When the days get shorter and the temperature drops, many combat the gloom with Christmas lights, holiday baking, and festive lattés. The calendar fills up. But despite the excitement, the holidays can come with a lot of pressures and expectations. It’s easy to feel grief over lost loved ones, a sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be, or feelings of comparison to friends with good circumstances.
When everyone around you seems joyous, it’s hard to admit that you feel lonely, low, or out of place. The focus on family and relationships during the season can create a lot of pressure. And maybe once the days shorten and it becomes harder to convince yourself to go out for a walk, which impacts your mood and puts a grey lens over all of the festive spark.
As families change and children develop traditions separate from their parents, it can cause painful feelings.
Whether it’s a Naughty but Nice Christmas Cocktail, mulled wine, eggnog, or a peppermint espresso martini, alcohol tends to go hand-in-hand with the holidays. If you’re feeling triggered around the season and by memories, get-togethers, or expectations, your cravings might become more intense. Since alcohol can be an automatic pairing for many at this time of year, you might have to work harder to change your pattern and disrupt the association. So what are some things you can do to stay on track with your goals over the holiday season?
Cravings are normal. The urge to drink is no different than the challenge someone faces when they’re trying to stay on track with their weight-loss app and are tempted by the shortbread tray. Whether your soft spot is beer or the cheese board, planning, visualization, and accountability are a good place to start.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by strong emotions or anxiety, and it makes it harder to clearly articulate what part of a situation or relationship makes you more vulnerable to cravings. Writing helps because when your thoughts are down on paper, they’re concrete. You can assess them, challenge the logic, and often it is easier to identify the root of the problem.
2. Set boundaries:
It’s ok to protect yourself from triggers, even if it means going against the crowd or saying no. You can adjust plans to reduce stimulus, shorten your window of activity, or to make it easier to achieve your change goals.
3. Get enough light:
Try to time your walks for mid-day. Take a lunch break, a walking meeting, or a thinking break. Get some Vitamin D and enjoy the day while it’s bright outside! Even as the weather gets colder, try to stay active outdoors. You might integrate a walk with a friend after work once a week. Try to keep your blinds open, as well, to let the light in. It can help your sleep-wake schedule to wake with the morning light.
4. Step outside:
There’s a time in almost every family gathering where things feel a bit tense. The holidays can make you feel trapped, and a good strategy is to step outside. Not only will the fresh air clear your mind, but movement will help you relax and change your mindset. It could be a few deep breaths on the porch to cool your body temperature, or you can offer to take the family pet out for a walk around the block. If you can tap into your breathing and take deeper, slower breaths or even tune into a short walking meditation, it can help you re-set.
5. Plan time before or after the holidays when triggers are less activating:
All of your social interactions don’t have to happen in one month! You can explain to friends that the holidays are more challenging for you and arrange something more intimate in the New Year. It can feel less daunting to see a friend one-on-one for a walk with a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Pace yourself, and remember there is no one way to approach the holiday season. Additionally, talking to your friends about how you feel can normalize challenging emotions. You might find one or two of your friends have similar feelings or that their sensitivity and awareness of your experience increases after an open conversation.
6. Sleep, eat, exercise – repeat:
When we get out of our routine, the first thing to slip is our eating and sleeping schedule. The holidays are a time when exercise tends to go by the wayside too! But those are the things that stabilize our mood, energy and help us maintain a balanced outlook in a more triggering time. Naturally, parts of your schedule might change. You may be staying up later and sleeping in, and that will throw off your meal times but try to set the alarm clock for 7-8 hours from the time you go to bed and eat regular meals during the daytime. The holidays may disrupt your regular workout routine, but a brisk walk or virtual yoga while the turkey cooks goes a long way!
7. Try one of these alcohol alternatives:
If a part of your plan is to make a mocktail for a family dinner or bring one for friends, here are a couple of great mocktail suggestions for those long winter evenings.
Step 1: Place cranberries and club soda into an ice tray and set aside to freeze
Step 2: Mix pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, and club soda
Step 3: Add in lemon juice, fresh from the lemon if you like and simple syrup
Step 4: Mix together and add your ice cubes. Enjoy!
Serves: 6 (adults and kids alike)
Step 1: Place two cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to high heat. Add grenadine and stir to combine. Pour mixture into two ice-cube trays. Freeze until solid.
Step 2: Fill six glasses with grenadine ice cubes. Add soda and garnish with maraschino cherries. Serve!
Mulled Cranberry Mocktail
Serves: 1 quart
Step 1: In a medium saucepan, combine the juice, cinnamon stick, and cloves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer.
Step 2: In a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of water and heat over medium-low heat gently stirring, until the cranberries pop and are well coated with the sugar mixture.
Step 3: When cool, thread three or four berries onto toothpicks and pour the mulled cranberry juice into four mugs.
Chocolate Martini Mocktail
Serves: 2 servings
Step 1: Combine the milk, ¼ cup chocolate syrup, corn syrup, and crushed ice in a blender and blend until smooth.
Step 2: On two small plates, pour chocolate syrup and chocolate sprinkles. Dip the rim of each glass on both plates.
Step 3: Fill the glass with chocolate milk mixture. Enjoy!
Mock Apple Cider Sour
Serves: 1 drink
Step 1: Add the sugar cube, lemon juice, apple cider and seltzer to a 6-8 ounce old fashion glass.
Step 2: Stir to dissolve the sugar
Step 3: Add the ice cube and apple chip
Step 4: Add the orange peel to the rim of the glass. Serve and enjoy!
