Drinking & You: Beyond Dry January

Drinking & You: Beyond Dry January


Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health and addiction at the University of York was interviewed in the Guardian Newspaper recently. He said, “I think it would help everyone if there was a more robust evaluation of what goes on after Dry January.”

His comment certainly resonates with what some of my clients who have stuck to Dry January in the past.

Although they recognise some of the health benefits of giving up booze for a month like some weight loss and sleeping better they don’t seem to have a strategy in place for how they want to manage their drinking for the rest of the year.

Some of my clients have vague ideas about drinking less often or cutting down on the number of drinks they have when out socially but they often don’t have the impetus and focus that Alcohol Concern’s well-publicised Dry January campaign provides each year.

Also, although Dry January is a now a recognised New Year’s ritual and there is a high level of social acceptance for not drinking for those thirty-one days, hardly anyone wants to go TeeTotal for longer than that.

Moving into February most people’s drinking habits resume and the pace of their drinking slowly picks up again to match their previous levels of alcohol consumption.

Also by then, the idea of going dry and not drinking at all has lost its social cachet and it can feel more like being a social pariah to continue not to drink. Most friends and colleagues are happily off the wagon by then and wanting to get back into old patterns of behaviour until Dry January is nothing more than a distant memory.

What becomes startlingly obvious is that going dry is a lot easier to achieve than drinking moderately for many people. This is exacerbated by there being nothing ‘normal’  or moderate about a great many people’s level of drinking either. Figures identify around four-fifths of all adults drink in England. Within that number 31% of all men and 16% of all women consume more than the recommended limit of 14 units in a week.

With alcohol such an accepted part of our culture and social life the idea of not drinking at all is anathema for most people. Its been described to me by one client as ‘social suicide’ and definitely not an option to even contemplate so that means finding a way to manage drinking is essential for most people.

So, what now? What strategies can be considered as the year moves ever onwards?

How about giving any of the following a try: Going alcohol-free from a Monday to a Thursday each week. Cutting out drinking at home. Suggest to friends switching from pubs and bars to evenings at the cinema or theatre instead. Drink only with dinner instead of all evening sessions. Alternating drinking an alcoholic drink with a soft drink. Getting more active is a powerful incentive to cut down on booze.

These are small changes that can have a beneficial effect for those without a serious drink problem.

Ian Hamilton went on to say it was inadvisable for heavy drinkers to give up alcohol on their own as it could result in side effects ranging from headaches to serious convulsions and they might need to detox within a medically supported program. He said, “I think anyone drinking several glasses of wine after work each day should seek support before they abstain completely from alcohol.”

When working with clients I am always alert to ‘omission and commission’ – that means what clients do and don’t do. It’s useful to track back when excessive drinking began for them and what was happening in their life around that time. It’s a powerful process to plot a timeline of periods of heavier drinking vs periods ‘on the wagon’ or moderate drinking to find the triggers that might be driving their drinking today.

Alcholol consumption for many doesn’t happen coincidentally. The triggers or negative emotions swallowed down with alcohol cause a change in state and this is often a coping strategy for managing stress and anxiety that can quickly become out of control.

Finding those embedded triggers allows a client to re-evaluate coping strategies they developed often a long time ago that no longer work very well for them. It often means resolving and releasing negative thinking about themselves as well as clearing past trauma before they feel able to feel comfortable and confident being themselves without depending on alcohol to get them through.

If you are concerned about your drinking and aware you are drinking more than you wish or would like to acknowledge even to yourself then it would be good to talk.

Click the link at the top of the page for 30-minute obligation free discovery call to explore how you can become a more moderate drinker for the whole year round.

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Making Changes That Last: Simple Ways To Successfully ‘Nudge’ Your New Year’s Resolutions Towards Achievement 

Making Changes That Last: Simple Ways To Successfully ‘Nudge’ Your New Year’s Resolutions Towards Achievement 

If there is an almost guaranteed way to feel like an abject failure then setting a New Year’s Resolution will do it for most of us. There is plenty of research to show that between 40-60% of all resolutions, year upon year, have either been broken or forgotten for good or at least until next year, by halfway through January!

