Health + wellbeing

8 ways to medicate stress (that aren’t alcohol)

- May 29, 2017 5 MIN READ

Nothing takes the edge off a stressful day like an alcoholic beverage, but the problem is, it can create a cycle that requires alcohol every day to medicate stress. Kelly Exeter offers some alternatives.

So, it’s been a stressful day. All you can think of is the glass of wine or beer you’re going to have when you get home. It’s the least you deserve, right?

You can’t wait for the alcohol to hit your system and mellow you out.

And, the great thing about alcohol is … it does just that.

Here’s the not-so-great thing about it: While it helps get you off to sleep faster at night, alcohol also affects how deeply you sleep which deprives you of the truly restorative effects of a good night of shut-eye.

The next day, you wake up feeling unrefreshed because even one glass of alcohol can make your brain fuzzy and means when you get to work, you’re not as focused and productive as you can be. You’re short tempered too.

So, not only do you fail to get through all your work, you encounter more conflict situations. Which means – you guessed it – you have a stressful day at work.

Soon enough, every day is stressful and requires medication with alcohol to ‘come down’. The cycle perpetuates.

What’s the solution?

Dare I suggest we all need to give up drinking during the working week?

Yes, I do dare.

But how?

The easiest way to ‘break’ a bad habit is to replace it with a better one. Here are eight alternative ways to medicate stress that have been tried and tested by one of the online communities I’m part of:

1. Go for a walk, run or hit the gym

I know. It’s the last thing you feel like doing at the end of a trying day. But exercise is guaranteed to arrest that stress high you’re feeling. Exercise also comes with the bonus that it helps you get off to sleep faster, and takes you into the truly restorative phase of sleep you need to regenerate fully.

And when I say ‘exercise’, a casual saunter through your neighbourhood for 15 minutes with your kids can be just as effective as smashing out 5km on the treadmill at the gym.

2. Meditation

Kirsty says: “After realising I was depending way too much on wine to get me through an incredibly anxious and stressful time I started meditating – I use the Headspace app every day for 15 minutes. Now when things start to get on top of me I take myself somewhere quiet for a moment and just breathe and bring back the feeling of calm. Meditation and exercise saved my sanity and liver. Now I can wait until Friday evening and really enjoy a glass.”

Meditation clears your head (thus helping with focus and productivity) and boosts your mood (helping you deal with tense situations in a calmer fashion). If you’re still getting to the end of the day and feeling quite on edge, as little as five minutes meditating can bring you down.

And meditating doesn’t have to involve sitting on a mat while burning incense. As Kirsty points out: “Sometimes I do it in the loo as it’s the only space I won’t be interrupted!”

There are many great apps, (Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer to name a few) that offer meditations of all lengths, and styles. You’ll be sure to find a favourite.

3. A different drink

Many people who’ve given up alcohol during the week identified that it wasn’t so much the alcohol that was calming them, it was the simple act of sitting with a drink. Try substituting your alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic one to see if it’s the same for you.

Tea seems to be a huge favourite as there is something ritualistic and calming about brewing a pot of tea, followed by the pleasure of drinking of it. Jennifer says, “When I’m trying to stay off booze I always replace beer o’clock with tea time.”

Another common substitute appears to be kombucha. Holly says: “I’ve replaced alcohol with kombucha (which I know is lamely hipster) but it tastes a bit like cider.” Clint agrees “I think because it’s fermented like alcohol it’s got the taste of a fizzy alcoholic drink, without the alcohol.”

Something else that gives you fizziness without sugar or alcohol is sparkling water (recommended by Matt) which can be tarted up with a twist of lime.

4. Laugh

Nothing takes your mind off a stressful day quite like having a good laugh. If you have a commute to get home, download your favourite comedy podcast and listen to it on the way. If you work from home, pop on the same podcast while making dinner or doing housework. A little bit of escapism goes a long way.

Like watching rather than listening? Leisa reckons this video always cheers her up!

5. Crank some tunes

Dorothy says: “I have a playlist of songs that lift my mood,” and Sarah agrees: “If you have had a bad day nothing beats singing your favourite songs at the top of your lungs on the drive home.”

Kerry is also a fan of singing, saying, “Studies show when you are anxious or stressed you breathe shallowly. Singing forces you to fill your lungs properly.”

6. Have a bath

When it comes to winding herself down without alcohol Ana swears by, “An Epsom salt bath. As hot as you can handle it. Stay in until the water cools. It’s time to think and you’ll also sleep like a baby after.” Ami agrees, “A hot Epsom salt bath is my go-to after a stressful day.”

7. Keep your hands busy

When looking for a stress-reliever Amy swears, “Knitting works for me!” while Saskia maintains, “Crochet is very meditative, helps keep my hands busy, is productive, pretty and tactile.”

Of course, you don’t need to be handy with a knitting or crochet needle to keep your hands busy. Some people like to cook, some like woodwork and others find a Sudoku puzzle or the like work just as well.

8. Phone a friend

According to Lauren, “When I feel like a drink it’s after a bloody horrid day at which point I’m not motivating myself to exercise or cook dinner or anything that requires effort. So, I call a friend. Most of the time what you’re saying when you reach for wine is ‘I can’t cope with…’ or ‘I need this to deal with…’ and what you really need to do is talk out whatever it is that is making you feel that way.”

Alison’s variation on the above made me laugh so hard I had to share it (because we’ve all been there): “I still miss the ritual of an evening glass of wine or a refreshing summertime beer. This feeling is most pronounced at around 5pm when the kids are going bonkers. In those moments, there’s really nothing that can replace booze. So, I take a deep breath, extract my shoulders from my ears, and text my husband to ask him when the heck he’s going to be home.”

It seems a good vent, even by text, really does do wonders!

If all else fails

If, despite all the GREAT suggestions above, you’re still finding it hard to forgo your alcoholic drinks in the evening, Ellie has this final recommendation: “Commit to something radically incompatible with late nights and booze. Like training for a half-marathon or seeing the sunrise every day for a month. My drinking gradually petered out as my training goals got bigger and better.”

Have you given up alcohol on weeknights? Why and how?

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