It might seem simple but planning is a powerful evidence-based strategy that can help you manage your cravings and reach your goals around reduced substance use. The great thing about planning is that it’s in your control. You can deconstruct your triggers and the challenging emotional aspects of holiday parties, family gatherings, or gift-giving rituals and make changes to support your mental health and wellbeing. Try one or two of these strategies this season. Get some sunshine, step outside, or do an online kickboxing class. And remember, the holidays may seem inflexible but any tradition can be tweaked if it means protecting your wellbeing.
Happy Holidays and make sure to connect with us if you need some support.
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Lorsque les jours raccourcissent et que la température baisse, nombreux sont ceux qui combattent la morosité avec des lumières de Noël, des pâtisseries et des chocolats chauds festifs. Le calendrier se remplit. Mais malgré l’excitation, les fêtes peuvent s’accompagner de beaucoup de pressions et d’attentes. Il est courant d’éprouver du chagrin pour les êtres chers disparus, un sentiment de nostalgie pour la façon dont les choses étaient autrefois, ou un sentiment de comparaison avec des amis ayant une bonne situation.
Lorsque tout le monde autour de toi semble joyeux, il est difficile d’admettre que tu te sens seul, faible ou pas dans ton assiette. L’importance que l’on donne à la famille et aux autres relations humaines pendant cette période peut créer beaucoup de pression. Et peut-être qu’une fois que les jours raccourcissent, il devient plus difficile de se convaincre de sortir faire une promenade, ce qui a un impact sur ton humeur et met un filtre négatif sur toute l’étincelle festive.
Les familles évoluent et les enfants développent des traditions distinctes de celles de leurs parents, ce qui peut provoquer des sentiments douloureux.
Qu’il s’agisse du cocktail de Noël “Vilain mais sympa”, de vin chaud, de lait de poule ou d’un martini expresso à la menthe, l’alcool tend à aller de pair avec les fêtes. Si tu sens que tes envies compulsives sont déclenchées par la période des fêtes, par des souvenirs, des réunions ou des attentes, elles peuvent devenir très intenses. Cette période de l’année est associée automatiquement à l’alcool par beaucoup de personnes, il est donc possible que tu doives faire plus d’efforts pour changer tes habitudes et rompre cette association. Quelles sont donc les mesures à prendre pour ne pas perdre le fil de tes objectifs pendant la période des fêtes?
L’envie de boire est normale. Cette très forte envie n’est pas différente du défi que doit relever une personne qui essaie de suivre son programme de perte de poids et qui est tentée par le plateau de sablés. Que tu ais un faible pour la bière ou le plateau de fromage, la planification, la visualisation et la responsabilisation sont un bon point de départ.
Il est courant de se laisser submerger par des émotions fortes ou de l’anxiété, et il est alors plus difficile d’exprimer clairement quelle partie d’une situation ou d’une relation te rend plus vulnérable à des envies compulsives. L’écriture est utile car lorsque tes pensées sont rédigées sur papier, elles sont concrètes. Tu peux les évaluer, remettre en question leur logique et il est souvent plus facile d’identifier la racine du problème.
2. Fixe des limites :
Il n’y a pas de mal à se protéger des déclencheurs d’envies compulsives, même si cela signifie aller à contre-courant ou dire non. Tu peux adapter tes plans pour réduire les stimuli, raccourcir ta durée de consommation ou faciliter l’atteinte de tes objectifs de changement.
3. Expose-toi suffisamment à la lumière :
Essaye de planifier tes promenades en milieu de journée. Prends une pause déjeuner, fais une réunion à pied ou une pause dehors pour réfléchir. Prends de la vitamine D et profite de la journée tant qu’il fait clair dehors! Même si le temps se refroidit, essaye de rester actif à l’extérieur. Une fois par semaine, après le travail, tu pourrais prendre l’habitude de faire une promenade avec un ami. Essaye également de garder tes stores ouverts pour laisser entrer la lumière. Le fait de se réveiller avec la lumière du matin peut améliorer ton rythme de sommeil et ton éveil.
4. Sors dehors :
Dans presque toutes les réunions de famille, il y a un moment où les choses sont un peu tendues. Pendant la période des fêtes, il est possible qu’à un moment donné tu aies l’impression d’être piégé, et une bonne stratégie consiste à sortir. Non seulement l’air frais t’éclaircira l’esprit, mais le fait d’être en mouvement t’aidera à te détendre et à changer ton état d’esprit. Tu peux prendre quelques respirations profondes sous le porche pour rafraîchir ta température corporelle, ou tu peux proposer de sortir l’animal de compagnie de la famille pour faire le tour du quartier. Si tu peux te concentrer sur ta respiration et prendre des respirations plus profondes et plus lentes ou même faire une courte marche de méditation, cela peut t’aider à te remettre en place.
5. Prévois du temps avant ou après la période des fêtes, lorsque les déclencheurs sont moins forts :
Il n’est pas nécessaire que toutes tes interactions sociales aient lieu pendant un seul mois! Tu peux expliquer à tes amis que les fêtes sont un peu compliquées pour toi et organiser quelque chose de plus intime au début de l’année. Il peut être moins intimidant de voir un ami en tête-à-tête pour une promenade avec une tasse de thé ou de chocolat chaud. Va à ton rythme et n’oublie pas qu’il n’y a pas qu’une seule façon d’aborder les fêtes de fin d’année. De plus, le fait de parler à tes amis de ce que tu ressens peut aider ton esprit à normaliser tes émotions difficiles. Tu découvriras peut-être qu’un ou deux de tes amis ont des sentiments similaires aux tiens ou que leur sensibilité, leur conscience et leur compréhension de ton expérience augmenteront après une conversation ouverte.
