We can’t avoid stress but can we reduce its impact on us?

We all know modern life is full of stress.  Long commutes, pressurised jobs, financial pressures, keeping children safe, looking after sick parents. The list goes on. Is it any wonder so many people have mental health problems and drink too much?

Is modern life toxic?

Modern life is toxic -especially for young people.  So many people can’t hope to own their own home. They rent homes at very high prices with little security about how long they can stay there. They have zero hour contracts or unpaid internships.

Stress is constant

For people brought up in high stress households, stress can be a lifelong problem. Studies have shown high stress levels in pregnant women can make their children more easily stressed after birth. It also takes these children longer to calm down. So it’s useful to accept that we may have an inbuilt tendency towards stress. (Click here for more details)

Stress can be managed

It’s easy to solve this constant stress by drinking too much. It provides temporary relief.  But it is also possible to reduce stress without the hangover.

Some studies suggest up to half our stress is caused by external factors outside our control, stuff like work demands, job insecurity, financial pressures etc. So that means up to half our stress can be controlled by us.

Too stressed to help yourself?

This gives us hope that the situation can change. Even though, it’s difficult to break the cycle of being stressed, drinking, and then being hungover. But some simple tips can help.

Recognise the stress

So the first step in changing this pattern, is to develop awareness of actually feeling stressed. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how stressed we are because we’re so busy trying to keep all the balls in the air.  So simply taking a moment to recognise

“Yes, I’m feeling stressed,

Can help us hit the pause button on stress.

The 5 minute trick

Using the 5 minute trick can also help.

This is a very useful tip given to me. Put your mobile phone on airplane mode, and set the timer to 5 minutes. Find somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Then sit down comfortably with your hands by your side. Put your tongue gently to the roof of your mouth and become aware of your breathing.

Now the next 5 minutes is all yours without interruptions. Imagine any thoughts coming in at the top of your head and travelling down through your body out your feet. You’re just observing these thoughts, not deciding, not taking action, not forcing, not rushing. Imagine the thoughts literally floating peacefully through you. You don’t have to do anything in this 5 minutes but sit and observe. You know the timer will go off, so you won’t fall asleep.

Sitting on the toilet

The great thing about this tip is you can do it anywhere and at any time. At home, in the office, travelling. Even in our busy life, time for going to the toilet is still allowed. All you have to do is find a toilet, pull the seat cover down, put some toilet paper sheets on the toilet cover and you have a clean seat to relax on for 5 minutes.

If you’re going through a really stressful time, doing this a few times a day, can really make a difference. If you’re feeling pressure to drink, simply relaxing in this way for 5 minutes can help reduce this pressure.

So if you’re constantly feeling very stressed, or in a very stressful environment where you’re likely to drink too much, why not try this trick?

For more tips on managing stress, click here.

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

Baby steps help find your way back home

Recognising all our baby steps towards managing our drinking is essential. We focus on the blow out we had, rather than on all the baby steps of progress we’ve made. What if I say you are a wonderful person? Would you believe me? There is so much going on in our lives that we usually underestimate how well we are doing.

It’s easy to blame ourselves

When it comes to alcohol misuse, it is easy to be harsh on ourselves. We live in a culture where excessive alcohol consumption is often related to celebration and fun, which disguises the real danger of it.

(Editor’s Note, Just see Grandmother takes her first brandy for a good example of media bias towards alcohol).

A quick fix habit

The same toxic culture where alcohol is often used to cope as well. Then, it turns into a ‘quick fix’ habit.

The bad news is that with time, the essence of who you are, becomes diluted in it and it gets harder to find yourself again.

The road back can feel scary

The road back to yourself can feel scary. New skills are required. Keeping ourselves with what feels ‘familiar’ might give us the illusion of safe predictability. However, when we choose to turn back to ourselves again, we give ourselves another chance to reconnect with our thoughts and feelings. Accepting, learning and healing them is huge. It is an act of self-love.

We all struggle

We all struggle, and misstep quite a lot. But we also do great things. Each one of us has our unique learning journey and we all do the best we can. Rediscovering yourself is key. After all, when we try to numb or block painful thoughts and feelings, they keep coming back.

Alcohol blocks all feelings

We need to learn their lesson. Also, alcohol does not come with a ‘sense of discrimination’, so when you block painful feelings you also block all joy.

Yes, pain is real and so is joy. But, when you allow your experiences to flow without any blockages, whatever they might be, you start to find out the real you. By taking baby steps, being gentle to yourself with self-compassion, you will find your way back home.

