It’s been a terrible week. You barely checked off any tasks on your to-do list, and nothing went the way you wanted it to. You’re finally able to sit on the couch and savor a tall glass of wine—or three.
Your toddler finally fell asleep after yelling nonstop for 30 minutes about…you can’t recall. You have some peace and quiet—and can drink your wine. After all, you deserve it after the day you’ve had.
You’ve been worrying about so many things lately, so you jump at the chance to meet your coworkers for cocktail hour. You literally jump. You could use a fun escape. In fact, you require it.
In our culture, alcohol is seen as everything from an effective stress relief to a wonderful way to spend an evening. People post and repost wine quotes all over social media: “The answer may not lie at the bottom of this wine bottle… but we should at least check.” “A day without wine is like…just kidding, I have no idea.” “Wine may not solve your problems, but neither will water or milk.” “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.” “I drink coffee because I need it and wine because I deserve it.” “OMG. I so need a glass of wine or I’m gonna sell my kids.” “Some days you just need to drink all the wine in the house and that’s OK.”
People post pictures of cocktails with captions about how badly they need them. Greeting card companies produce cards that say: “So much wine, so little time” (which I actually saw while standing in line at my grocery store).
So it makes sense that so many of us would choose to unwind with wine. It’s harmless. It’s joked about. It’s glorified.
It’s also easy. It’s easy to pour yourself a glass of wine and take a sip. It requires little to no energy.
And we certainly can use the relaxation: In addition to being shackled to our to-do lists, many of us cling to perfectionism and people pleasing. We say yes when we want to say no. We bury our needs and desires. We strive to keep a tidy, clutter-free home. We strive to be highly successful and highly happy. We promise everything to everyone.
“Run around doing that all day long, and by the end most people will go looking in search of relief,” said Rachel Hart, a coach who works with women who want to take a break from drinking so that they can learn how to relax, have fun, and feel confident without a glass in hand.
If you’re reconsidering your use of wine as stress relief, Hart suggested exploring your results (instead of getting wrapped up in right and wrong): “Do I like the results I am getting from using a glass of wine as my go-to method to relax? Do I have other options to relax? Is there a lot of internal chatter about whether to drink at the end of the day? Am I dealing with a lot of cravings? Do I find myself regretting how I spent my evening or wishing I didn’t feel so groggy in the morning?”
Hart’s clients have gotten all sorts of negative results from alcohol: staying up late, zoning out while watching TV, mindlessly overeating, feeling lethargic the next day. They’ve also disliked the behavior they’re modeling to their kids.
“The biggest negative result I see is feeling less able to handle stress and anxiety on one’s own,” said Hart, who also hosts the podcast Take a Break from Drinking. Because, when we turn to drinking, we’re teaching ourselves that we need a substance to cope with stress (and that we must eliminate discomfort quickly and all together). We’re also probably not using other—healthier—coping strategies.
When you reach for a glass of wine (or any type of alcohol) to relax, what you’re actually doing is trying to remove negative feelings, Hart said. Frustration. Anxiety. Anger. Sadness. “Most people think that they are taking the edge off work, kids, their to-do list or their responsibilities, but what they are really trying to dull is how they feel about these things.”
Consuming vs. Creating
Hart talks to her clients about the differences between “consuming fun” and “creating fun.” Drinking wine is similar to scrolling Facebook and watching Netflix for hours. “These activities take very little energy to accomplish and so the brain keeps going back for more,” Hart said. Because the brain loves easy, effortless solutions. “The more you mindlessly consume, the greater the negative results.”
Creating fun requires more energy—but it rarely leaves you with negative results, she said. We can create fun by playing interactive games, making art, making music, reading, writing, running, dancing, sewing and singing.
Think about what your ideal evenings and relaxation routines look like. How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to feel? Are there hobbies you’d like to start or return to? Would you like to have fun as a family? What refreshes you? What supports you?
When you’re having a glass of wine, sincerely try to savor it. “Use all of your senses,” Hart said. “Actually taste what you are drinking and experience the effect of alcohol on your mind and body.” This is important because most people rush through their drink so they can feel differently, she said.
“When you start practicing mindfulness, you might discover that you actually want to drink less than you originally thought.” Or maybe not at all.
“Turning to wine is an easy solution to a problem that most people have no idea how to deal with: how can I change the way I feel,” Hart said. So, again, it’s understandable why you reach for a glass of wine.
But maybe that glass—or those glasses—are no longer cutting it. Maybe it’s leading to regrets and bad results and an inability to deal with stress without it. Reflect on your relationship with alcohol and your relationship with yourself. Reflect on how you’d like to spend your days and how you’d like to be.
Alcohol may be the easier, quicker option. But it’s not more nourishing. It’s not more restorative. Maybe it’s time to focus on what is.