December. A month filled with holiday parties, festivities, and chill nights on the couch with wine when you needed a break from all of that.
Before I dive into this post about the Health Benefits Of Dry January & What I Learned, I think I should start by saying I’ve never had a drinking problem, in fact I’ve never really been much of a partier, but I also wouldn’t say no to grabbing drinks or having a wine at nearly every opportunity I got. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing as I think socially drinking with your friends and family has its place, but for me the bad started outweighing the good.
So back to December. You know the scene. It’s all fun and games until you’re waking up on a Wednesday with puffy eyes and a pounding headache and start asking yourself why this feels so much worse than it ever has before? We’d open a bottle, or have a bottle left over from the weekend, and so it didn’t really matter what day it was because one and a half glasses was fine right?
As I’ve mentioned before, this last fall came with a lot of changes for me both personally and professionally. One of those being my schedule changing from a typical business work week to a somewhat sporadic (but wonderful) one that allows me to work from home and dictate my own hours. That does take the pressure off of waking up for the morning grind, and definitely something I think made it even easier for me to say yes to pouring another on Monday night.
This dry January was not my first. I did one last year leading up to a trip to Mexico for my 25th birthday. The motivation behind that one was much more physical. I wanted to feel less bloated and not drink until I got to Mexico. This year’s month of sobriety had a much deeper motivation on a health and wellness level.
I started noticing disruptions in four major areas happening to me even after just one glass of wine. These things would really take a toll on me into the next day, time and time again.
You might be thinking that a dry month sounds like a full month of no fun. How do you go out with friends when everyone is drinking and sit there sober? It might be easier than you think when you realize it’s a cheaper tab!
Cost aside, I ask you to try it if not for the physical changes, but for the mindset shift that comes from redefining what “fun” means to you. There was one time during the month when I thought “a drink would be really nice right now“, but even in that moment, the motivation to do this for my mind and body outweighed the relaxation halo of a drink.
For me, these four areas are disrupted when I drink, and where I saw immediate differences and improvements during my dry January.
If you know me, you know that I will say no to anything that has the potential to interfere with my sleep. I thought I used to be a night owl, but it’s safe to say I am not. Sleep for me is one of those things I’m just not willing to compromise on. Some people can function great with 3 hours, and I am amazed by them!
What has a tendency to happen is I will have some wine, and my hunger cues are drastically subdued. I’ll feel super full by whatever I’m eating at the time, or simply don’t feel hungry in the moment which leads to the 3am huger wake up. I either didn’t eat enough (which I’m fully aware of) or whatever I ate was not enough to keep me asleep. So I wake up at 3am hot, thirsty, hungry, and unable to sleep unless I get something to eat and drink. Needless to say I wake up the next morning with a really sour, and confused stomach that feels out of whack.
It turns out that alcohol destroys a brain stimulant called glutamate that helps stay awake. Then, when the brain notices this stimulant has been destroyed by alcohol, it starts making more. The bad news is, this usually happens in the middle of the night and that making of the glutamate stimulant then wakes you up and ruins your night’s sleep.
Nothing felt better than waking up on a Saturday morning feeling great! Does that make me sound lame?
Who wants to go to the gym and eat salads the day after a night of drinking? No one. While, I have made it to the gym after just a couple of glasses the night before, it straight up does not feel good. You’re fighting off that feeling of insatiable thirst and basically just thinking about what greasy food might help.
Plus we can’t have this conversation without mentioning that alcohol and wine are empty calories that can add up quick. Better-for-you beverages are a topic for a different blog post, but after time those calories can add up just the same as calories from anything else can. I didn’t have that high energy to go into a workout class at full speed and noticed that I could never really improve at the gym, just break even.
The break from drinking gave me that energy back to give it my all at the gym and actually feel like I was progressing. I changed little to nothing about my routine to find I was getting better at it and could do other things that I wasn’t able to do during a week I drank a few nights of the week.
Real talk. If you don’t like reading about poop, skip over this section, but it’s something I have to include because shit happens! Sure there are the typical bloating symptoms you may experience from drinking that make your stomach still feel overly full or unsettled well into the next day, and then there are digestive disturbances that can persist all throughout the day and even days later from drinking. In December, I started experiencing a lot more of the latter. Bouts of diarrhea following in the morning after drinking the night before were becoming frequent occurrences, no matter what I drank. I know, gross. I started wondering if I had a food intolerances because it was happening after I would eat the foods I normally include in my diet.
Here again is where people’s experiences may vary. I’m not saying drinking directly caused this but it definitely put more stress on my stomach and therefore more stress on me the next day. I know I have a sensitive stomach so overdoing it with mixed drinks or even wines is just enough to set me off. Once I stopped drinking for the month the symptoms I mentioned disappeared.
Blame it on the weather! It must be that! Said the voice in my head everyday I would wake up in an anxious fog. I’ve felt heavy anxiety before, and am happy to say bouts of it are few and far between these days, but come up sometimes strongly the day after I drink. That heart-racing, unsettling sensation pulses through me especially hard during the day after. I almost don’t know what to do with myself because I don’t feel like doing anything which in turn gives me more anxiety about the things I’m not doing. The day continues like that and I don’t know of a way to stop it other than waiting for bedtime and sleeping it off.
It’s true that alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. Alcohol-induced anxiety is a real condition that can last for hours, and in my case the entire day after drinking. It forces me to recall that other really anxious time in my life and that in and of itself is something that dry January helped me cope with and get a better handle on. Read this good article on the anxiety and alcohol relationship from Healthline.
Bottom line? I truly believe you will start to see changes in all of these aspects of health and wellness soon after taking a break from drinking. Maybe you need to, maybe you don’t.
I think it’s one of the most refreshing things to do once in a while, and I’m considering doing it again next month not because I feel like I have to, but because I want to. Like I said, it changes your headspace a little bit, and asks you to reevaluate your relationship with drinking. I don’t plan to give it up all together, and I’m not saying you should either, but rather ask yourself if it is preventing you from doing the things you want to do and feel the way you want to feel.
I’m curious, did you do a dry January this past month? Have you done one before? What changes do you see, and how do you feel when you do start drinking again? Leave a comment and let’s keep the conversation going!