6. Dormir, manger, faire de l’exercice – répéter :
Lorsque nous sortons de notre routine, la première chose qui peut changer sont nos horaires de repas et de sommeil. Les fêtes de fin d’année sont une période où l’exercice physique a tendance à être laissé de côté aussi! Pourtant, ce sont ces éléments qui stabilisent notre humeur et notre énergie et nous aident à garder une attitude équilibrée dans une période plus délicate. Naturellement, certains aspects de ton emploi du temps peuvent changer. Il se peut que tu te couches plus tard et que tu fasses la grasse matinée, ce qui perturbera l’heure de tes repas, mais essaye de régler ton réveil 7-8 heures après l’heure à laquelle tu te couches et de prendre des repas réguliers pendant la journée. Les fêtes peuvent perturber ta routine d’entraînement habituelle, mais une marche rapide ou du yoga virtuel pendant que la dinde cuit font beaucoup de bien!
7. Essaye l’une de ces alternatives à l’alcool :
Si tu as l’intention de préparer un mocktail pour un dîner en famille ou d’en apporter un chez des amis, voici quelques suggestions de mocktails pour les longues soirées d’hiver.
Le Punch de Noël :
Quantité : 10 verres
Étape 1 : Mets les canneberges et du club soda dans un bac à glaçons puis place le tout dans le congélateur.
Étape 2 : Mélange le jus de grenade, le jus de canneberge et du club soda.
Étape 3 : Ajoute le jus de citron, directement depuis le citron tu le souhaite et le sirop simple.
Étape 4 : Mélange le tout et ajoute les glaçons que tu as préparés. C’est prêt!
Le Bombe Cerise
Quantité : 6 verres (convient aux adultes et aux enfants)
Étape 1 : Verse deux tasses d’eau dans une casserole moyenne et porte-là à haute température. Ajoute la grenadine et remue pour combiner le tout. Verse le mélange dans deux bacs à glaçons. Mets-les au congélateur jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient solides.
Étape 2 : Rempli six verres avec les glaçons à la grenadine. Ajoute le soda et les cerises au marasquin. Bonne dégustation!
Cocktail chaud à la canneberge
Quantité : 1 litre
Étape 1 : Dans une casserole moyenne, mélange le jus, le bâton de cannelle et les clous de girofle et porte à ébullition. Réduis ensuite le feu et laisse mijoter.
Étape 2 : Dans une petite casserole, combine les canneberges, le sucre, la cannelle moulue, 2 cuillères à soupe d’eau et chauffe à feu moyen-doux en remuant doucement, jusqu’à ce que les canneberges éclatent et soient bien enrobées du mélange de sucre.
Étape 3 : Une fois refroidies, place trois ou quatre canneberges sur des cure-dents et verse le jus de canneberges chaud dans quatre tasses.
Mocktail de Martini au chocolat
Quantité : 2 portions
Étape 1 : Mélange le lait, ¼ de tasse de sirop de chocolat, le sirop de maïs et la glace pilée dans un mélangeur et mélange jusqu’à ce que le mélange soit onctueux et lisse.
Étape 2 : Sur deux petites assiettes, verse le sirop de chocolat et les paillettes de chocolat. Trempe le rebord de chaque verre sur les deux assiettes.
Étape 3 : Rempli le verre du mélange de lait au chocolat. C’est l’heure de savourer!
Mocktail au cidre
Quantité : 1 boisson
Étape 1 : Mélange le morceau de sucre, le jus de citron, le cidre de pomme et l’eau de seltz dans un verre à cocktail de 6 à 8 onces.
Étape 2 : Remue pour dissoudre le sucre.
Étape 3 : Ajoute le glaçon et le morceau de pomme.
Étape 4 : Ajoute l’épluchure d’orange sur le rebord du verre. C’est prêt!
Cela peut sembler trop simple, mais la planification est une stratégie puissante fondée sur des preuves qui peut t’aider à gérer tes envies compulsives et à atteindre tes objectifs de réduction de consommation de substances. L’avantage de la planification, c’est que tu en as le contrôle total. Tu peux déconstruire tes déclencheurs et les aspects émotionnels difficiles des fêtes de fin d’année, des réunions de famille ou des rituels d’échange de cadeaux et apporter des changements pour favoriser ta santé mentale et ton bien-être. Essaye une ou deux de ces stratégies cette année. Prends le soleil, sors dehors ou suis un cours de kickboxing en ligne. Et n’oublie pas que les fêtes de fin d’année peuvent sembler inflexibles, mais que toute tradition peut être modifiée si cela permet de protéger ton bien-être.
Joyeuses fêtes et n’hésite pas à nous contacter si tu as besoin de soutien.
In his philosophical writings, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote about a phenomenon that he coined the social contract. What Rousseau believed was that each relationship operates by an unwritten set of rules. He thought that this social contract was the thing that made society run smoothly. Fast forward and you will likely find that you may have all kinds of unspoken forms of communication and boundaries when connecting with others. You are also likely to share common interests and have a set of routines that fit your norms or what is comfortable to you. While you may go to the market and pick up a latté on Saturday mornings, you might spend Thursday evening in the summers at a friend’s backyard, drinking beers and sharing stories from the week. So what happens when this social contract is broken and the rules change?
