Many people in the U.S. believe that alcohol – as in a few cold beers or a glass or two of wine – is the perfect way to completely unwind and relax in the evening after a hard day’s work. To be sure, this weekday ritual has now become an American tradition, seen in the majority of houses by the time the 6:30 News appears on the widescreen TV.
So is a few alcoholic drinks the “perfect way” to relax and de-stress?
Definitely not, my friend. Alcohol is, in fact, a central nervous system depressant, among other things, which leads people to mistakenly think that they are “relaxing.”
In reality, this ritual of regularly consuming alcohol on a daily basis will end up doing you much more harm than good.
Fortunately, there are many alternative ways to relax which do not involve drinking alcohol – that are far more sustainable on a long-term basis, and which will improve your mental health.
To be perfectly frank with you, I used to be a very active – and very drunk – alcoholic. Fortunately, I’m in full recovery mode now, and have been for over 8 years – 100% sober. I’m a pretty relaxed kind of guy, too.
Now that I don’t live in a permanent drunken state, that is.
A chronic alcoholic, as my rehab center assessment informed me, who would also abuse other substances, such as cocaine and amphetamines, just so the period of time spent drinking alcohol would be lengthened – before the inevitable “lights out.”
Hardly surprising then that I get asked this particular question quite regularly: “How do you relax without alcohol?”
In fact, even before leaving the safety and security of drug and alcohol rehab, I had already started planning for those evenings spent without reaching for the booze.
So, what follows here – “5 Perfectly Sober Ways to Completely Relax without Alcohol” – is the culmination of what the professional rehab taught me, what I figured out for myself as my recovery progressed, and a couple of expert pieces of advice thrown in for good measure, too.
1. Read a NYT Best Seller Listed Book
Recovery from any form of addiction brings unexpected blessings. One of the earliest of these to happen to me came in the form of a friend who worked for airline security at the Philly International Airport (or PHL, as he calls it).
He told me that I simply wouldn’t believe the number of passengers who buy a brand-new bestselling book at their departure airport, and then completely forget it once they arrive at their destination. They just leave it on the plane. They never come back for it either.
So my friend collected them up, and would pass them on to me. Those bestsellers (nearly always featured on the latest New York Times recommended book list) were my constant companions during the first few months of my recovery.
And the blessing? I got them for free, they were really good reads, too, and when I was immersed in the storyline, I never even thought about reaching for alcohol.
It’s doubtful you’ll have free access to these like I did, but ask your family, your friends, and other people in your support group if they have any you could read.
After I had read the latest one, I would take a few down to one of the many AA meetings in Philadelphia I used to attend to “share” with other group members.
A perfectly sober way to spend many enjoyable, relaxing evenings without alcohol.
2. Practice Yoga or Exercise
If you don’t think yoga could be “your thing,” feel free to do any other form of exercise in the evening. It’ll relax you naturally, set you up for a good night’s sleep, and it is perfect for your mental health, too.
I used to think that yoga would definitely not be “my thing” – until, of course, I tried it. Man, that first time was tough, but enjoyable and relaxing.
Although I don’t practice as much as I used to, the odd occasion always reminds me of how helpful it was to me in early recovery, especially for helping me to effectively deal with stress – which is, by the way, the leading cause of relapse for those in recovery.
There are many styles of yoga – Ashtanga, Bikram, Kundalini, and “restorative yoga” – and all of these increase your muscle strength and tone, improve your sleep, and increase your flexibility.
3. Find a Sunset
So what happens naturally at the end of every day? You got it – the sun goes down. On clear nights, one of the very best things you can do for your spiritual wellbeing is to get out of the house (with a friend, if you like), go and immerse yourself in local natural beauty, and find a sunset to watch.
Believe me – it’s like nectar for the soul (and it’s definitely non-alcoholic nectar, too).
We all know that fresh air and sunshine boosts your mood. One article published using the latest research (from 2020) tells us that simply taking a walk outdoors can both reduce your stress levels and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Throw in the sheer natural beauty of watching the sun set, and nothing will wipe the smile off your face.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness both encourage exactly the same thing – to live and breathe and relax right now, in the present moment.
Many people turn to alcohol to escape having to deal with their negative thoughts and emotions.
However, a recent 2020 study in the Substance Abuse Journal found that students who engaged in mindfulness techniques (or mindfulness-based exercises) experience a significant reduction in cravings for alcohol when they need to cope with something stressful.
Meditation and mindfulness teaches us to comfortably be in the present moment. If a negative emotion or thought enters your mind, rather than resisting it, you learn to allow it to pass through you.
Accepting how you feel is crucial to learning mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques can train you to manage difficult situations without alcohol.
5. Creative Hobbies
Taking time to enjoy hobbies remains an eternally great way to relax and unwind. Your chosen hobbies can be anything from gardening to painting to writing to crafts – anything that gets you being creative is perfect, whatever it is.
These calming activities will take your mind off your usual daily stressors, allowing you to appreciate and enjoy the smaller things in life. Anything that sounds appealing to you can be a relaxing evening hobby.
In the U.S., alcohol is often used by people as a way to “self-medicate” minor (and major) issues they have with negative thoughts, difficult emotions or stressful situations, and it is seen as a traditional and normal way to relax in the evenings.
Unfortunately, it can often become their sole crutch for their search for both relaxation and escapism. That’s when problems can begin.
However, the “relief” people believe they feel is only short-lived and very temporary. Consistently reaching for a drink to help to relax or unwind can be incredibly harmful and damaging for physical and mental health over time.
Enjoy your new and sober evenings. Believe me, and before long, watching the sun go down in the evening will become your favorite thing to do. Stay safe.
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