Life Without Alcohol is Relaxing and Fulfilling

For many Americans today, alcohol is commonly associated with helping adults relax, avoid stressful situations, and free themselves from unwanted emotions and feelings. Fortunately, there are alternative ways to relax without drinking alcohol that are more sustainable long-term and which will improve your mental health.

Here are ten ways to relax and be healthier without alcohol.

1. Gain Understanding of Alcohol and How it Affects the Body

One of the first steps toward living a relaxed lifestyle without alcohol is to gain an understanding of how alcohol affects the body. It is a common misconception that alcohol is a safe and effective way to manage stress and negative emotions. One of the reasons so many people drink alcohol so much is the false belief that alcohol is the only way to relax. In reality, alcohol does not ease or relieve stress, but actually exacerbates it. Missing deadlines at work or school,  neglecting responsibilities, and developing financial problems are stress-inducing results of alcohol abuse. Alcohol actually reduces your ability to manage or cope with stress and anxiety. The good news is that sobriety can reverse these effects, resulting in a less stressful life.

2. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Running, lifting weights, bike rides, or even taking brisk walks can place you in a meditative state.  Experimenting with different methods of exercise is a great way to have fun and try new things.  Unlike alcohol, exercise truly reduces stress, both immediately and long-term. Exercise is also key to maintaining your physical health, an important condiment of happiness and wellbeing.

3. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Stress increases your body’s cortisol levels. Cortisol keeps your body in a fight-or-flight mode. You can reserve this effect by One way with Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an anxiety-reduction method often used in many behavioral therapy. Studies have shown that these techniques increase your body’s levels of oxytocin and serotonin, both of which lower your blood pressure and improve your mood. To begin, sit quietly in a comfortable position. Be sure you’re in a place free from distractions. Place your hands in your lap or on the arms of a chair. Take a few slow, deep breaths while you begin to focus your attention on the following areas:

Forehead

Squeeze the muscles in your forehead for about 15 seconds. Focus on how the muscles become tighter and tenser. Then, slowly release the tension in our forehead while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the difference in how your muscles feel and the overwhelming sensation of relaxation. Continue this process to renew tension until it feels completely relaxed. Continue breathing slowly and evenly throughout the practice.

Jaw

For 15 seconds, tense the muscles in your jaw. Then, release the tension slowly while counting for 30 seconds. Pay close attention to the feeling of relaxation. Continue this practice until you feel all tension dissipate.

Neck and Shoulders

Raise your shoulders upward and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release the tension while counting for 30 seconds. Remember to continue to breathe slowly and deeply.

Arms and Hands

Form your hands into fists. Pull your fists in toward our chest and hold for about 15 seconds. You want to squeeze as tightly as you possibly can. Then, slowly begin to release the tension while you count for 30 seconds. Pay attention to the relaxing sensations that occur during this process and repeat until all tension is eliminated.

Buttocks

Build tension in your buttocks for approximately 15-20 seconds while focusing on your breath. Then, slowly release the tension for at least 30 seconds, while noticing the tension melt away and the feeling of relaxation blossom.

Legs

Build tension by squeezing your quadriceps and calves for at least 15 seconds. The harder you squeeze, the better. Then, slowly release the tension from your legs for at least 30 seconds while focusing on the tension evaporating.

Feet

Increase the tension in your feet and your toes. Squeeze to tighten the muscles as hard as you can. After at least 15 seconds, begin to slowly release the tension while counting to 30 seconds. Notice all the tension melt away from your body, leaving you in a full meditative state.

Be sure to take time to really feel the relaxation sweep through your body. Continue breathing deeply at a slow pace. Add some scented candles for aromatherapy to help your body de-stress naturally. This entire process helps you relax without alcohol.

4. Learn your Triggers

Everyone has their own triggers for alcohol, whether it be a long day of work or a stressful situation. By identifying your internal triggers (such as anxiety, boredom, or stress) or your external triggers (such as overwork, isolation, or certain people or places you associated with alcohol abuse), you can understand and manage your cravings in order to prevent falling back into the trap of drinking alcohol to relax. It is important to set up defense mechanisms now against a future where you might experience these triggers. Plan ahead on good days to challenging days later.  It is always important when learning how to implement healthy coping strategies to avoid drinking to wind down.

5. Breathe through Discomfort with Meditation

Many people turn to alcohol to avoid dealing with negative thoughts and emotions. When you drink for emotional relief, you desire to avoid your experiences as they are presented to you, and instead replace them with something else or ignore them all-together. Instead of drinking, you should try mindfulness techniques to handle negativity in your life. A study in the Substance Abuse Journal found that people in recovery from alcohol abuse who engage in mindfulness techniques (or mindfulness-based exercises) experience a significant reduction in cravings for alcohol when they need to cope with something.

Mindfulness teaches us to comfortably be in the present moment. If a negative emotion or thought enters your mind, rather than resisting it, allow it to pass through you. Accepting how you feel is crucial to learning mindfulness. There are many ways to engage in mindfulness, such as by taking long walks, meditating, journaling, and reflecting. To be mindful is to have constant awareness of the moment you are experiencing. Mindfulness techniques can train you to manage difficult situations without alcohol. When you think a discomforting thought or feel stress, try the four-step “S.T.O.P.” exercise. This checklist is easy to use and can help you feel energized, focused, relaxed and creative, all while giving you new insights quickly. Here’s how “S.T.O.P.” works.

