areas (particularly the ventral striatum) that are affected by virtually all pleasurable activity, including everything from hanging out with friends, going on holiday, getting a big bonus at work, ingesting drugs (like cocaine), and drinking alcohol. By heightening dopamine levels in the brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking it’s making you feel great! (or maybe that you are just ‘feeling better’ if you already know you are down). The effect is that you keep drinking more and more to get the dopamine release, but, at the same time, you are actually altering other brain chemicals that are continuously enhancing feelings of depression’.
It just doesn’t seem fair.
So, what to do?
Drink with awareness and mindfulness. See yourself as in this relationship with alcohol and be aware of whether it is working for you, or not. If it is suppressing your life, oppressing you, making you feel down, giving you head-aches, making you put on weight, making you feel shame, self-hatred, feel sluggish, I would suggest this is a toxic relationship – and like any other relationship which is toxic – don’t put up with it, get it out of your life.
If you have it under control, and it is a glass of wine with ‘Strictly’, a bottle of wine with a meal with family or friends, an occasional party blow-out, cool. But, if you spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol (be honest) or are sitting at home drinking a bottle or more of wine on your own too often, maybe there’s some other shit to deal with.
Bigger picture self-care.
So, I have had periods of sitting at home drinking a bottle of wine on my own most nights, and I now recognise this for what it is. Unhappiness, and escapism, pure and simple. If this is a period of desperate grief, or loss, then maybe, just for a while, it is understandable, and we allow ourselves time. But at some point, the recognition that there is a whole amazing, beautiful, life to be present in out there waiting for you, must kick back in.
BECAUSE THERE IS!
How to find it?
We may find it first by seeing a counsellor, a CBT expert, a friend, someone who will listen, understand, and really help you.
Perhaps we may commit to practise mindfulness, meditation, breath-work, relaxation. We know that these practises release dopamine and encourage us to live inside the parasympathetic nervous system – which is the good system where lush hormones: endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin lie.
Mindfulness in a nutshell is learning to climb out of the drag of the past or the constant pull of the future and instead being ‘in the present moment’. After all the present moment is all we ever really have, miss the present moments and you’re totally missing out on life. Meditation is slightly different as you can meditate on positivity, on gratitude, on love and kindness. Meditating and focusing on the good, is good for your soul, but also good for your health.
We might find it in something new: a Zumba class, a running group, a choir (join our AcaBella Brawds), learning a new instrument or a cooking course. Something to inspire us again.
Finding something to give us a new interest, new hope always works if you really focus on it. Hope, I find, is always the best medicine. Hope, Inspiration and Connection.
Connection is something I feel very strongly about,
we just don’t make the most out of in (post)modern living. Yes, we connect in the morning and last thing at night with our tribe on Facebook and Instagram (and for all the negativity surrounding image representation, I think intellectually pick through that and there is a lot of bonuses to connecting at the touch of our fingertips). But there is nothing like REAL connection; Eyes, hands, minds, hearts. Nature, breeze, sun, mountains. Energy, Om, flow, Moments of Being.
DO MORE of what makes you soul happy.
It’s as simple as that. It is THE reason I run so many yoga retreats these days. Moments-of-being and ways of stroking our soul. Our essence which cries out for attention and love every single day of our life. Feed it, feed it with real stuff, memories that matter. A G&T can be a tiny part of the pleasure of that story. But it should NEVER be the whole story.
Find your tribe
I am really interested with continuing to help people find this place of being. It’s a continuous conscious journey for me too. Of course, I would love to see you at one of my Orange Grove Retreats, these retreats give us time for self-reflection, processing thought, inspiration, self-care. It would be great if we could treat to self-care with massage – touch helps with that tension in the body brought on by depression, anxiety and stress. It would also be wonderful if you would like to continue help me support pregnant and new-mums with ZenMuma training – for those of you who remember ‘YogaBubs’ and ‘YogaBumps’ (now ZenMuma) it was all about self-care, connection, community, non-judgement and love. And it would be great if you could join our ‘ZenKids’ movement, to inspire our kids ‘how-to-stay-zen’ in our age of fractionality and fragility. But if there are other ways you can think you need support; you need someone to help hold your space. Get in touch. My hope is to help us all find our tribe, our community, our self-support – without the need of finding it at the bottom of a glass.
Thanks for being present. Now do something great for Your Self.
A walk, a cup of tea, a hug, have a sing, 20 minutes reading. And do it with love.
If you need some real help with Alcohol Addiction, then contact MIND and talk to your local GP. Don’t be ashamed – ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’