Many of us like nothing better than a small, cheeky tipple after a long day – and we might have felt a bit smug about it, since studies have indicated low levels of alcohol could even be beneficial to our health.
But now research from Anglia Ruskin University has cast doubt on this hope. Researchers, who analysed data from 446,439 participants in the UK Biobank study over an average of seven years, found low-level consumption of beer, cider and spirits was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, cancer, and overall mortality.
And while the study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, did find a decreased risk of coronary heart disease through drinking wine, study author Dr Rudolph Schutte believes this is thanks to the antioxidant polyphenols found in the grapes, and not through the alcohol – so the same benefit could be gained by drinking non-alcoholic wine.
“Our findings show that even low levels of alcohol consumption can be damaging to our health,” stresses Dr Schutte.
Dr Niall Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist and addiction expert at the Priory Group, says: “We’re living in stressful times and sadly more people are turning to drinking as a way to relax. However, alcohol does not, in reality, relieve stress, and can often bring more problems than it solves.
“Giving up alcohol means you’ll feel fresher and have a greater sense of wellbeing, and you should see this as an opportunity to lead a happier and more productive life.”
And Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, adds: “Stepping away from something stressful for a few minutes or taking time away from your normal routines and thoughts can give you enough space and distance to feel calmer.”
So what are the healthiest ways to unwind after a stressful period, without alcohol?
1. Try active relaxation
A bit of physical activity can help you unwind. We’re not saying you need to do a two-hour high-intensity workout, but just going for a leisurely walk, or doing a spot of yoga or Pilates can get those feel-good endorphins flowing and relieve stress.
Dr Campbell says: “I try to encourage my patients to get onto an exercise program, such as Couch to 5k. Something with achievable goals is an excellent way to relax, feel better and get healthier.”
And Mr Buckley adds: “Exercise and getting outside for some fresh air can be beneficial for our mental health. If you have any time spare, try some exercise at home, whether that’s an online workout, or even just cleaning, dancing or using the stairs.”
2. Try breathing exercises
Don’t dismiss breathing exercises. Mind says deep breathing can help you feel a lot calmer. Just try to relax your body and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly counting as you breathe in and out.
3. Get crafty
You might think you’re lacking in artistic ability, but why not give it a go? Getting creative can be very calming. Why not try painting, drawing, crafting (try making your own cards, or using modelling clay to create ornaments, for example), playing a musical instrument, or sewing?
4. Get outside
If you’ve been getting stressed at your desk, there’s nothing better than getting outside after you’ve finished work to enjoy some fresh air. If you live near countryside, unwind by going for a short walk through local bushland, or just the local park. Make sure you take the time to notice trees, flowers and plants. And if you feel too tired to venture out, you could try a spot of gardening.
“Think about doing things such as gardening or DIY, where you can gain a sense of satisfaction from a job well done,” says Dr Campbell. “That’s a much better way to relieve stress than drinking.”
5. Listen to music
Mind points out that listening to music – any kind, from classical to your favourite rap song – can help you relax, and distract you from worrying thoughts. Pop on a few of your favourite tunes to enjoy. Either sit and listen or turn up the volume and dance around your kitchen – dancing can be a real release for some people.
6. Turn off the tech
Being connected 24/7 can really ramp up our stress levels, so switch off your phone and laptop and just go incommunicado for a short (or long) time. Instead of answering messages or emails, use your tech-free time to try these alcohol-free relaxation techniques.
How do you relax at the end of a long day? Do you find alcohol increases your anxiety? Please share your experience in the comments section below.
– With PA
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