Although many people imbue January 1st with magical properties as the ideal date to change their habits and behaviours. The truth is its just an arbitrary date in the diary with no more power or influence than next Tuesday week or even the next wet Wednesday for that matter.

When you think that four of the most popular life changes people want for themselves are to lose weight; give up smoking; drink less alcohol or achieve a better work-life balance these habits and ways of thinking can seem daunting to change when they represent long-term and entrenched behaviour.

So, if making a New Year’s Resolution really isn’t going to work to ensure lasting change then what would?

Instead of setting yourself up to fail by making a grand gesture the alternative is making incremental changes instead. Although this may feel less dramatic than a pledge made as the clock strikes twelve to beckon in the New Year, it is often a more successful way to make the changes you want for yourself.

Small, incremental changes are the basis of the ‘Nudge Theory’.

This is about nudging or encouraging behavioural changes through positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion. In the wider world, nudge theory has been applied to economics, politics and health. Supporters of the effectiveness of the theory exist in the hallowed halls of academia, the White House and in the British Government to name but a few. So, how can nudge theory be applied to you successfully changing behaviours you would rather not have in your life?

Firstly, the nudge theory recommends you choose the best time to initiate changes to allow yourself the best chance of success. This frees you up from a New Year’s deadline, and instead, you can commit to a date that suits you best and when you are at your most ready to make changes.

Think about how much you already have on your plate

It is surprising how many people set themselves up to fail by launching a new initiative in their life without thinking through how much they already have on their plate. Look at your diary for an opportunity when there may be a lull in stress levels at home or work or a time when you are able to give more energy to embrace fundamental changes. If you are canny with timing, you can give yourself a real head start towards success.

This may mean scheduling changes you want to achieve in your life for after a family holiday, or a big social event, such a wedding or birthday party. These are the kind of life events that might have turned your New Year’s best intentions to dust without some thoughtful planning. Equally some key events you have planned in your diary can be a beacon to aim for. Changes in behaviour are more likely to be enduring if you can align them with real-life events and deadlines such as being slimmer for a family wedding or getting fit to run a 5K or 10K charity race.

It takes twenty-one repetitions to embed a new habit

Often psychologists agree it takes twenty-one repetitions to embed a new habit so bear that in mind when you’re making changes in your life. An example could be if you’ve decided to take up running or swimming as part of a new fitness regime and you are hating it. Nudge Theory would recommend you commit to jumping in the pool or going for a run without fail for twenty-one times and only then judge how you feel about your new activity. You may be pleasantly surprised how what was once a reluctant chore feels surprisingly satisfying and is easily included as part of your routine.

Behaving with your usual default habits perpetuates your feeling the same way about yourself. It is a truism that if you keep doing what you have always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always got before so spend some time considering the most significant changes you want to see in your life.

However, if you wait for everyone in your life to come on-board and be in agreements with your plans, you could wait a lifetime so do as Mahatma Gandhi suggested: ‘Be the change you want to see’.

Set your own standard. It’s about doing something for yourself.

Your existing habits, thoughts and beliefs have brought you to where you are today, so nudging towards making positive changes is vital in allowing effortless changes and maintaining them into the future .Be kind to yourself. If you feel overwhelmed making changes to your habits and anxious about succeeding with lifestyle changes then break down your goals into smaller steps which are more manageable to tackle.

Changing old habits that are not good for you or no longer serve you are life-changing steps on your road.  Your true potential to live every day as a brand new day, with a brand new dawn which makes every day a New Year’s day!

This post was written by Sally Baker and Liz Hogon senior therapists and co-authors of ‘7 Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating’ and ‘How to Feel Differently About Food’. It was a guest post for their publisher Hammersmith Health Books.

