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Managing emotions around drinking

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Managing emotions

We all experience unhelpful thoughts and feelings from time to time such as worry, boredom, sadness or anger. They're especially common when we try to make changes to our lifestyle.

Sometimes unhelpful thoughts and feelings get in the way of making important healthy changes. For example, if you're feeling sad or low you might lose some motivation to get out and exercise. If you're stressed or bored you might have cravings for unhealthy foods or alcohol, or want to smoke more.

Learning skills to manage these thoughts and feelings can help your lifestyle changes last for the long term. 

Managing stress

Stress is something that can be a problem when trying to change our behaviour. So it's important to learn to manage stress well.

There are many different words we use to describe stress. Words like worry, pressure, anxiety, or tension.

It can be part of everyday life, and in small amounts it can be helpful. It can keep us alert, focused and motivated. But it's also easy to feel too much stress and feel overwhelmed.

There are two types of strategies for managing stress, which we've listed below.  

Keep stress levels low

You can use the following strategies regularly to help reduce stress. They're also good to help with other unhelpful emotions and feelings:

  • Be physically active on a regular basis. This also has many other health benefits. Any amount of activity is useful for reducing stress.
  • Take time to relax, even if it's for 5 minutes. The NHS has some quick breathing techniques you can try for stress.  
  • Set aside time to do things that you enjoy. This could be as simple as catching up with a friend or going to the cinema.
  • Make sure you've also got the basics covered. This includes eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.
  • Keep up contact with friends and family and ask them for support when you might need it. This can help support better long-term health as well.

Tackle moments of stress

Strategies to use during moments of stress or when you feel overwhelmed by emotions:

  • Admit to feeling stressed by saying to yourself 'this is stress' or 'I'm feeling stressed'. Admitting how you're feeling can often be half the battle in dealing with a stressful situation.
  • Take 10 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and relax your shoulders
  • Focus on the five senses: what can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel in this moment?
  • Ask for help from those around you - is there a way they can be helpful to you?
  • Head outside for some exercise. Even something small like a quick walk around the block can help reduce stress levels.
  • Remind yourself that everyone feels stress like this, and it will pass in time

If you'd like some more ideas for ways to manage stress, the NHS also has some support and advice.

Support from Norfolk Libraries

The Reading Well scheme provides books for adults managing common mental health conditions. It can also help those people dealing with difficult feelings and experiences. This includes books on dealing with stress and managing mood.

Libraries across Norfolk also offer activities that can boost mood and prevent isolation. These include Colour Me Calm, Just a Cuppa and Reading Friends. See what's on at your local library.

Managing cravings

When we try to make healthy lifestyle changes, it's common to have cravings for unhealthy choices.

For example, you might want an alcoholic drink when among friends or family who are drinking. Or to smoke when you're trying to quit.

Sometimes these cravings can feel very strong and it can feel difficult to resist them. Cravings are also often linked to your feelings. Some people find when they're bored they crave and choose unhealthy foods high in salt, fat or sugar.

Avoiding cravings

You can avoid cravings. If you discover what triggers them then you can learn to manage those triggers.

Some people find certain situations or people can make them more likely to have a craving. Say, for example, you're trying to drink less or stop smoking. Going to the pub might make you more likely to crave alcohol or a cigarette. 

You could try to avoid these situations or people when you start to make changes to your behaviour.

You could also ask friends and family not to encourage unhealthy behaviours. Instead ask them to give you support and show understanding. For example, you might want to eat a healthier diet. You could ask them not to offer you unhealthy foods when you're over at their place.

If you suspect certain emotions are your trigger (stress, boredom, anger) try and work out what they are. Think about whether there is something else you could do to help with those emotions.

Coping with cravings

It's not always possible to avoid having cravings, so it can help to learn some strategies for managing them if they do arise.

It's important to know that cravings can become stronger and more frequent when you act on them. But if you keep resisting them they will reduce and eventually stop altogether.

It's also useful to bear in mind that cravings are temporary. They typically only last no more than a few minutes.

The following technique might be useful when you experience cravings. You might like to set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and use the steps below for 'surfing your cravings':

  • Think of your cravings as being like a wave. They'll build up but after a few minutes they will build to a peak, break and then go back down and go away.
  • To surf your cravings like waves, take a moment to notice in which parts of your body you feel your craving. For example, your lips or hands. Then say to yourself: 'I'm having a craving to smoke' or 'I'm having a craving to eat cake'.
  • Then slowly breathe in and out. Imagine as you breathe in, you're making room for your craving to be there, without having to act on it. Also try to visualise your main goal while you breathe.
  • It's likely that your mind will try to persuade you to give into your craving. If it does, try to refocus on your breathing and noticing the wave.

The more you practice this, the easier it will get to surf your cravings. This will keep you on track to achieving your healthy goals.

Some people also find focusing on another activity helps them resist their cravings. SmokeFree Norfolk have a game to help distract you from smoking cravings. But it can be useful for any type of craving you have.

Doing some physical activity is also a great way to distract yourself if you have a craving. It has extra benefits to your health too. You'll boost your fitness, it will help you lose weight and reduce your risk of certain diseases.

What if I give into a craving?

It's important to remember that no one is perfect all the time. It's normal to struggle with cravings as your mind and body gets used to the change you are making.

Giving into a craving is not a sign of weakness or that you won't ever be able to resist your cravings. If it does happen, it's a good opportunity to learn. Think about why it happened, what didn't work, and what you might need to do next time to resist it.

What's next

Now find out how to  keep track of your progress in drinking less.

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