My Alcohol Experiment: Day 21

Day 21 of The Alcohol Experiment: looking good and relieving stress.

I was hesitant to post this selfie because, frankly, I wanted to look better by now. I’m almost 30 days alcohol-free, even though I’m only on Day 21 of The Alcohol Experiment. I want to look and feel rested and radiant. But I’m keepin’ it real and posting this because this is where I am. I took this photo this morning. The gal I see is still too puffy from not quite enough hours of sleep and too much junk food lately. But this is also a gal who has not had a drop of alcohol in 28 days counting today. This gal has consistently achieved her five-times-weekly workout goal except when sick or traveling. I have been inconsistent with tracking, and it shows. But beneath this layer of puff there is clearer skin, and a clearer conscious and subconscious in which alcohol is becoming increasingly unimportant. I have food issues to tackle, and I have more self-improvement ahead of me. But this gal is fit and alcohol-free and that is worth celebrating. 

The video in today’s lesson discusses science-based stress relief strategies. We live in a quick-fix culture where we look for a “switch” to take us instantly from stressed to chillaxed.  Instead, we need to focus on searching for the “seeds” that will truly fix the problem and not just dull it for awhile. These “seeds” take dedication, practice and time – but they can be truly transformative.

Annie discusses how when we are stressed, our brains shift into a reward-seeking state. And we often turn to the very source of our stress and anxiety to relieve it. (OH HI THIS IS MY LIFE.) So if we are stressed about money, we shop. If we are stressed about being fat, we eat. If we are stressed about the power alcohol has over us, we drink. When we anticipate doing these things, our brains release dopamine – which cues up the anticipation of feeling good, or the promise of a reward. But dopamine does not make us feel good. It’s just an empty promise.

Getting into the “stress resilience” mindset and engaging in one of the following strategies when we feel stressed helps in myriad ways. These activities shut down the brain’s stress response and instead induce a healing and relaxation response. They boost serotonin and oxytocin, chemicals that actually make us feel good. Our brains have been wired to misinterpret what will make us happy. But with practice and dedication we can rewire our brains and enrich our lives.

Here are the most effective stress-relieving strategies:

  • Exercise, playing sports
  • Praying
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Being with friends and family
  • Massage
  • Being outdoors
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Engaging in a creative hobby

Annie focuses a lot on exercise. Regular exercise (consistency is the key, even if only for a few minutes at a time!) helps in so many ways it feels like winning the feel-good lottery. Here are just a few:

  • clears your mind
  • encourages growth of new brain cells in pre-frontal cortex
  • enhances cognitive ability (literally makes you smarter!)
  • improves mood, alleviates depression, decreases anxiety
  • increases self-control and willpower

As I mentioned above, I am proud that since cutting back on alcohol, I have been able to consistently achieve my weekly workout goal of three Peloton rides and two kickboxing classes. There is no way I would be able to do this if I were still drinking the way I used to. I can’t imagine showing up to my kickboxing class hungover – there is no way I would make it through! And I am enjoying these workouts more than I have ever enjoyed exercise before. Now that I know just how good exercise is for me, I am all the more determined to stick with it.

Annie recommends trying different techniques to see which are most effective for you. In addition to exercise, I plan to continue writing and walking outdoors. I would also like to do more reading and I would love to start meditating.

How many of these do you practice now? Which would you like to start practicing?

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

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