Editors Note

For more tips on managing feelings or just feeling numb, click here

Is perfectionism robbing you of pleasure?

An interesting article by Padraig O Morain on perfectionism recently. He states perfectionism robs us of pleasure in our own successes. We’ll always find the extra thing we could have done, so we focus on that, rather than what we’ve achieved. It also stops us starting or finishing things because we can’t guarantee it will be a success.

Perfectionism starts early

Padraig uses the example of the child coming home with 90% in their assignment and the parents joking- asking

“What happened the other 10% per cent?”

If this is constant the child learns they need to be perfect to receive love.

Social media does not help

The constant feedback from social media of people with perfect lives and perfect bodies does not help. People socialising, who can drink as much or as little as they want without hangovers or making a fool of themselves.

Perfectionism is the enemy of managing our drinking

Nowhere is the enemy of perfectionism more obvious than in our approach to alcohol. Most approaches focus on not drinking at all. For some people, this is exactly the right approach, (for example Mc D– though he does not blame or criticise himself when he drinks) but for others it’s totally wrong, for example Lisa, found it did not work for her and even made her drinking worse.

I’ve had one so might as well go the whole hog

One drink is seen as failure. So once one drink is taken, sure might as well go on a binge.  So instead of praising ourselves for reducing or not drinking over the last while, we give out to ourselves for drinking. Unlike Mc D we don’t see it as an opportunity to learn.

Padraig quotes the psychologist Aaron Beck who states

“All or nothing thinking is an unhelpful habit- this is the attitude that if one thing is wrong, everything is wrong”

Demanding perfection makes us miserable

We’re never going to be perfect. We’re human not machines. So demanding perfection is just going to make us miserable.

Perfectionists find it difficult to relax

Perfectionists also makes us less enjoyable company. It’s much easier being around people who accept their own imperfections and don’t try to be perfect all the time.

I always remember returning to Dublin after a work trip and the boss suggesting a cup of tea in her house. When we went in, the house was untidy, there was a clothes dryer with underwear in full view. But she just moved it out of the way, laughing and we had a relaxing and enjoyable chat over a cup of tea.

 The perfectionist in me would have been embarrassed and apologising for the house not being tidy.  I would have been unable to relax. So the chat would not have been as enjoyable. So I learnt a lesson. It’s ok when your house is untidy to have visitors. I do not have to be perfect.

So praise yourself, you’re making an effort

So if you’ve read this far, accept you’re making an effort. You might never have the perfect life. But that’s ok.

As Padraig quotes

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have and looking for it where they will never find it”

So in managing your drinking, strive for progress not perfection.

You can read Padraig’s full article here.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

An Alcohol free hen party can be great fun

Your friend is getting married soon and she’s wondering if an alcohol free hen party is a good idea. She’s  struggling with alcohol and trying to stay off the booze  until after the wedding. She’s dreading the hen party as she’s worried she will drink and make a fool of herself.  You know that a hen party free from alcohol  would avoid potential problems.


Alcohol free may be essential

The bride to be may be very stressed out, so have a discussion with her to agree if  an alcohol free hen  party is a good idea. Let her know, you will keep her informed, discussing all suggestions and ideas with her. 

Plan, Plan, Plan

A person close to the bride  to be, should meet with her privately to find out the triggers that are likely to cause her to drink. Triggers are things such as smells, activities, people that might cause a problem. Find out more about triggers here.

Know the triggers

Once you know what the bride’s triggers are you can plan to avoid them. Certain people may cause a lot of anxiety and stress to the bride so it might be worthwhile chatting to these people to avoid problems or even leave them off the list entirely.

Avoid stress and anxiety

Planning the hen party well in advance can help reduce  stress and anxiety.  Stress and anxiety are  common triggers for drinking too much, so plan activities that encourage relaxation. Understanding what activities the bride and friends are will  enjoy is important.

Decide  what you’re telling  the guests

Agreeing what the bride will say  about her drinking is important. Is she confident enough to simply state this is an alcohol free hen party as she’s not drinking?

Or is a cover story easier? Perhaps  the bride is taking metronidazoleA+ for bacterial vaginosis which means she can’t drink. This cover story can also be great for a laugh!

Or perhaps it’s a hen party where as well as having fun, all monies saved by not drinking will go to a charity of the Bride’s choice.

The key is to let all the guests know what to expect  in advance of the party and making sure they’re ok with the format.

Or maybe a hen party with a difference ?

