2021 hasn’t quite got off to the start many of us would have hoped for and after the year that was 2020, some of us are struggling to find ways to improve and maintain our general health and wellbeing. Enter Dry January, the 31 day challenge with long term benefits.
Previous years’ participants have found that taking part in Dry January has helped to improve their sleep, saved them money, and improved their general overall health – but it doesn’t end there. Research from the University of Sussex found that six months after Dry January, more than 70% of people who took part with support from Alcohol Change UK were still drinking more healthily. This improved relationship with alcohol is often the goal many people go in with.
Taking a month long break from alcohol allows us to prove to ourselves that alcoholic drinks aren’t a prerequisite for relaxing, socialising or having a good time, which in turn gives us the skills to continue to make healthy decisions regarding our own alcohol consumption for the months following January and beyond.
With more than a quarter (28%) of people who have ever drunk alcohol agreeing that they think they had been drinking more during the first national lockdown, this year’s Dry January provided us with an even greater opportunity to reassess and take control of our relationship with alcohol. Now there’s nothing wrong with a drink on Friday and part of your evening but if you’re finding alcohol is taking over your free time or you’re not up to enjoying your day the morning after, cutting down might be for you.
In contrast to many overambitious new year’s resolutions, avoiding alcohol for a month is an ideal low–input way to ease ourselves away from pandemic fatigue and back towards working on our wellbeing without having to find the motivation to begin to rack up new personal bests just yet. Participating in a month without alcohol can also help us to find healthier coping methods and stress relief, as during lockdown 19% of those surveyed by Alcohol Change UK said that they had drunk alcohol as a way to handle stress or anxiety. Our advice is to try to swap out alcoholic drinks for something else you enjoy and/or find relaxing (such as an indulgent bubble bath), this way you won’t feel like you are having to go without something you like as you’ll be too busy enjoying yourself in the bath!
Aside from the long-term effects on our drinking habits and decision-making, the Royal Free Hospital found that there are noticeable improvements across a number of areas of health after just one month of abstinence from alcohol. The benefits included lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol, a reduction in the risk of diabetes and a reduction in the levels of cancer-related proteins in the blood of participants. Additionally, a longer term reduction in the levels of alcohol consumed reduces the risk of developing liver disease, high blood pressure, depression and over 60 alcohol related conditions.
If you’re thinking ‘oops’ about missing out on Dry January or just didn’t have the energy to participate but still want to enjoy the benefits, then maybe dry February is for you. Or semi-dry March. Drinks only on special occasions April? The point is that there isn’t one particular time you can start picking up healthy habits. The new year often arrives with a flurry of enthusiastic promises and dramatic goal setting – often dropped a few short weeks in. Sometimes new year resolutions aren’t the right thing for you. While the 1st of January may feel like a fresh slate, every single day is an opportunity to make a new choice, a new goal and work towards a healthy balance between what you enjoy in the moment and what you want to achieve long term.
To help you work towards a future where you drink by choice, not by default, here are some tips.
You don’t have to go cold turkey if that’s not for you. We have a #HOWbyAF video, which you can watch on AF Connect Online, which goes into detail about the ways you can slowly reduce your alcohol consumption and work towards a better relationship with alcohol.
You can read a range of stories from Alcohol Change UK about how people are working a reduced alcohol intake into their lockdown routines, from those who have participated many times to those who really needed a change after 2020.
“I decided to give Dry January a fair go. My friend suggested downloading the Dry January app. My mental health is a lot better, my exercise regime is going as planned and I am sleeping better.
Most importantly, I am not wanting to drink and if I do I want to cut out drinking at home and only have a few gins when I’m out. Some friends call me ‘Boozey’ – so if I can do it, so can others.”
If a whole dry month sounds like a big step, worry not as Alcohol Change UK are here with a free app, advice and other resources to support you. Their support will double your chance of a totally alcohol-free month and while there is a big push to use these resources for January, they’re available all year around. Getting support and creating realistic plans for yourself are some of the most important things you can do when setting out on the path to a new goal. So apps, guidance and articles or videos you can come back to over and over will all increase your chances of success.
(Or your other favourite thing)
Whilst many of our social media timelines may be dominated with the nation’s new-found running obsession, some of us are finding the pressure to be the most active version of ourselves increasingly tricky especially during the darker, colder winter months. A month without alcohol, in contrast, doesn’t require us to get geared up and brave the elements. A small commitment with a big payoff. It’s the perfect way to start to ease your way back into a healthier routine. Reducing your alcohol intake is a chance to claim back your time and start feeling more like yourself. You may feel more up to your hobbies on your days off or be ready to discover something new. A home workout could even be on the cards once you’re feeling more energised.
We all know that keeping moving and staying active is one of the best things we can do for our mental and physical health. Being able to take out your stress with a home HIIT workout and then a movie will give you something for your mind to focus on instead of a drink. Plus, it will keep your physical health topped up while we wait for gyms to reopen.
Let us know in the comments if you took part in Dry January, or what your plans for this years healthy habits are. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for regular updates across a whole range of topics to keep you informed and inspired to work on your wellbeing.