It may not be intentional, but when one person in a relationship changes their drinking patterns, it has direct implications on their partner. Before the change, you and your partner knew how to interpret one another’s cues, patterns, stressors, and decision making, but all of those things shift with a change in substance use. The missing ingredient is clear and open communication. When there’s a change in intentions, it’s important to discuss it openly and set parameters that feel meaningful, supportive, and achievable for both individuals. The terms of the contract change. You may have to redefine the things you do individually and as a couple, as well as the way that you share your time, and that’s normal.
Planning is an effective way to consider the experience and needs of each partner. If you are preparing for a barbeque with friends, for instance, it helps to think ahead. If your partner is going through change, their emotions and triggers may seem inaccessible or different from your own experiences. Thinking about how you might feel if you were in their position gives you empathy for their experience. If you can imagine the kinds of situations or stressors that might overwhelm or trigger your partner, you can assess how you might approach the event differently. While this may feel like a challenging circumstance, it is not dissimilar to how some couples navigate introversion and extraversion, life changes with pregnancy, or changes to mental and physical health. Becoming in tune with your partner’s needs and communicating your own gives you the clarity to approach the situation with compassion.
In some cases, you might plan to include your partner in your regular activities but change your approach. If you regularly go for hours at a time, you might shorten the window of exposure. You could plan to bring special non-alcoholic beverages that make your partner feel less triggered and a part of the fun.
You might be doing this: going to BBQs with six packs
You could try this: Bringing non-alcoholic beverages or trying a new mocktail recipe
You might be doing this: losing count of your drinks
You could try this: only bring what you intend to drink and space them out with water or other non-alcoholic beverages
You might be doing this: the first to arrive and the last to leave
You could try this: show up just before dinner and enjoy a great meal connecting with friends and then leave shortly after. If you need an excuse, say you have an early morning workout or appointment
You can help your partner come up with a few excuses about why they’re not drinking. It’s useful to have these in your back pocket when you’re out with family, friends, or colleagues. Your partner might say they’re on a diet, have a long run planned in the morning, or are doing a no drinking challenge. You might also split up for the evening if it makes each of you more comfortable, and if you decide to do so, you can plan another time when you will do an activity together. When you reconnect, show interest and support in how they choose to spend their time. It can be helpful to cultivate new interests together that occur during drinking-neutral time. Perhaps you want to explore theatre in the city or take on a sport like tennis, jogging, or biking. If you honour your partner’s change and redefine or recreate the parts of the relationship that are important to you, it will mitigate triggers and strengthen your bond. You may also find some new dimensions to your relationships and hobbies.
Looking back over your life, you’ll find that you’ve had different growth curves and phases, and the definition of fun has changed. That’s ok. Take some time to reflect on what fun looks like for you now. Some criteria might be different. If once fun meant cutting loose, now it might mean feeling restored and balanced. Take some time to talk with your partner about their definition of fun and look for areas of overlap or ways that you can merge definitions to share time and experience. Just because you once loved live music and bustling patio scenes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy cooking and painting now. All of that could change, but the key is to follow your inner compass and find the activities and lifestyle conducive to your definition of appropriate drinking.
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What is CBT?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic intervention that gives individuals the tools to examine their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Dr. Beck and Dr. Ellis, the psychiatrists who developed CBT, looked at the way thoughts are formed and how they shape beliefs and behaviour. Specifically, he categorized different types of thoughts such as the distortion of automatic thoughts, core schemas, beliefs, and underlying assumptions. The first role of the cognitive model was to investigate how negative beliefs maintain symptoms in depressed patients. Since then, CBT has had broad applications in mental health and substance use challenges. The premise of CBT is that many struggles are sustained by biases in thinking.
Many of the thoughts that we have occur automatically and so part of the goal of CBT is to change unconscious processes to mindful practices. The patient tests the way they see reality against available facts. Part of the process of therapy is learning that negative thoughts have consequences. Individuals learn how to describe their experience with accuracy and to rely on facts as opposed to leaning into generalizations. For instance, a therapist might encourage their client to restructure their automatic thoughts. If the client thinks, “I am a failure,” the therapist will help them reframe their thought to: “I did not achieve my goals on this specific task at this time.”
Here are some ways you can reframe your thoughts:
When you’re experiencing challenging thoughts, it can help to focus on your breathing. There are many apps and tools which can assist you with breathing and different forms of meditation. A simple grounding exercise is to breathe in for the count of four, hold at the top for four, breath out for four, and hold at the bottom for four. You can repeat this simple technique as many times as you need to feel calm and grounded.
An underlying goal of CBT is to move from fixed to flexible thinking. The therapist helps the individual develop the muscle to find evidence for and against an assumption and to manage uncertainty. This helps the individual with the realization that things can be looked at from different perspectives and behaviour can be modified. CBT interrupts the feedback loop that maintains problems over time. As well, it is collaborative and action oriented. The goal of therapy is not simply to feel better but to develop tools to cope with future problems.
Scientists are encouraged by the results of neuroimaging which shows that therapeutic treatment has neurobiological effects. This helps us understand the relationship between symptoms, emotional regulation, and behaviour better.
So How Does CBT Change the Structure of the Brain?