You can even take it a step further, by combining the hen party with doing something rewarding and helping people.

For example Access Earth is a free online platform offering mobility information for anyone who needs it. e.g which restaurants have wheelchair access. The hen party guests  can help feed into the data this platform provides. Guests are  broken into teams and set loose to try to win the top spot on the leader-board, by mapping as many places as possible.

Or you can help clean up the coast, paint in a hospital or take part in a dragon board race. More details of lots of  different activities   here.

Make sure hen party attendees are  on board

Some people may complain so this is why being clear on the agreed message is vital.

If the Bride has given permission, explain the Bride is trying to stay off alcohol.  She will find it much more difficult not to drink if other people are drinking.

If  the friends still keep complaining  make it clear  that if people can’t drink for one event, to support their friend, then it is sending a message they do not value the friendship. Perhaps it would be better if they did not attend?

After all if a friendship is only good in alcohol is it a real friendship?  Lucy found many of her friendships were based on alcohol and were toxic.

Alcohol free drinks?

If  money is available and it does not bother the bride you may be able to have a selection of alcohol free drinks available, including mocktails. You can find out more about alcohol free drinks here.

Even more party ideas

  • An old-fashioned sleepover, complete with facials, manicures, pedicures, films , and popcorn. Make sure the bride gets a good night’s sleep as sleep deprivation can be a trigger, especially in the early days.
  • Throw a dinner party at someone’s home. Make it as fancy or simple as you want.
  • If the bride enjoys board games, you could have everyone bring their favourite game to play, complete with popcorn and fizzy drinks. You could also do this with movies.
  • Set up a treasure hunt (like geocaching ).
  • If the weather is likely to be dry, go to a free event. For example, an event  in the National Gallery then picnic in the park.
  • Drive somewhere with a great walking trail and plan a hike together. Pack a special picnic and break the treats out after the hike.
  • There are places where you can make a craft, do-it-yourself style for a relatively small fee. Going home with a piece of pottery or jewellery would be a fun way to remember the night.
  • Escape room type games might be a good bonding experience.
  • Funky Seomra run alcohol free dance events.

Is a fun alcohol free hen party possible?

Is a fun alcohol free hen party possible? Absolutely! It just takes  planning, organising and a little bit of creativity.

5 top tips to handle the social stigma of not drinking

An interesting study on young Finnish and Australian people who don’t drink and want to avoid the social stigma of not drinking was published recently. The study listed the things young people in both countries do to avoid the stigma of not drinking

So here are 5 top tips the young people used to avoid the social stigma when they were trying not to drink.

1. Hiding non-drinking

The young people hide or denied their non-drinking status to avoid explaining their non-drinking to other people. We explain how to use the

No I’m not drinking”

approach to avoid social stigma here.

2. Take the focus away from alcohol

The young people tried to go to social gatherings which took the focus away from alcohol. So they did baking or went to sports events.  We give some examples of alcohol free social events here.

3. Finding non-drinking friends

They tried to hang out with groups of people who did not drink,  so there was no social stigma. We’ve some suggestions on finding friends who don’t drink here.

4. Being active and having fun

They tried to be active and have lots of fun. In Ireland, we’ve seen a huge increase in healthy activities like Park Runs. (where you can actually walk) There’s even an Irish website now where you can find all about health activities for your age group

5. Not blaming others for drinking

These young non-drinkers did not blame others for drinking as they saw their choice as an individual one that was right for them

6. Seeing themselves as morally superior to other people

Some young people saw themselves as morally superior to other people for not drinking. This made them feel better about themselves.

Not sure I’d recommend this tip. In Ireland, I’d lose a lot of friends if they saw me being “morally superior” about not drinking. It’s a lot easier to blame my hangovers for not drinking. 

Plus in Ireland, most people see women who don’t drink as either pregnant or alcoholic.

Avoiding Social Stigma

It’s so weird that we have to apologise for not drinking. So it’s good to see there are groups of young people on different sides of the world deciding not to drink and using the same tactics to avoid stigma.

You can see the full research article here.

When is drinking too much our fault?

Last week, we wrote about drinking culture  raising the issue of is it really our fault if we drink too much?


What do the experts say?


The experts look at three things, they call Structural, Community and Individual.

fault




What’s the structural issue?


Structural looks at stuff like legal systems and regulations. So in Ireland, we licence pubs and we allow alcohol advertising. Until the new Public Health Alcohol bill is actually implemented alcohol can be sold below cost as a loss leader by big supermarkets. Makes it very cheap and easy to buy.