S

Stop what you are doing. Press the pause button on your thoughts and actions.

T

Take a few deep breaths. Bring yourself fully into the present moment, and center yourself.

O

Observe what is going on with your body, in your mind, and with your emotions.

  • Body: Ask yourself, “What physical sensations am I aware of in this moment?” Consider this question with regard to your five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
  • Mind: Ask yourself, “What assumptions or expectations am I having about my feelings?” Ask yourself further, “What is the story I am telling myself about why I am having these assumptions or expectations?”
  • Emotions: Ask yourself, “What feelings am I experiencing?” Whether positive or negative, identify them in a non-judgmental way.

P

Proceed with whatever you were doing before the negative emotions began by making a conscious and intentional choice to handle them with healthy coping skills. Consider what you have learned about yourself during the short exercise and contemplate what you want to do with what you have learned.

Remember, the more mindful you are about what’s going on inside your body and mind, the easier it will be to navigate through difficult times, which will help prevent your need to drink alcohol to relax.

6. Practice Deep Breathing Techniques

Your breath is a powerful tool that has been proven to reduce stress and make you feel more relaxed. Deep-breathing exercises can help prevent you from reaching for alcohol to cope with negative thoughts or emotions. Practice this easy-to-follow deep-breathing exercise to obtain immediate relief.

Before you start, prepare yourself by:

  • Wearing comfortable clothing
  • Going somewhere comfortable, such as a bed or chair
  • Deciding to not force this practice to work, which can create stress
  • Keeping this practice simple
  • Aiming to practice deep-breathing once or twice each day. Start with for 5 minutes sessions and work your way up to 20 minutes each time.

It is natural for most people to take shallow, short breaths when they breathe. This actually makes you feel more anxious and fatigued. Healthy deep-breathing involves taking deep breaths through your diaphragm (as if you are breathing through your stomach). Here’s how to gain the maximum benefits of relaxation with deep breathing:

  1. Get comfortable, whether by sitting on your favorite chair with a blanket or by lying down in bed. Find a place where you can fully relax your head, shoulders, and neck.
  2. Breathe in through your nose. Allow your belly to fill with air.
  3. After your stomach fills with air, pause for a moment.
  4. Breathe out throughout your nose.
  5. Repeat.

Continue to follow these steps until you feel relaxed and at ease. When you breathe in, consider placing your hand on your stomach to feel the air rise and fall. The more you practice deep-breathing, the more naturally it will come to you. Deep-breathing is an excellent way to relax and manage stress because it can be performed anywhere, and no one around you will notice!

7. Get Involved with Recreational Activities

Recreational activities can be a great source of stress relief. When you engage in recreational activities, such as by playing sports, going to the gym, or practicing yoga, you meet new people and find new, healthy methods for relaxing. When you spend time with others, you naturally stop focusing on yourself and live in the present. Instead of drinking alcohol, consider visiting recreational or community center in your neighborhood or taking up a new hobby.

8. Reach-Out for Support

As humans, we are naturally social creatures. Isolation can cause us to become depressed and lonely. This can result in major health problems. A strong support system is a great resource during times when you are tempted to drink to relax. Make a list of every healthy, supportive friend or family member you know and carry that list around with you in times of need. Temptation will come and go, but be willing to get help from people you trust. A support system is also beneficial for accountability in sobriety.

9. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a popular stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and energy drinks. Everyone has a different threshold for how much caffeine their body can tolerate. High doses of caffeine increase your levels of stress, nervousness, anxiety, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations. Studies show that coffee may be healthy in moderation, but it can be difficult to determine how much caffeine is right for you each day. In general, five cups of coffee is considered a moderate amount of caffeine. If you notice that you often feel nervous, jittery, or anxious when you drink coffee, it might be a good idea to assess your caffeine intake and slowly reduce it. When you stop relying on one substance (caffeine) to get through the day, you will be less likely to rely on another substance (alcohol) to relax.

10. Stretch it Out

After a long day of work, many people go home to drink and “relax.”  Your job may involve long hours spent at work sitting in the same spot staring at a computer screen. This alters the blood flow in your body as it slowly becomes as stagnant as your mood. Throughout your day, take short breaks to stand up, move around, and stretch your neck, shoulders, and back. Stretching helps you relax because when you stand up and stretch, you  relieve muscle tension and bring about a healthy blood flow.

Get Help With Alcohol Addiction Today

Do you find yourself struggling with relaxing without drinking alcohol? If so, you may have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. Please contact a dedicated treatment professional to learn more about rehab programs which can help you live a relaxing life free from alcohol.

  • Author — Last Edited: January 31, 2020
    Photo of Theresa Parisi
    Theresa Parisi
    Theresa is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), a Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM) by The Florida Certification Board, and a Certified International Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). Theresa is also a Certified Professional Life Coach and volunteers at a local mental health facility helping individuals who struggle with homelessness and addiction. Theresa is a well-rounded clinician with experience working as a Primary Addiction Counselor, Case Manager and Director of Utilization Review in various treatment centers for addiction and mental health in Florida, Minnesota, and Colorado. She also has experience with admissions, marketing, and outreach. Eager to learn, Theresa is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. As a proud recovering addict herself, Theresa understands first-hand the struggles of addiction. There is no limit to what Theresa is willing to do to make a difference in the field of Addiction!

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