It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and their theme is nature. I’m glad to hear that because without a doubt getting out into nature makes a difference. And along with getting fresh air, and being in nature, in my opinion, ditching the booze is one of the best things you will ever do for your mental health.
Here’s an extract from my book ‘Happy Healthy Sober’ on dealing with stress:
I didn’t really appreciate just how manic and anxious I was until I got sober and started to feel a sense of equilibrium. There was often still stress in my life, but I felt more resilient, more able to deal with it. I remember when I was just over three months sober, I had my purse stolen from my bag while I was out having coffee. I was in a blind panic for a few moments, frantically asking people in the coffee shop, calling my husband because I simply couldn’t remember what I needed to do under severe stress. After just a few moments I took a breath, and realised that yes, it was an inconvenience – I had lost a fair bit of cash, all my credit cards and a few important numbers written on paper stored in my wallet – but I hadn’t lost my phone or my keys. I was on the way to a yoga class, and recognised that I would need to go into the bank and cancel my main debit card, so I rang the gym and said I would be a few minutes late but could I still attend? They were lovely and said yes. It was the most perfect antidote to that stress. I counted my blessings and then went to yoga and relaxed. I don’t think I would have been that calm if I had been drinking. The ‘poor me’ mentality would have continued for way longer, and I’d have been weeping and wailing, certainly not in the frame of mind for a yoga class!
That’s one example, but there were and still are literally loads of times when I feel as though my to-do list is endless, I have too many deadlines fast approaching and I find myself saying: ‘I feel stressed!’ but I deal with it better without alcohol.
I have learned some great advice and ways of dealing with stress both physically and emotionally through great interviews on my ‘Alcohol Free Life’ podcasts. I discuss shame and stigma of mental health with Dr Adi Jaffe, how to keep resilient and keep on track in life with author and personal trainer Paula Kerr, and how to detox with juicing for a healthier body and mind with Rosie from The Healthy Juice Company and many more. Check them out here
But what is stress really, and how does it affect us? I asked Neil Shah, bestselling author, entrepreneur and CEO of Stress Management Society, and two years sober. He and his team are dedicated to leading effective universal change by maximising resilience, happiness, productivity and success with their passionate approach to reducing stress and promoting wellbeing. Neil says:
‘Firstly, let’s debunk one myth: stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Without this brilliant ability to experience stress, humankind wouldn’t have survived. Our cavemen ancestors, for example, used the onset of stress to alert them to a potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger. Through the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, the caveman gained a rush of energy, which prepared him to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart pounding, fast breathing sensation is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.
In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations – for example, reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, and a decrease in libido.
A useful analogy to explain stress is that of a bridge. When a bridge is carrying too much weight, it will eventually collapse. However, before this happens it is possible to see the warning signs, such as bowing, buckling or creaking. The same principle can be applied to human beings. It is usually possible to spot early warning signs of excessive pressure that could lead to breakdown.
The key message is that if we are able to recognise when we have too much demand on our bridge then we can take action to prevent ourselves from getting anywhere near the bridge collapsing, which thankfully most of us will never experience or see.
Things you can do to help yourself:
Get enough sleep
Work off stress with physical activity
Breathe – breathing exercises really help calm you down
And most importantly – avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar products. They are all stimulants, which prevent you from feeling calm.
You can read the full contribution in Happy Healthy Sober