Let’s look at the results of a neuroimaging study examining the effects of CBT on social anxiety which can lead to drinking. 18 individuals were assessed and randomized for treatment with an antidepressant called citalopram, CBT, or a waiting list. CBT focused on cognitive restructuring, bibliotherapy, and exposure. There was no difference between the CBT and citalopram groups. Participants were assessed in a public speaking task, which activates social anxiety. Bilateral regional blood flow was assessed in the amygdala, hippocampus, and the anterior temporal cortex and there were significant reductions in regional blood flow to these areas after treatment with CBT, which meant that the patients had decreased symptoms and showed overall improvement.
CBT changes the structure and pathways of the brain. For instance, the limbic response, which is associated with emotions and triggers, was linked to long-term clinical outcomes. Other studies including phobia, OCD, and panic show promising results related to areas of the brain which become activated by disease, and this strengthens the evidence for treatment in substance use disorder. Behavioural therapies are associated with reductions in substance use and increased cognitive control, management of impulsivity, motivation, and attention.
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Like every year, Valentine’s Day can be all about heart-shaped chocolate boxes and bouquets of roses. While some will have trouble hiding their excitement as they prepare a romantic surprise for their loved one, for a large number of people, this celebration of love may lead to distress or trigger feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Whatever the feelings, occasions such as this can often lead to a desire to drink. Despite temporarily feeling better, alcohol will eventually lead to feeling as bad or worst than you felt before you started drinking. On the other hand, love is something holistic that can go beyond relationships that bond us with a partner or family.This year, rather than focusing solely on the reasons why we love somebody else, or being hard on ourselves for not having a special someone, how about falling in love with yourself? Like any other great relationship, it takes effort, time, and it’s worth it. After all, it’s you – and there’s no better time to re-ignite that spark with yourself, than Valentine’s Day. To (re)start the love-story with yourself, here are a few things you can do:
Pamper yourself – Take some “me-time” to do things that make you feel good, mentally and physically. Relax to a warm bubble bath listening to your favourite songs. Order in and treat yourself to a nice meal while watching an uplifting movie. Or take a class or workshop that you’ve been wanting to go to for a long time. Whatever lifts your spirit – make sure you pick something that truly resonates with who you are and what you like.
Relax – Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to disconnect, even if for a short period of time. To do so, turn off your phone and TV for a few hours, and spend time doing something you like and that requires your full attention. Artistic activities such as drawing, painting, singing, doing crafts and cooking are great ways to enjoy the present while expressing our creativity.
Laugh out loud – When was the last time you laughed so hard, it actually made you cry? Often we take ourselves – and things – too seriously. This Valentine’s Day, create the opportunity for a big, fun, teary-eyed laugh! Pick a funny movie, watch a stand-up comedy show at home or in a local comedy club. If you prefer something a bit more active, invite some friends to a trampoline park, challenge yourself in a parkour class, race your pals on go-kart, sing like nobody’s watching at karaoke or organize a dinner party with your friends.
Make a plan – Take some time to plan something that truly excites you: sign-up for a course, rethink your routine, schedule fun activities, book a flight, plan a visit to family or friends who live far away, or organise a road trip. Having something to look forward to is a great way to keep ourselves motivated, optimistic about the future and happy just thinking about it.
There are plenty of ways to fall in love with yourself or awesome things to do when you’re single on Valentine’s Day that don’t need to involve alcohol. All in all, be sure to give yourself a moment of bliss. By reconnecting with yourself, you help increase motivation levels that can help you take the next step towards an important change. And who knows… this can even turn out to be a special day that you celebrate every year as the day you fell in love again with YOU.
Alavida is an outpatient treatment program that helps people to get back to a healthier relationship with alcohol, thanks to the combination of medication, therapy and technology. On our blog, you will find stories, testimonials, evidence-based information and useful tips on how to prevent and overcome heavy drinking, while sustaining a healthy body and mind.
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Alcohol seems to get a free ride – perhaps even a funded one. In a world heavily adorned by advertising and media, alcohol gets away with identities such as “the confidence booster,” “the good time” and “the free spirit.” Commercials sell us on these notions, as do movies, television shows, and other advertisements. On top of it, social media plays a role as one of the best spokespersons for defining alcohol as “the good time.” The way that we ourselves, and those around us, paint our best life experiences is often with drink in hand. We sell beverage-consuming moments as “having a good time,” or “living our best life.” However, beneath the surface, we often carry some sense that this is not quite the truth.
A few years ago, right around the time I was becoming more conscious of my lifestyle habits, I had decided to try out online dating. I set up my profile with the best pictures of myself that I could find (of course) and started swiping. One of my subsequent swipes had me match with a fellow date-seeker who, in his first line to me, made note of a recurring element in all of my photos. In every single photo, he pointed out, I held a drink in my hand. I was shocked and in disbelief, but sure enough, my large grin was pervasively paired with a glass of wine or a cocktail beside me.
Why did every single photo that I had chosen to represent me include an alcoholic beverage? At this time in my life, I had already made significant cutbacks to my alcohol consumption, and yet still, alcohol was there in all four photos.
It seems that media and advertising guide our beliefs about what moments are most worthy of photographing – and one of the most photo-worthy moments, based on mindful observation of my own past habits and of those of others, appears to be when we are consuming alcohol. These beliefs and subsequent actions reinforce the worn-out notions that we have about alcohol, and weigh heavily in our minds and on our bodies.