What the bill won’t do is stop sports accepting alcohol advertising. So we’ll still have the ridiculous situation of leading sport heroes like Johnny Sexton accepting the “Heineken Man of the Match award”

So in Ireland, structural factors are still stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

What’s the Community issue?


The community aspect is how people as a society actually work and live together. The GAA is a big part of our community. They’re more aware of the damage alcohol does as they don’t accept alcohol sponsorships and they train club staff to provide help for people who drink too much. (Click here for details)


So they are well ahead of the rugby gang. However so many of the local clubs depend on alcohol sales to stay afloat and the range of alcohol free drinks in club bars is generally poor.

Communion and Confirmation season


With communion and confirmation season on us, we can really see how everything resolves around drink. So often the Communion party is the bouncy castle in the garden, where all the kids play outside while the adults sit around for hours drinking. Not just one or two glasses of wine, but a bottle or two. Kids grow up to see this as normal and then repeat the cycle when they are adults.

So the community we live in is still very much stacked in favour of drinking alcohol.

Does the individual have a part to play?


So is it any wonder we drink too much given the pressures to drink all the time? Is it our fault? This is where it’s useful to separate out fault versus responsibility.

Fault versus Responsibility


So if your partner cheats on you, it’s not your fault. If you grew up in a household where drinking too much was normal, it’s not your fault.
However it is your responsibility to figure out how you are going to deal with it. Because as the actor Will Smith says it’s


“Your heart, your life, your responsibility to be happy”.

So as we wrote last week, knowing the game is rigged against you helps. It is not your fault, drinking less is so difficult. It however your responsibility to decide how you are going to deal with the obstacles placed in your way.

It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility

So when things go wrong, like you discover your partner is cheating, or just a really rough day in work and anxiety levels are through the roof, it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with this.

Have a bottle of wine, or just a glass, or maybe just head out for a walk? It’s not your fault, you’re having a rough time, but it’s your responsibility to choose how you will deal with it.

Will’s video is well worth watching and you can see it here.

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Padraig’s top four tips for managing the drink


Padraig wrote about his tips for managing the drink recently and here they are.


1.Allow twenty minutes when you feel the urge to drink

Accept that you will get triggers to drink as it has become a very strong habit.  So your brain will say,

“Don’t you always have a glass of wine when you’re making dinner”?

So you feel a very strong urge to drink. This is normal so Padraig recommends waiting 20 minutes. For more tips on triggers click here.

2. You are not the only person not drinking

It’s easy to feel you’re the only person managing the drink and everyone else is having a fantastic time. Surprisingly though nearly 20% of Irish adults don’t drink it all.

Also reports from England show more and more young people are not drinking – apparently because they don’t want to look stupid on social media.

So think of yourself as part of a new hip modern trend.

3. Distract yourself from the arguments in your head

It’s normal to have arguments in your head about whether you need to do this managing the drink thing at all. For example

“How can it help your quality of life not to drink?”

So rather than carry on this argument stay focused on the reasons for managing your drinking and make sure you replace drinking time with nice experiences.

4. Read about the experiences of other people

Padraig recommends the

Tired of thinking about drinking blog from Belle Robert

And Julian’s Vales book Kick The Drink Easily

There’s also plenty of people telling their stories on our Lifewise website from Valerie to Sinead.

We also like Soberistas  and Club Soda where you can ask questions and share your stories.

Managing the drink- everybody’s different

Our own tip on managing the drink is everybody’s different. What works for one person may not work for another.  Listening and talking to other people can be very helpful but you need to find out what approach works for you. I like this video showing how two different dogs approach the same problem.  Two very different approaches but each approach works.  So find the approach that works for you.

You can read more from Padraig here .

A top tip if you’ve broken your new year resolutions

So all those New Year resolutions feel like a huge weight around our necks as we try to keep them going. Or maybe we’ve already broken them and feel like a total failure.

 

It’s impossible to keep New Year resolutions

It’s easy to feel it’s impossible to change. There are just so many things working against us- stress, too much pressure, drink cravings, not feeling able to go out with friends. Fear of upsetting people, because they see us not drinking or not drinking as much, as a threat to them. We feel like we’ll never succeed and our egos are hurt. All we feel is despair.

If you’re feeling like this, then this tip on hope will help.

 

Have the right type of hope

Joanna Macy  believes there are two types of hope. One is hope is based on outcome

So may be your new year resolutions look like

I will control my drinking”

“I will be a size 10,”

“I will get promoted in work”

 And so on. You hope you will achieve these New Year resolutions.

