Guest blog: How to pull off your first sober Christmas
Planning a sober Christmas or looking to reduce your drinking over the holidays? One Year No Beer’s Ruari Fairbairns has some tips to keep you on a winning streak.
As the joys of Christmas festivities approach, you may be feeling the looming pressure to drink, eat and be merry. Emphasis on the pressure to drink alcohol. It would appear at a glance that drinking is a cornerstone of the holidays, an essential piece of the puzzle. But that just isn’t true.
If anything, drinking too much during the Christmas season can lead you to feeling worn out, lethargic and more anxious. Not necessarily the way you want to start a fresh new year. In contrast, being sober means you can fully appreciate your time spent with loved ones without all the effects of a hangover.
So, if you are keen to drink a little less this Christmas, or even better, pull off a sober festive season, here’s a few tips.
Set yourself goals
First off, it’s always good to set your intentions. Experts in alcohol and behaviour change have identified goal setting1 as one of the best ways to help reduce your drinking. Having a goal in mind helps you to see if you are on track and feel as though you have made a commitment. Depending on whether you want to just cut back a bit over the festive period, or you want to stay sober completely, your goals and intentions may vary. A good goal is one that is specific and a little bit challenging, but also realistic and achievable. It could be a certain number of drink-free days or a lower number of units, for example.
Once you have figured out what you want your goals to be, write them down or log them. Alongside goal setting, self-monitoring and feedback2 is another method that has proved to be effective at promoting habit change. It means you can check back on your original goals to see how you are doing and reaffirm your commitment. Journalling can also be a great way to check in with yourself throughout the process and allows you to have a visual representation of your progress. It can also be helpful to add a list of reasons of why you want to achieve your goal, such as ‘I want to drink less over Christmas so I can be fully present with my family and have these memories for years to come’ as this is the burning motivation that will ultimately drive you through.
Okay, so you know what you want to achieve now. It is just a case of setting yourself up for success. Think through your festive plans and consider what you might need to prepare.
Is there a particular person who is likely to try to encourage you to join them for a drink when you don’t want to? And if so, what message is likely to disarm them? With some, you may feel like honesty is the best policy, or maybe you prefer the tried and tested ‘I’m driving’ with others. A good joke about it can also help to disarm people, as brushing off any comments shows confidence in your decision and people are less likely to try to sway you.
It can also be a good idea to call ahead. If there are family members or friends that you want to be on side on the day or evening, give them a phone call beforehand and let them know why you have made the decision. This way, you enter the occasion with a bit more confidence, not worried that you’ll be persuaded into giving in.
Know your triggers
Next, consider what your common triggers are and how to navigate them. Is it being in a bar? Or sat at home when wine o’clock rolls around? When you are out with friends? Or is it just to join in on the cheers so you don’t feel left out? Play the event through in your mind and try to identify any potential weak spots and problem solve creative solutions for these.
Another useful thing to remember is to keep yourself busy. If your trigger is being sat at home at 5pm, then book something like a fitness class for this time of the day. If you don’t plan for these moments, it’s easy to fall into subconscious patterns. Bikram yoga on a Friday night in December? Imagine that! Alternatively, have something fun planned for the morning after a night out. If you know you have something to look forward to the next morning that you don’t want to be hungover for, you won’t be left feeling boring or drenched in FOMO.
Bring your own drink
Next up. Check if you need to bring your own favourite alcohol-free drink with you. Making sure you have a decent selection of alcohol-free drinks that you genuinely enjoy means you are less likely to be swayed by offers of alcohol. Equally, your host or fellow guests are going to be less likely to try to refill your glass if you already have one in your hand. They don’t even need to know it doesn’t have alcohol in it if you’d prefer them not to.
The more you can devise a plan in your head, the more confident you will feel going into festive occasions knowing you have given yourself the tools to be successful. One of the best ways of doing this is to make an ‘if…, then…’ plan. This is a way of saying if a certain thing happens, then you’ll do something else. For example, if I’m feeling left out on a Christmas night out then I’ll order myself an alcohol-free drink in a nice glass and have something to cheers everyone with.
One of the most important things to remember is that this is not a punishment. Instead, you have empowered yourself to make a personal choice to cut back or cut out alcohol so that you are able to reap the rewards that come along with being alcohol-free. Focus on the benefits, and what you gain, and you’ll soon realise all that you win because of setting yourself these goals.
While you are up and able to be productive the day following a festive night out, others may be cradling a sore head or visiting the porcelain gods. And while others may be slurring their words and repeating themselves on Christmas day, you are fully present to appreciate all the little magic bits of the day with your friends and loved ones.
And remember, going sober or reducing your drinking is worth rewarding yourself for. If there are moments when you feel tempted, make it a super easy choice by offering yourself a better alternative. Consider some of your favourite self-care activities, list them (this will be your self-care smorgasbord - who doesn’t love a smorgasbord!). Refer to these when you feel yourself being tempted and do one of them instead.
Your self-care smorgasbord will help you to surf the urge and come to realise that cravings are momentary. Have them written down somewhere or screenshotted on your phone so they’re easily accessible. Ultimately, it’s like playing distraction with yourself. But you will find this task helps you enormously in the moment because it offers you lots of your favourite options, and instead of having a drink each time, you’re taking a step to improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
Celebrate your achievements
Another way to keep yourself motivated with a touch of positivity is giving yourself rewards for achieving certain goals or milestones. For example, if you choose not to drink on Christmas Day, reward yourself with a treat using the money you would otherwise have spent on alcohol. After all, it is the time of gift giving, who said it couldn’t be gifts for you.
Drinking less over Christmas or taking a break from it completely over this period can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. The sense of accomplishment, pride and not to mention lack of hangover can’t be bought.
Stay focused. You’ve got this. And if you are looking for additional peer support or just other people to share your experiences with and stay motivated, don’t forget there are several online communities available like ours that you can join.
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 Identification of behaviour change techniques and engagement strategies to design a smartphone app to reduce alcohol consumption using a formal consensus method. June 2015. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26123578/
 Identification of behaviour change techniques to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. August 2012. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22340523/
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