Sobriety, Yoga & Mindfulness
WITH MEL @rebelsobriety
When I first gave up drinking I began to notice the benefits straight away, no hangovers, saving money, better sleep and clearer thinking. However, in early sobriety I also noticed something else, without the blanket of alcohol to dull my senses I was suddenly hyper aware of all my feelings, thoughts and emotions. Everything came flooding into crystal clear HD which at times could feel painful and overwhelming. My mental health was one of the main reasons why I quit drinking, I was tired of the endless cycle of highs and crashing lows that came with alcohol and the hangxiety that followed. Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety, negative thoughts or even just things that we feel uncomfortable sitting with like boredom.
I had been using alcohol as a way to blow off steam and suddenly that outlet was gone. So, newly sober and feeling all the feels I set out on a journey to find a new outlet for everything that I was experiencing. I tried everything from running to axe throwing and even had a brief stint training at an all female wrestling school. Then I found yoga and fell in love with the practice and eventually becoming a yoga teacher. It became the outlet I was looking for and my mood and mental health improved massively. It is an ongoing journey but here are my tips for supporting your mental health in sobriety.
Take a deep breath. Right now as you read this. The odds are you’re hunched over your phone or laptop and your breathing is short and shallow. When we breathe deeply we stimulate the vagus nerve which is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, this brings the body into a state known as rest and digest. Any kind of stress triggers a flood of stress hormones, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and we’re back in fight or flight mode. However when we breathe deeply the vagus nerve is stimulated the heart rate slows, muscles relax and blood pressure can even lower. The brain then follows suit and relaxes which increases the feeling of calm.
Our minds race at 100mph, filled with to do lists, notifications, random thoughts and feelings. We rarely take any time to sit in stillness. Meditation can help improve focus, lower stress, induce calm, lower anxiety and even promote kindness towards ourselves and others. It can feel a bit odd or tricky at times, especially in the beginning. Stick with it and commit to a daily practice if possible, even starting off with a couple of minutes. There are lots of free guided meditations on YouTube or on apps like Calm and Headspace.
Any kind of movement that you like! Yoga works for me but maybe its rock climbing, skiing, swing dancing or boxing for you. Take time to explore what feels good for you and your body. Notice any activities that you feel excited about going to or activities that boost your mood afterwards. It doesn’t have to be too complicated either, going for a walk while listening to a podcast or music is one of my favourite things to do to support my mental health.
Remembering to play and have fun is unfortunately something that we have to remind ourselves to do as adults. Having fun might seem trivial but carving out time for myself has been a key way for me to to support my mental health and my sobriety. So much of my idea of fun used to be based around alcohol so it was important for me to redefine fun in sobriety. There is no one size fits all approach to this (when is there ever?) But dancing to music, reading, painting, playing games, playing sports and watching movies can be great ways to support our mental health.