Media has reached into the hands and hearts of everyone with a personal device. We perpetuate the unconscious ideas about what makes for a “good life” by sharing photos aligning with these unbeneficial (and often harmful) mainstream beliefs. However, it’s not all bad news; it seems we are starting to wake-up from this tendency for blind belief in what we have been sold – consciously and unconsciously.
If we wish to take our habits back into our own hands and find our stable center without the use of alcohol (or with conscious and non-habitual inclusion of it), we can start with a few simple, honest inquiries and reflections.
Beginning to consciously reflect on what we share and why we share it is a key step towards relating more consciously to our experiences. There is no need for judgment, guilt or shame; simply by observing our tendencies, we begin to unravel the assumptions we have made about what makes a moment, or makes us “worthy.” Our choice of shared content shifts, influencing both ourselves and others.
It says a lot. More often than not, media messages conflict with one another, leaving us confused as to what is the best way to truly live a “good life.” By beginning to make note of the underlying messages that live within a traditional ‘first date scene,’ a well-crafted commercial, or any other imagery or video clip that shows up on your device, you can begin to recognize the subtleties of what is being sold – even if unconsciously placed there by the creator. This conscious reflection is where empowerment begins to stabilize its roots.
Questioning does not necessarily equate to interrogation or judgment; it is possible to question your inner status quo, as it relates to beliefs about alcohol, with compassion and curiosity. Consider: what messaging have you assumed as truth? What habits have these assumptions set in place? Is it possible to question your inner beliefs about alcohol without condemning or forcing yourself into so-called “appropriate” behaviour? As we begin to open ourselves to an honest inner dialogue, old belief systems naturally begin to dissolve and new ones take their place, even if feebly at first. Over time, these roots strengthen.Disentangling ourselves from mainstream messaging about alcohol takes time – but at the same time, all that is required is a day-to-day conscious reflection of what beliefs we currently carry within us. If we open ourselves to this dialogue with curiosity and compassion, we might be surprised at what new messaging naturally starts to form. Over time, we start to find that a “good time” does not come from alcohol; it comes from within.
[Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a content contributor to Alavida, and this contributor was paid for their writing. The opinions, views, results and experiences are theirs alone.]
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Gillian Sanger is a yoga and meditation teacher, holistic nutritionist, and creative non-fiction writer. Committed to self-inquiry and to meditation in its many forms, she practices living life in alignment with the natural world, both inside and out. She seeks guidance and direction from her heart and from her highest self, strengthening her knowledge and intuition through her personal spiritual practice and through the written word.
Every member of the family unit is impacted by substance use. The family system is a key structure that helps clinicians understand and treat substance use disorder and prevent relapse. The family has intimate information about the individual’s relationship to substance use, to which no one else is privy. They might know how the relationship to alcohol developed, how it is maintained, what the main triggers are, and what positively and negatively influences substance use. The family system has the power to influence both the positive and negative contributing factors to alcohol use. By determining the family’s developmental stage, it is possible to target appropriate intervention and address the emotional and behavioral patterns of the family unit. A family systems interventional approach is useful because it identifies the impact of the environment on the individual and vice versa. This intervention works on building the framework of the family with each member acting as a pillar and with their own set of responsibilities.
Let’s take a look at the family system with an example.
Gary has been married to Linda for 28 years. They have two grown children, Elise and David. Gary started drinking heavily after losing his job and endured a long and challenging search for a new job. He felt demoralized and as if he couldn’t provide for his family. Alcohol numbed his painful feelings. When Gary entered treatment, Linda assumed things would improve quickly. Gary’s goal was to bring his drinking down from 25 units per week to 18 units, but Linda assumed that his work with the therapist would result in abstinence within a month. Linda knew that sports games were a significant trigger for Gary, but instead of finding ways to support him to meet his goals, she nagged at him as he drank beer.
Linda and Gary’s situation is typical of families managing substance use challenges. That said, struggles differ between each family based on factors like financial situations, culture, dynamics, and values. Let’s look at how Linda could define her role and how she might support Gary with his alcohol use.
A good place to begin is defining what it means to have an appropriate amount of alcohol. Linda may think that having one beer a week was suitable whereas Gary’s definition was to have one every other day. Communicating these definitions can be helpful in working together to create tangible goals at home. This is a conversation that can happen with the guidance of the therapist or medical doctor and between family members. In Gary’s case, he was engaging in gradual reduction. It would have been helpful for him to state his goals with Linda, and keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. In this way, Linda could celebrate small successes, change her perception around milestones and progress, and leave room for ambiguity and challenges.
2. Creating a safe environment with triggers in mind.
Families can play an essential role in identifying triggers. One of Gary’s biggest triggers was sports games. He tended to drink heavily. Planning is where success begins and Linda and Gary could have worked together to ensure that they only stocked the fridge with the alcohol they intended to drink. Linda and the kids might have made special snacks and mocktails for the game and worked to create a safe and comfortable, non-judgmental environment for Gary.
Now, what if Gary drank too much?
Since Linda and the kids can’t change how much Gary has consumed, it’s best to focus on what they can do at the moment. Rather than egg him on with belittling comments, they can be a strong pillar of support until he sobers up. The next day, they can have a candid and caring conversation about Gary’s goals, and help him get back on track. When you take shame out of the equation, you make room for vulnerability and change can occur at the level of substance use, and within the family system. It is also vital for Linda to remember to take time for herself and engage in self-care. That way, she can continue to support Gary and won’t experience resentment or burnout.
