How to deal with bad days without a drink

Everyone has bad days. Mostly we have ‘ok’ days, and ok days are normal too.¬†We keep being told (by other people’s Facebook feeds, the media, and advertising) that our days should be full of joyous belly laughs and feelings of love. But the reality is that a majority of ‘ok’ days is normal.

We use any sign of a ‘bad day’ as an excuse to drink

Often we would have considered ‘ok’ days to be bad days, and bad days to be a full crisis. Not because they were, but instead it fed into our internal justification to drink:

“I’ve had a hard day – I deserve a drink.”

“I am feeling emotional – I need something to take the edge.”

It is important to know that it is not only possible, but also desirable to deal with what life throws at you without numbing it with alcohol.

Retraining your brain

Often you will crave a drink when you are feeling tired, emotional, or stressed. This is because for nearly 20 years (well that long in my case!) reaching for a drink in these circumstances is the only reaction you have ever had.

We are like Pavlov’s dogs – the first sign of ‘trouble’ and your brain starts thinking about its default action of choice. Drinking.

The first thing to do is to recognise that not all days are the same – it is just our reaction that is. A day at work where you felt that you have not come up for air (a hard and maybe stressful day) is very different to having had a row or the hump with a partner.

Recognise that they are different. They will happen at different regularity, and they need different solutions. None of which involve alcohol. Begin to build plans for all of your types of bad day.

Busy stressful bad days

These days might happen most often. They are often triggery because you are tired and have had no external stimulation for hours.

First of all, check whether your current and immediate needs are being met. Are you hungry, thirsty, do you need a lie-down, change clothes, or modify your environment – music maybe? A chat with a friend or family member? You may want to make a list of the things that help you switch between work and home modes, and help induce a feeling of relaxation and/or connection.

Alcohol may have stopped you doing things to help your situation, and instead increased your ability to make the bad day last or remain unresolved. Now your goal is to take action to push that day away as much as possible, and enjoy the time ahead of you.

Rewarding bad days (and your reactions to them)

Reward yourself for a busy or bad day, especially if you feel stressed. Or reward yourself for dealing well with an emotional situation without resorting to a drink. Changing your drinking is not about denying yourself everything. You just have to change the shape of your rewards. You worked hard and pushed yourself the extra mile. It is your little victory, so find a mini reward for being awesome. Give yourself a personal high five.

If, in the past, you have not used the need to ‘de-stress’ as the excuse to drink, you would definitely have used the justification of needing a ‘reward’. But what sort of a reward is alcohol when it treats you so badly?

You need to begin to build many rewards and ideas so that whether you are in your car, at work, or at home, you can always do some things that feel like a treat. Many acts of self-care.

Emotional bad days

Then there are the days when you have emotionally gone through the wringer. Where drinking is not only used to keep you in the self-pitying state, but it lures you into thinking you are doing something, when in fact you are procrastinating at best or extending the trauma you feel at worse.

Drinking does not help you react in a way conducive to your well-being. If you continue to use alcohol in reaction to emotional stimulation, then you will never learn the emotional literacy you need to make yourself feel happier when things are tough.

Now is the time to stop the self-destructive pattern of drinking behaviour, and instead invest time in learning the tools you need to create the outcomes you want to difficult situations. Of course, it will be hard. But not as hard as things staying the same.

Bad day WOOP

Whatever type of bad day you are having, you can do some advance planning to get through it alcohol-free – because bad days are a fact of life for everyone.

Think through the types of bad days you typically have and create a WOOP:

I WISH that on stressful/bad days I do not come home and drink wine.

The OUTCOME if I achieve this, is that I will be keeping to my goals, will be able to invest time in learning new relaxation skills, and handle the following days better.

OBSTACLES: Having something close at hand that provides comfort when I feel emotional that is not alcohol. Feeling too tired to do anything positive.

PLAN: IF these obstacles happen THEN I will make sure I have some great alcohol-free drinks in the fridge to open immediately. Drink a pint of water and and eat some food to make sure I am hydrated and full as soon as possible, and plan two types of activity – one active (walking around the block) and the other comforting (watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica) so that I have no excuse. Regardless of the weather or my energy levels!

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