If you feel trapped in a Ground-Hog kind of year that feels as though you are living on repeat and not getting out of your life everything you want then reach out now and make contact with me for an obligation Free 30-minute Discovery Call via the link on this page. 

Shopping Addiction: Warning Signs To Watch Out For

Shopping Addiction: Warning Signs To Watch Out For

 Before there was online shopping some people had a problem with over-spending on the High Street so there has always been something about shopping that can feel compelling for some people.

For most though, who enjoy shopping, they experience a pleasurable boost to their mood when they purchase something they really like.

However, when those emotions become heightened or exaggerated then shopping takes on an entirely different, more compulsive nature which is a sign that shopping is becoming something of a problem. It is equally an issue if purchases are made in a zoned out or disassociated state as that is not balanced behaviour either and again should be viewed as a warning sign.

The rise of e-commerce sites and online auction houses have made spending money online not just commonplace but potentially worryingly compulsive.

While shopping online, consumers can get caught up in the illusion that they are not really spending actual money. A credit card gets debited, often from pre-saved details, and that removes the mechanics of shopping. It feels good for a moment, but because those feelings are only temporary, it compulsively needs to be repeated time and time again.

There has been a year on year increase in online spending. E-commerce growth is projected by emarketer.com provider of professional insights into the digital marketing world will increase to $4.058 trillion worldwide by 2020, making up 14.6% of total retail spending.

Alongside that spending growth, there are already approximately 11 million people (6% of current Internet users) who suffer from some form of Web addiction, according to the American Psychological Association.

The implications from this statistical data are that there will be a dramatic increase in compulsive behaviours associated with the Internet which will no doubt include compulsive shopping behaviours.

Signs of Shopping Addiction

So what’s the difference between the occasional online or high street shopping spree and a real shopping addiction?

Many people love to shop, and many people also spend more than they can reasonably afford. It is important to note that going on a shopping spree once in a while does not mean you are a shopping addict. However, there are several signs and symptoms shopping addicts display that you may want to look for.

Emotional Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction

Like all addicts, shopping addicts may try to hide their addiction, and if a loved one is addicted to shopping, they may try to hide it from you.

If you hide credit card bills, shopping bags or receipts, you may be a shopaholic. In some cases, shopaholics may try to hide their addiction by lying about just one element of it.

For instance, a person may admit they went shopping and then lie about how much they spent.

Some of the other emotional symptoms you may notice with a shopaholic include the following:

Shopping as a way to deal with feeling angry or depressed.

Shopping as a way to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree.

Continuing the shopping habits even though it is harming crucial relationships due to excess spending.

Physical Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction

Although most addictions have physical symptoms related to them, shopping addictions can have too. Someone addicted to shopping can experience mounting feelings of anxiety as they acknowledge they can’t go shopping or spend more money online. They can suffer palpitations and changes in heart rate as well as feeling uncomfortably hot and agitated. After shopping, they may feel momentarily calmer, and their physical symptoms can subside until they feel the remorse and guilt of the ramifications of their shopping expenditure.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of a Shopping Addiction

The short-term effects of a shopping addiction may feel positive. In many cases, you may feel happy after completing a shopping trip. However, these feelings are often mixed with anxiety or guilt, and in most cases, the guilt or anxiety may propel you back to the store for even more shopping.

The long-term effects of a shopping addiction can vary in intensity and seriousness.

Many shopping addicts face financial problems, and they may become overwhelmed with debt. In some cases, they may simply max out their credit cards, but in other cases, they may take out a second mortgage on their home or charge purchases to their business credit card. If you are addicted to shopping, your personal relationships may also suffer.

It is important to realise that like any other addiction; genuine compulsive online shopping is a disease. Specialist therapy approach focuses on resolving and ending addictive behaviour. 

If you are experiencing compulsions to shop and over-spend and are ready to take back control of your life then you can book an obligation free discovery via the button on this page. Don’t hide away in secret with your mounting debts and anxiety. You can feel immeasurably better from even taking this first step to recovery. Book that call now.