Linda could connect empathetically with Gary. She might say:
“I noticed that yesterday was a hard day for you. How can I support you best?”
“A game is coming up, how can we plan as a family to support you?”
“How was your day?”
Since they are a family of four with unique personalities and attributes, it is helpful to assign different roles. Gary’s daughter Elise might be more patient when Gary has had too much to drink. At this time David, a good moderator, can support his Mom and later help to facilitate a conversation as a family. When you know your role in a family system, it is easier to take a step back if you feel out of your depths to make room for someone else who can navigate the situation better. If Linda gets heated, she can practice handing the reins to Elise and focusing on taking space in the moment so that she doesn’t further provoke Gary’s drinking.
Understanding the nuances and roles within a family system takes time, observation, and patience. When it comes to substance use, family systems can be the key to understanding the pattern of drinking and moderating the role that environment plays.
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Have you ever said or done something that felt like it served you in the moment but horrified you later? Chances are, you were led on by impulsivity. It’s a trait many of us have, at least in certain circumstances. It’s hard to keep from buying chocolate when you’re in the candy aisle of the grocery store, and it’s equally as challenging to hold yourself back from sending an impulsive email. But when you do fall down the rabbit hole of impulsivity, it can feel terrible. Often, you find yourself ashamed and ruminating on your regrets. It’s a loop and it’s closely related to the craving cycle, which causes you to give in to the urge to drink.
Impulsivity can be defined as a “rash response in situations where a considerate response is more appropriate” and often leads to acting in the spur of the moment, not focusing on the task at hand, and not planning or thinking carefully. When you break it down at the biological level, impulsivity involves failing to inhibit a potentially risky impulse. From a cognitive perspective, it is the inability to inhibit behavioural impulses and thoughts. One of the most significant challenges about impulsive tendencies is that the individual who experiences impulsivity cannot evaluate the consequences for themselves or others. They may not even know that they are acting impulsively because impulsivity has a way of tricking you into thinking that you are taking the most essential action.
There are three components of impulse:
It’s essential to know how to reign in impulsivity to avoid risky and negative outcomes. That’s where the pause button comes in. The pause button is just as it sounds—a break from stimulus. You might go for a walk, lie down and engage in box breathing, turn off your devices, or take some time before you take action or respond. It gives you the space you need to evaluate, reflect, and decompress before reacting.
The pause button is most effective when you engrain it into your reaction system as a pattern. This means that each time you are driven to action, you remind yourself to take an intentional pause, and over time, this behaviour becomes automatic. This is especially useful when it comes to drinking. Impulsivity is a significant risk factor for initiating and continuing alcohol use. It can be provoked by acute intoxication as well as long-term substance use. Studies have shown that highly impulsive individuals use alcohol to regulate negative emotional states. This is not surprising since the brain regions of impulsive behaviours and emotional experiences overlap. When you take a pause, you can identify and label your emotion. It allows you to make a different and healthier decision. In other words, you get ahead of the emotion and the drive to action. When you take a pause, it’s an opportunity to identify your emotions or how you’re feeling. Oftentimes, our mood can indicate our behaviours and it’s another way to take action in our journey to change.
This week, commit to using the pause button. When you get heated, and feel the drive to action as your craving system kicks in, commit to taking a small break. You can walk around the house, hold a plank, close your eyes, or throw a toy for the dog for ten minutes. Interrupting your impulsive mental state is often enough to slow you down,allow you to reassess, and change your course. It can be challenging, but it is also helpful to check-in with a family member, friend, or colleague about how they perceive your impulsivity. An outside perspective can be the best real-time input on your emotional and cognitive state. As well, your confidante can play the role of an accountability partner and keep you on track. Impulsivity is alluring at the moment, but it has a painful aftermath. The pause button can give you the grace you need to show up as your best self.
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Let’s get frank. COVID-19 has overstayed its welcome and with the long fizzle of disruption, one of the biggest impacts has been to productivity. We talk about productivity all the time, but sometimes we mix up the true definition. Many of us think of productivity as getting more things done each day but productivity is the measure of the efficiency of a person completing a task. It’s not about getting more things done, but getting more things done consistently. When the days start to drag and bleed into nights, it’s easy to lose control of your productivity. It’s a slippery slope and a doom-ridden feeling.
One historical figure who was an engine of productivity is Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. He had a steady output and among his accomplishments were the launch of programs that led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet, the exploration of space, and the Atomic Energy Act. His productivity wasn’t restricted to his presidency, however. Eisenhower had a military career as a five-star general in the United States Army, and he was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War 11. He kept his productivity up for decades, but how did he do it?
It all comes down to a Matrix called the Eisenhower Box, an instructional guide on how to be more productive.
Eisenhower organized his tasks into four categories:
Let’s try organizing our tasks for today:
Urgent and Important: Walk the dog, write a press release-Do.
Not urgent but important: Exercise, socialize, long-term strategy and research—Decide.
Urgent but not important: Approve comments, answer emails, make edits—Delegate.
Not urgent, not important: Grocery shop, check social media—Delete.
This planning can help you stay on track. It empowers you to complete what is essential and to prioritize other tasks in order of importance. As Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Brett McKay identifies that urgent tasks are things you feel compelled to respond to like text messages, mail, and phone calls, while important tasks contribute to your long-term values and goals.
Warren Buffet helped to clarify the difference between these two categories. With more than 50 billion dollars to his name, Buffet is considered the most successful investor of the 20th century. Buffet was on a flight with his airplane pilot, Mike Flint, when he put Mike through a three step task.
