University student Ellie shares her thoughts on how a worldwide lockdown finally forced her to face up to unhealthy habits, and replace them with healthier ones instead.
Being a Uni student can be stressful. The wind-down time at the end of a busy week has always, over the last few years of studying, revolved around alcohol. Going out drinking is the “off switch” used by many University students under pressure, and certainly, many of my friends were using alcohol as a way to relax. I had been aware for a while that it was something I wanted to change, but it’s hard to cut down on your drinking when you’re getting constant invitations to go to the pub.
You see, I always knew I was a grey area drinker, which I think is a category many people my age fit into. I’ve been looking into grey area drinking for years, knowing that I have a slight dependency on drinking to unwind. Deep down, I was conscious of the fact that my drinking habits weren’t good for my mental or physical health, but other than dropping a few kilos, would cutting down on drinking actually do that much for me?
My idea of wellbeing was that if I was in the pub with my friends having a good time, then surely, I was well. I thought that wellbeing was just a mindset, but actually, my physical and mental health were very bad. I was all about chasing immediate gratification, that feeling of relaxing, and at Uni, the norm was to do that with a drink. I wasn’t motivated to do anything positive for myself, and previous good habits from the time before Uni slipped away to the point where my health was poor, my diet was bad, I was eating trash and I didn’t really understand the consequences of what I was putting into my body.
I always used to say “One day, I’m going to go teetotal” to justify my recklessness but I saw it as something that could bring me no immediate benefits beyond my health. I thought that cutting down on drinking would make me unhappy and take away a lot of my social life as a student.
Then Coronavirus happened.
What happens when the off switch is taken away?
I’d never been one for drinking at home alone, it was always a social activity. When lockdown happened, I had to replace that regular recreational activity with something else, and so I started going out running. Amazingly, I found that the exhilaration of the run became my wind-down at the end of the week.
I used to run when I was younger; I was running regularly when I was 18, but when I started Uni, my running tapered off until I was barely running or keeping fit at all. My lifestyle completely changed when I started my course – I went from a super-fit mindful drinker to diving straight into full-on drinking and not thinking about my physical health.
I feel like now that I’ve cut down, I’ve allowed myself to go back to a healthier version of myself; being confined ironically allowed me to re-discover my love of exercising and being outdoors. My favourite part of my day now is going for a run, which feels so much more gratifying than going down to the pub!
Before I cut down my drinking, my mental health was quite volatile. It was very difficult to distinguish between an actual problem that I needed to worry about and post-alcohol blues. I used to get really downbeat and have crazy waves of depression for a few days after drinking. Now that I don’t have those depressed days, I know for sure that if I’m feeling downbeat, it’s something that needs addressing. The lines are no longer blurred, and my mind is clearer.
Since cutting down drinking and focusing on my health, I feel that there’s been a snowball effect; I’ve started cooking more, I enjoy caring for myself and I’m respecting my body and mind.
It feels so good to have a break, so why go back?
To be honest, I was never planning to stop drinking completely. I always knew that I would need to address my issues with alcohol at some point as I’ve always been conscious of how severe my habits were, but for me, it was always something I would prepare to battle in the future – I always set the goalposts quite far away for fear of ruining the Uni experience. Now that I’ve been forced out of my routine, I’ve decided to carry on like this because I could never have imagined the effect it would have on my mental and physical health. It’s an unbelievable transformation, and it’s only been about 4 months!
I didn’t think that I knew anyone personally that felt like me about drinking, and it’s quite alienating to feel like you’re the only one your age having issues around alcohol. I especially didn’t know any girls who had problems with alcohol like me until I started looking online and found a huge mindful drinking movement. I was really inspired by Instagram accounts and I watched loads of IGTV videos of young women who were in the same boat – I found this really inspiring in the early days of cutting down. Just knowing that there are people out there online who you can relate to made it easier to make the changes I’d been considering for years.
How lockdown has brought moderate students together
Now that I’ve made the decision, instigated changes and people have started to notice, friends who I didn’t realise had been feeling the same have started to come out of the woodwork. It’s amazing to be able to have open discussions with people my own age about how it really is possible to change your drinking. When I talk about cutting down, I’m amazed at how many people say “Oh, actually, a similar thing has happened to me”.
Many students feel the pressure to party their way through University but actually don’t want to binge drink…and nobody’s talking about it. You see drinking culture differently when you’ve cut down, and its marketing is particularly aimed at young people of University age. It would be nice if there was an opposite side available too: allowing students to come together and abstain and moderate together. I don’t know of anything available at my University, and that’s a real shame.
In your newly-discovered party-fuelled independence as a student, it can be quite easy to keep setting the goalposts further back so that you’re keeping up with everyone else, and I was lucky enough that I accidentally had a reason to reach those goalposts now.
My message to anyone who’s in that same mindset as I was is to give cutting down a go – you don’t know how good cutting back on your drinking is going to make you feel until you give it a fair shot. If drinking is currently a problem for you, then trying to cut down will give you much more than it will ever take away. So, maybe don’t rush back to the pub post-lockdown just yet?
Club Soda run the Be Rebel AF campaign at Bournemouth University – normalising asking for an alcohol-free drink, and providing a digital support programme for students wanting to cut down or take a break from drinking.