The problem with these type of New Year resolutions is it is easy to get “blocked” when you feel under pressure or don’t rate your chances of success too highly.  It’s much harder to keep going because human nature means we’ll only really act when we feel we succeed.

 

Hope based on your intention

By focusing on our intention though we’re more likely to succeed in our new year’s resolutions.

By focusing on our intentions and letting that be our guide we remove a lot of pressure on ourselves. We allow ourselves to see our actions as being part of learning about ourselves and our mistakes are part of our learning. We no longer label ourselves as failures when we don’t succeed first time.

 

We never know how things will turn out

We really don’t know how things will turn out. We cannot control what happens in our life. All we can really control is how we respond to it. If we have intentional hope it helps to makes us stronger. So we don’t know whether we’ll succeed. But if we accept even making a new year resolution, is a step in the right direction then we’re more likely to be successful.

 

Think Lord of the Rings

In this epic book and film, the little three foot high hobbits, Frodo and Sam were up against a huge evil army and power. They knew the chances of success were so small as to be non-existent, but because they had an intentional hope they succeeded. Their much more able and powerful friends fell away but they just kept going. Despite all the hardships and problems, they never lost hope in what they were doing. They just kept travelling on, accepting it was very difficult.

 

 Praise yourself for your intention

So instead of blaming yourself for struggling or breaking New Year resolutions, remind yourself that you’re a work in progress. You have the right intentions and you have hope you’re going in the right direction.

So set goals, make New Year resolutions but make them with hope that you are going in the right direction rather than actually getting to that size 10.

You’ll be surprised the difference it makes.

This post was drawn from an article in the Irish Times which you can read here.

 

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk.

Maybe that’s the way you’re feeling after Christmas? Despite your best intentions you drank too much. Too many hangovers. Too much making a fool of yourself.

Or maybe you got through Christmas without drinking too much but you found it lonely and depressing? Yep, you’ve got the home, the relationships, and the job. But something’s wrong. All that pressure to be happy, when you’re really not happy?

 

There‘s a common cause

Before Christmas, I was at two very inspiring events both of which focused on a problem that could explain both why we drink too much and why we’re not happy. In fact they could explain many of the problems in our lives.

 

Adverse childhood experiences 

How we were brought up can explain a lot about how we act now. We’ve written before how we may not even be aware that our childhood is still having an impact on how we behave. While it’s obvious if we were physically beaten as a child, it’s not so obvious if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect.

The experts call this issue adverse childhood experiences, or ACE. You can see how the experts look at these in the picture below.

heavy drunk

 

What does ACE do?

So the experts say the more ACE you had in your childhood the more likely your brain development has changed. This is because your brain has produced more cortisol which activates the fight/flight/freeze response.

The fight/flight/freeze response switches off the thinking part of the brain to ensure all our energies goes into dealing with a threat. So when we’re feeling a threat, we literally cannot think.

 

How ACE affects us

For example, an angry looking dog approaches me looking like it’s going to attack me. My brain quickly goes into fight/flight/freeze as I decide whether to fight the dog, run away or just freeze hoping the dog will ignore me.

My brain forgets about everything else. I don’t remember the childhood experience that has made me scared of dogs. I can’t even see the dog is actually looking at a 2nd dog behind me and is no threat to me at all.

 

Everything else gets forgotten about

So while the dog is there, I remain on high alert. I’m no longer thinking about getting home or collecting  my daughter as I promised. My whole focus is on survival. I don’t have time for anything else.

This lovely YouTube video spoken by kids explains how our brains freeze beautifully.

 

The long term impact

If you’ve experienced a lot of ACE then your brain’s  ability to deal with the normal up’s and downs of everyday life is less than other’s people. You’re either on high alert when you react to everything or you simply shut down anytime you feel overwhelmed or triggered. So making good decisions and following through on them is much harder for people with ACE.

People with ACE are much more likely to have problems with drinking. Their brains are more likely to be   in survival model which means they can’t think and make good decisions.

So if you’re labelling yourself as a heavy drunk, it worth’s looking at your childhood to see if this is causing you to drink too much.

 

Be kind to yourself, don’t label yourself a heavy drunk 

So if you’re feeling down after Christmas, don’t despair. Don’t label yourself with negative words such as heavy drunk.  If you’re read this far you’re making progress and  in a future post we’ll look at ways of dealing with the ACE that may be the cause of  drinking  too much.

Happy New Year!