That’s where Buffet stopped him in his tracks. He directed Flint to consider anything outside of his top five, his “avoid-at-all-cost list.” He wasn’t to touch these items until his list of five was checked off. You can make habits more automatic when you get rid of the inessential. Ivy Lee had some final words about that.
He suggested that at the end of the day, you write down the six things you want to accomplish tomorrow and order them by importance. When the day starts, concentrate on only one task at a time, and if a task remains, move it to the front of the line for the following day. This simple approach works. It forces you to get at what’s important and to approach each task with single-minded focus. It also removes the barrier of getting started.
What Eisenhower, Buffet, and Ivy had in common was a paired down approach to accomplishing tasks. They knew how to identify what was important and how to apply focus to one thing at a time. When you become unproductive, it can be easy to be hard on yourself, to get into a negative thought cycle and to turn to drinking. Choose one of these approaches, or if you like a hybrid combination, and plan ahead. Design tomorrow and then take it step-by-step. You’ll be surprised how many of the cobwebs in your brain disappear in the face of one of these decision matrixes.
What can you do to structure your day today?
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We live in a highly digitized age where most of our lives are documented online. Whether it’s through social media, emails, work, or phone calls, most of us aren’t immune to social media. As I tried to settle into writing this blog, I had a cascade of thoughts. They weren’t profound, unusual, or even related to the task at hand. I wondered whether there was a hangover effect of weekend highlights that I was missing on Instagram, whether something interesting or important had popped up in my email inbox. Was there a new text? Should I change my Spotify playlist to get the right vibe to write?
Although they’re few and far between, some people do manage to get off the grid. My friend and colleague Sarah, who is studying clinical psychology, is among this group and in a recent conversation, she told me about the benefits she’s experienced disconnecting from social media over the past year.
Even before my conversation with Sarah, I knew that I compared myself to others and that sometimes it made me feel less than. I had no idea that there is a prominent link between social media and depression, anxiety, self-harm, even suicidal thoughts. Sarah helped me see that social media can make us feel inadequate about our life and our appearance. Social media can also trigger you. You’ve heard about FOMO (fear of missing out) and along with those feelings, it can activate cravings and make you want to drink or smoke a joint. So how do we turn the volume down in our heads and on our accounts? Sarah had a few suggestions:
I wanted to know if Sarah’s life really had changed after pulling the plug on social media. She’s still the same person but she compares herself less to other people. She no longer worries about what 500 people are doing. Instead, she focuses on the people close to her in her intimate circle of relationships. The most unexpected and inspiring benefit of slowing down her social media use has been that Sarah takes more walks. She loves to get out in nature and even takes some of her work meetings while walking. She feels more grounded and in tune with her mental and physical wellbeing.
Talking to Sarah made me reflect on my own mindless usage patterns. I’m taking small steps, removing social media from the apps on my phone, giving Digital Wellbeing a try, and taking time in the day to be creative or active without my phone by my side. Already, I feel a greater sense of calm and connection. Give Sarah’s approach a try; find a way to make social media work for you.
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“I feel your pain,” is much more than a figure of speech.
Did you know that there are distinct differences between sympathy and empathy? Let’s start with the definitions. To be sympathetic is to feel pity about another person’s misfortune, whereas empathy is the ability to consider and share the feelings of the other.
Empathy is an evolutionary behaviour. That means that it’s vital to human survival which is why it is a trait that has lasted over time. To understand empathy better, it helps to know that empathy promotes prosocial behaviour isn’t just a fixed trait, but something you can develop and hone over time. The truth is, we need empathy. Our ability to resonate with and understand others’ pain is part of what allows us to help each other. Not to mention, it reduces psychological distress, the way we interact with others, and shifts our worldviews into a more understanding stance.
But empathy isn’t just an abstract feeling, it promotes neurochemical messages that activate parts of the brain related to mirroring the actions of others. It does this by stimulating the motor and sensory areas in the observer’s brain. So, if you watch someone touch a hot plate, shriek, and remove their hand from the plate, your own motor and sensory system activates and you might flinch and grimace. You feel for them. This can lead you to unconsciously mimic their facial expressions and postures (more so than a person who is less empathetic). For instance, you might find yourself slumped after talking to someone who is really sad.
We can see how this works from the first neuroimaging study on empathy where 16 female volunteers received a brain scan as they were administered an electric shock to their hands. The pain matrix was activated in their brain. Next, they received a signal that their partners were receiving a shock and this activated a lot (but not all) of the pain matrix in their brain. There’s a biological reason why the pain is attenuated too. It’s just enough to activate your relational skills and enable you to help without overwhelming you to the point that you can’t relieve another person’s distress. Your brain is actively working to put you in the other person’s shoes to gather insight on what they’re thinking and feeling.
Empathy is especially useful when it comes to substance use challenges, whether you are struggling, or your employee, family member or friend is up against challenges. It helps to identify with their pain and keeps judgment out of the picture. Empathy is like a muscle, it improves with targeted practice, it needs rest, and it can be difficult to develop at times. Here are some ways you can improve your empathy for those you love who experience difficulty with substance use:
You gain empathy through taking steps in other people’s shoes. It starts by thinking about and imagining their experience, listening closely without judgment and soon the visual and sensory networks of your brain have expanded. Just think about how the regions of your brain might light up in neuroimaging if you worked at empathy a little bit each day and what kind of impact that could have on the world around you.
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