Selfcare is cemented into popular culture and can be found in the sales pitch for anything from candles to cocktails. It can be easy to dismiss selfcare as something that is ‘not for me’. We may feel we’ve got more important things to worry about. But ultimately, selfcare is about being kind to ourselves.
This #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek the theme is ‘kindness’. And when it comes to our health – physical and mental – one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to cut down on drinking.
Many of us use alcohol as a reward, a way of dealing with stress or an aid to get to sleep, but more often than not, drinking alcohol is doing more harm than good. And using alcohol in these ways can lead to potentially harmful drinking habits that are hard to break.
When our lives are busy or disrupted or chaotic, it is easy to let selfcare drop to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list and slip into the habits we’re used to. But selfcare can include small, practical changes that are easy to make in our daily lives. It is more important than ever to find ways to be kind to ourselves and a great place to start is reducing how much we drink.
Here are four ways our health can improve by drinking less:
Improve your mental health
It is a myth that alcohol helps with stress or anxiety. Alcohol is actually a depressant, which means it can disrupt the delicate chemical balance in our brains, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. Regular, heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. So while we might feel relaxed after a drink, in the long run alcohol has an impact on mental health and can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, and make stress harder to deal with.
TIP: Instead of reaching for a drink to cope with situations, swap alcohol for something else like a bath or a long walk.
Get better sleep
There is a common misconception that alcohol will help us sleep. And while it might help some people nod off, even a couple of drinks can affect the quality of our sleep. Drinking more than six units in an evening, can make us spend more time in deep sleep and less time than usual in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is an important restorative stage of sleep our bodies need.
TIP: Avoid alcohol before bed and include at least three drink free days each to encourage restful sleep and enable you to find it easier to wake up in the morning.
Reverse the effects of alcohol on your appearance
There are benefits that come with cutting down on drinking that are undeniably kind to our bodies. Alcoholic drinks are usually high in ‘empty’ calories, which means they have no nutritional value. Even if a drink is ‘low-calorie’, it still lacks in the nutrients that are good for us. Excess calories can lead to weight gain. Alcohol also dehydrates our bodies, including the skin – this happens every time we drink. Drinking too much can also deprive our skin of vital vitamins and nutrients.
TIP: Simply put, many of the effects of alcohol on our appearance are reversible if we reduce the amount that we drink.
Increase your energy
Lockdown has had an impact on our drinking habits. Many people are drinking earlier in the day, drinking on days they normally wouldn’t, and even drinking while working. Drinking too much can make us feel tired, sluggish and generally make the start of the day slower. Even when we eventually get started on a task, alcohol can affect our concentration and ability to complete them. The less we drink the more energy we tend to have.
TIP: Avoid reaching for a drink at the end of the day, and instead, plan an activity that allows you to unwind, like reading, playing a game, gardening or running.