If compulsive shopping has led you to money and debt worries then seek help. In the UK go to www.nationaldebtline.org or call them for free debt advice on 0808 808 4000. Check your national and local services for where you live.

The Secret Challenge of Christmas Gifts

The Secret Challenge of Christmas Gifts

The Secret Challenge of Christmas Gifts

Christmas is a complex, emotionally loaded mix of romanticised mythology and pragmatic reality with the giving and receiving of gifts at the core of most peoples’ secular festivities. It’s not as though we don’t know Christmas is coming and yet some of us still leave gift shopping until the last minute.

So, why is that?

Christmas shopping is not as simple as ticking people off from an annual obligation list. If it were people would just shop efficiently with time to spare even during the manic seasonal run-up.

Instead, the would-be gift-shopper procrastinates. Frozen into inactivity by anxiety around the purchases they plan to make and how their gifts will be viewed and judged by the recipients.

At its simplest, a gift is an expression of attention, love and affection in an age where people are struggling more and more with the pressures to achieve anything like a healthy work-life balance. Plus current economic uncertainty increases financial stress, and many people are nowadays so time-poor that it’s almost impossible to sustain care for themselves let alone caring for others.

So the gift is left to say it all and, ideally, it has to speak volumes. It has to be profound and eloquent, and provide evidence of all of the subtlest feelings inarticulately stumbled over or even omitted during the previous twelve months.

Plus gifts have to come in on budget and be most likely given to people who probably don’t actually need any more ‘things’ in their life. So, no wonder we all panic and leave Christmas shopping right until the last minute.

And it’s not as if the presents we finally choose are terrible. It’s just that the portent of the gift – the significance we have imbued it with can rarely if ever, be fully realised  – however beautifully wrapped it is.

If you are struggling to make a connection with the people who count in your life or feeling side-lined and unable to express yourself fully then use the link on this page to book an obligation free discovery call with me so that we can have a conversation about how your relationships can flow more smoothly.

The Truth About Christmas Shopping Panic Attacks

The Truth About Christmas Shopping Panic Attacks

Christmas shopping tends not to be for yourself but for other people. This makes it more stressful than ordinary shopping as its easy to get caught up with over thinking and feeling anxious about other peoples judgements or their expectations. Trying to juggle a Christmas shopping budget while wanting to buy something spectacular for a friend or relative is an almost impossible conundrum.

Most people with heavy work schedules don’t have much choice but to shop when the stores are heaving with other people all intent on getting their Christmas shopping done too. Try shopping at independent stores in your local area or even the neighbourhood Christmas Fair as an alternative to battling the city centre crowds.

On-line shopping is of course always an option but because the shopping experience is so unfulfilling and disassociated from reality its easy with one click shopping to forget you’re spending your hard earned money and overspend which can then fuel more anxiety.

If you do experience anxiety and need to shop at busy times, then go as early in the day as you can or preferably go with a friend so you can support each other amid the chaos. Also, wear layers of clothes as there is nothing worse than being stuck in a queue in an over-heated department store with a big winter coat and scarf making you so hot you feel at risk of fainting or passing out.

If you do start to have a panic attack in a busy shop just put your shopping basket down and head for the exit. Get outside and breathe deeply and slowly. What happens when you’re in a panic is that your breathing becomes more shallow so focus on regulating your breath and that will help you to feel grounded and less panicky.

Give yourself time and if you’re able to resume your shopping then do so.

Equally, if you need to go home, then you should do just that. You might think you’re the only person who has to abandon their shopping but being triggered in an over-crowded store is pretty common so give yourself a break and leave out any harsh judgments you might be making about yourself. It’s tough out there.

 If you are struggling with panic attacks and social anxiety it doesn’t have to be this way. Click on the link on this page to book an obligation free discovery call and chat to me about what’s happening for you. Remember if you’ve tried everything and nothing works then therapy could be just the thing you’re looking for to transform how you think and feel about yourself.