Now before you assume anything, I did not choose February because it’s the shortest month of the year! But when everyone was declaring their intention to have a dry January I just wasn’t ready. I was still on “vacation” or as much of a break as I’m ever willing to take. Once we got into the full swing of training in late January I was super fired up and ready to dial in all the different variables in order to get competition ready ASAP. Cutting out alcohol (for me it’s a few glasses of wine a week) in my experience, is where you get the biggest bang for your buck across all wellness categories.
You don’t have to abuse alcohol for it to be unhealthy for you. I think it’s a truth that’s often glossed over or swept under the rug or covered up by a study that’s paid for to find any obscure possibility of benefit to assuage our fears. It’s often argued that having a glass of wine or whiskey or whatever at the end of the day is a good way to destress, and in the moment it might feel like that, but the effects of that cocktail (especially when it turns into two and occasionally three) actually end up causing us more stress, exhaustion, and anxiety than it’s helping us alleviate. For one, it conclusively impairs sleep, which I will one hundred percent attest to. Even if you feel like it knocks you out your heart rate will remain elevated as you sleep, inhibiting the amount of restorative z’s you achieve. Less restorative sleep means being more tired the next day than if you had just forgone the alcohol. Being tired leads to cognitive errors which can lead to stressful and chaotic situations that you may have otherwise avoided. Not to mention simply starting tired will lead to becoming even more tired while going about the tasks of your day lowering your tolerance for adversity, increasing frustration, and as a result heightening stress levels.
Since going a month without drinking I’ve noticed several concrete benefits. The biggest one for me is that I can refuel and recover better- read: eat more!! When trying to maximize my training and increase my fitness levels a few hundred calories one way or another can be a huge difference maker over the course of months, and what I choose to consume for those calories matters as well. Wine or any other alcohol does nothing for you in the name of recovery and just gets turned into sugar and then stored as fat, and being that I am a “recovery enthusiast” this goes against everything I believe in! It has also helped me achieve better sleep. Falling asleep isn’t usually the problem, but when I’ve had a glass or two of wine in the evening I find it’s harder for me to fall back asleep when I inevitably wake up at some point during the night. Without it I’m also achieving that restorative sleep which I touched upon earlier.
Another huge benefit I’ve noticed is mental clarity. Stacking weeks upon weeks of abstaining from these mind altering substances has afforded me a greater ability to multitask, I am much less forgetful throughout the day, and simply feel sharper on and off the court. I’ve noticed a marked increase in my energy as well, all while cutting my normal twice-daily sixteen ounce americano habit in half (well, I do one half caff and one decaf a day now). This could also be attributed to getting better sleep, but whatever the reason, the cause is directly related to cutting out the booze and I am here for it!
I believe, and it has been studied and concluded, (though, I’ll readily admit I’m not sure how scientifically) that drinking alcohol lowers your vibration and spirit. I feel this, but I also think this is directly correlated to lowering anxiety levels. Alcohol increases serotonin levels while imbibing, but as the alcohol wears off so does the serotonin causing a crash like effect, which can induce feelings of anxiety or depression, and over time the effects can become longer and longer lasting. I’ve definitely felt way more calm and grounded towards the end of this month, something that I highly value and believe positively effects my performance on the court as well.
The last consequence I want to touch on is probably the biggest in my opinion, especially for athletes. INFLAMMATION. Inflammation is arguably our biggest enemy when it comes to our health and alcohol causes a lot of it. It can wreak havoc on everything in our bodies and lead to multiple diseases, and specifically in regard to sports and athletes- injury! If you have a nagging injury, pain in your joints, and/or muscle tightness alcohol is only going to make healing from these things that much harder. It can also make sudden, unpredictable injuries more likely. Anything in our body experiencing inflammation is more susceptible to trauma. Every time I’ve experienced an injury, or even when my knees become a little achy, the first thing I think to do is cut out the booze. Not that I abuse it in any way, but just cutting out the little bit that I do enjoy facilitates quicker healing to get back to a state of painlessness as fast as possible. I wish I had realized this link earlier in my career, I feel like I could have saved myself a lot of unnecessary aches and pains.
It’s true it can be challenging to abstain in social situations, especially when everyone else is partaking. However, I find it’s an opportunity for growth and I enjoy connecting and bonding with people without the inhibition lowering aid of alcohol. It’s almost as if the childlike part of me that found genuine joy in playing with other kids, creating our own fun, and just not caring about other’s potential judgments has been traumatized into hiding or just straight up died (lol) and now I’m reviving it. It forces me out of my comfort zone and if you know me, you know it’s one of my favorite places to be because I know it’s where I learn the most and grow the most as a person.
Giving up alcohol, even though we have all this compelling evidence that it can be really good for us, is easier said than done. Most of us get lost in the marketing of alcohol as a normal component of our daily lives and something that’s necessary for every social occasion. But the first step is awareness, awareness that some company, or ALL booze companies, are spending a ton of money to make you believe that you need their products in your life. They want you to think you need wine to wind down, you need to bring booze to a dinner party, you need to drink to have fun. It has worked amazingly well judging by how ingrained it is in our culture, all the more reason to be on guard and aware of what external forces are influencing you. I’m not trying to convince you to give it up forever and/or all together, I’m only hoping to convince you to think a little bit more about how something you might have believed was inconsequential might be affecting your life in a negative way. I am a huge believer in everything in moderation, and also in experimenting in ways that can improve your health and quality of life and this is just one idea of how to do this and something that has helped me, so I wanted to share, as always. Hopefully, it encourages you to at least give it more thought, if not a try at a dry month, or five 🙂
Pro tip: a really great mocktail is Bolt24 mixed with sparkling water and some citrus, it’s been my go-to this month, is so yummy and when you put it in a wine glass it even looks like Rose!