All too often, the holiday season is synonymous with overindulgence. Sure, treating ourselves at this time of year is reasonable — but we don’t want to turn it into a January full of regrets.
That's why mindfulness is so important when it comes to festive drinking.
Although these days I no longer consume alcohol, I know what it's like to go overboard. I started drinking heavily in my mid-20s and by my early 30s, I was consuming a bottle of wine a night.
Enough was enough, and I made the decision to stop drinking. But in order to do so, I spent a significant amount of time researching how the mind works — I wanted to understand the unconscious and conscious roles in alcohol consumption and cravings.
Now, using the mindfulness tricks I discovered in my research, I've regained full control of my mind and made peace with my relationship with alcohol.
But even if you generally have a healthy relationship with alcohol, it’s easy for all of us to get in the habit of drinking more during the holidays.
Habits, by definition, mean you think less about your actions. And when you put less conscious thought into something like drinking alcohol, the results can be regrettable.
That's why I recommend these four mindfulness techniques to make sure you stay in complete control during the season:
1. Check to see if you're hungry.
Often, the desire for a drink is really your body telling you to eat a nutritious snack. So instead of grabbing a glass, try enjoying some healthy bites first, like fresh fruit, hummus and crackers, or a smoothie.
Then, mindfully reflect on the drink you were going to have. Do you still want it? If so, great — enjoy it! But many times you'll find that your desire to drink disappeared once your body received nutrients.
2. Ask yourself four key questions before taking a sip.
Instead of automatically downing that cranberry cocktail, take just 20 seconds to mindfully examine your motivation for drinking.
Asking yourself a few main questions helps you understand whether you actually want to drink (and why) — or whether you're just doing so out of reflex.
- How do you feel?
You might find that at the moment, you feel amazing sans booze. In fact, this simple reflection can lead you to question why you were going to drink in the first place. It often reveals that it was a mindless habit rather than something you really wanted to do.
- Do you want a drink because you're thirsty?
Remember, alcohol actually dehydrates you. So if you're reaching for a glass because you're feeling quenched, opt for something truly hydrating instead. Then, if you still want the drink, by all means, enjoy one.
- Do you want a drink to "unwind"?
This is a common reason for drinking — and yet studies show that alcohol actually impairs our ability to manage stress and relax.
Instead, turn to your favorite stress relievers as a distraction, such as reading your favorite magazine or taking a warm bath. You'll look at that drink differently after you’ve had a chance to unwind naturally.
- Are you drinking purely for social reasons?
In a 2012 survey by Illinois State University, 84 percent of participants named "enhancing social activity" as a primary reason for drinking alcohol.
Although this is one of the most common reasons we drink, consider the fact that social occasions are enjoyable because of the people and the atmosphere — not the booze. After all, no one ever comes back from an amazing night out reflecting on how great the booze was.
If your only motivation to drink is to be part of a social occasion, consider the idea that you can be part of the occasion, and even more fully present, without the numbing effect of alcohol.
3. Sip very slowly, and notice the actual taste.
Taking slow sips works for two reasons: First, similar to slowing down when eating food, it allows you to be more satisfied with less.
Second, it ensures you reflect on the taste. Many beverages actually taste better without the alcohol (think fresh orange juice vs. a screwdriver), and you'll find that when you take time to actually savor your drink, you probably genuinely prefer the healthier, non-alcoholic version.
4. Reflect on how you feel while drinking.
Instead of mindlessly drinking because you just assume it will make you feel better, objectively examine your emotions, physical feelings, and thoughts.
You might be surprised to realize it actually makes you tired or sluggish — and once you realize this, limiting yourself becomes effortless.