The Secret Sauce of Sobriety: Self-care
Last month, I was feeling so low on energy I had to spend a few consecutive days in bed. As I was lying there, frustrated that I felt so exhausted but had so much to do, I realised that I had been doing way too much for too long, operating at a ridiculously fast pace, without taking enough downtime. 2020 had been a huge year for me. I went through a marriage separation, launched Thrivalist, sold the family home and moved house plus went through a number of other life changing events that fired my adrenaline and cortisol levels through the roof. Yes, I was still taking care of myself way more than I ever would have if I was still drinking, however it became clear that in the craziness of the past 18 months, my normal diligence around self-care had waned.
I was terrified that I had burnt myself out and this could be a condition that would take weeks or months to recover from. Thankfully the reason I was so run down was due to low iron and was treated and started to feel better again after a few weeks. However, this was a wake up call and reminder about the importance of self-care. And as a Life Coach who is dedicated to helping other women craft their life around prioritising their needs and self-care, not prioritising my self-care as much as I should have been was just not good enough!
When I embarked on my sober journey, I really didn’t know what self-love felt like and self-care was to me just a buzzword I had read about. But what I started to learn early on was that when I took some time to myself, to be nurturing, kind and practice mindfulness, I noticed how good I felt for it and how much less I felt triggered to drink. It was like I was giving myself love in the right way for the first time, rather than looking for it at the bottom of a bottle of wine.
I began to prioritise my needs (sounds selfish but it is actually the opposite!), and partake in little practices and rituals every day that filled my cup and left me feeling refreshed and positive. Self-care became a vital part of my life, enabling me to improve my mindset, decrease my anxiety, have more focus, give myself the love I needed at harder times and be a more present mum.
Most importantly, self-care became my superpower to help keep me sober. Why would I want to drink when I felt so damn good and I actually really cared about myself?
So what is self-care?
When we use alcohol to self-soothe our stress, or to help us feel better physically or mentally in any way, it is an indication that we aren’t filling our cup and taking care of ourselves in more healthy, natural ways throughout our daily life. When we drink, the brain releases beautiful feel good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins to give us an artificial feeling of comfort and warmth and love which can be a welcome moment of relief from our stress.
But what a lot people don’t realise is that alcohol is actually exacerbating this stress and stealing happiness from tomorrow. This is because alcohol is a depressant so when we drink the brain wants to keep us alert and functioning so it releases a bunch of stress hormones and stimulants like cortisol and adrenaline which just leaves us feeling more stressed! It is these hormones and stimulants that affect the quality of our sleep, ramp up our anxiety and depression and just make us feel so much worse in general. I am sorry ladies – you are being duped into thinking that alcohol helps you feel better in any way, shape or form.
Self-care is taking action and practices that help you to protect and improve your well-being and happiness, both proactively and reactively; when you have reached a point of needing it most, like I had. Self-care comes in so many different forms and can look different to different people based on what makes you feel good. Building your own self-care plan can help you to protect yourself from exhaustion and burn out, boost your daily dopamine stores so that you’re not looking for it in unhealthy ways like alcohol and sugar, and allow you to develop a happier, healthier mindset and life in general. It can enable you to build a beautiful connection with yourself which is the foundation of self-love.
How to build a self-care regime.
1. Get to know yourself on a deeper level.
Self-care always starts by understanding yourself on a deeper level. This means, really getting to know the person you are, or perhaps working towards becoming in your new sober life, and getting clear about your values as an individual. When you know our values, it is easier to identify your needs and it is from this place that you can put personal and relationship boundaries in place so that your values and needs are being protected.
2. Prioritise mindfulness & meditation
Mindfulness is the act of being fully present, aware of what you’re doing and where you are, and not being reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. You can practice mindfulness any time, anywhere by simply bringing awareness to what you’re experiencing via your senses, or to the state of your mind via your thoughts and emotions. It’s so simple! And by regularly practicing mindfulness, research is telling us that you can actually remodel the physical structure of your brain.
By taking time each day to connect in with yourself and quieting your mind, you give yourself the opportunity to find a level of calmness that can help ‘reset’ you so that you feel better and deepen your intuition. Evidence shows that meditation can help improve our lives in so many ways. Regular meditation has shown to reduce stress and anxiety, lengthen attention span, enhance self awareness, improve sleep, decrease blood pressure, and so on. It is also a really compassionate way to connect with yourself on a personal level. By regularly holding space for yourself and asking yourself these two simple questions: “what do I feel?” and “what do I need?”, you begin the process of digging under the surface to determine your true needs. Do you really need a bottle of wine or instead do you need a break, a big nourishing sleep, a cry, and a hug?
3. Nutrition & movement
I don’t need to tell you the health benefits of eating well, we all know them! However, taking a close look at the foods we are consuming, and taking action to eat a healthy well balanced diet, is vital to self care. Eating lots of sugar and processed food can really affect our mood and how well we feel in general, which is not conducive to an effective self-care regime. I also don’t need to tell you the health benefits of exercise, however perhaps this is a gentle reminder to include some form of movement into your daily life. This doesn’t have to be a 60 min HIIT class every day, it can be a walk and some yoga, or a swim in the ocean. Just get moving and get those endorphins pumping!
4. Find self-care practices that make you feel good
This is where you get to experiment with a range of self-care rituals so that you can find what works for you. For some women, a bath and a face mask hits the spot while others love to listen to jazz music while knitting. We really encourage you to try out a bunch of different mindful self-care practices that work for you, to help calm and balance your nervous system, while spending some time with yourself, in a way that feels nourishing for you. A few popular techniques are breathwork, colouring in, crafting, yoga, massage, singing, dancing, self-pleasure, surfing, swimming, hiking or simply taking 10 mins out to sit in the sun and drink a cup of tea. It’s really just about finding practices that allow you to fill your cup, in a healthy and nourishing way.
5. Learn to regularly celebrate & reward yourself
As busy, overstressed women juggling too many things at once, we often spend more time congratulating our loved ones on their achievements, praising our children and sending flowers to our girlfriends, rather than celebrating and rewarding ourselves. This practice is so powerful when it comes to long-term behaviour change. By acknowledging our success, we motivate ourselves even more to keep doing the hard work. We can celebrate ourselves in so many different ways. An easy and effective practice is to simply take a few minutes at the end of each day to acknowledge three things you have done during the day that have made you proud. Really revel in the feeling of being proud of yourself for your achievements – no matter how big or small. And then of course we can always find bigger ways to reward ourselves, such as heading off to a day spa, purchasing that new dress or piece of jewelry.
In summary, self-care is a powerful way to keep improving yourself, stay healthy, calm and increase your happiness. By prioritising yourself and your self-care practices, you prove to yourself that you are worthy of health, happiness and long-term sobriety. You become a healthier and happier version of yourself, which in term keeps propelling you further along in your sobriety.
So why not take a few moments today to get started on this journey of learning how to really love and care for yourself, forever!