Dry January, also known as the month of no alcohol, has become a popular way of kicking off the new year for many. For some, skipping alcohol for 31 days might be a good excuse to detox from holiday indulgences, for others it might be a good reason to question your relationship with drinking.
No matter what your reasons might be for abstaining from alcohol, there are multiple benefits for laying off the booze including better sleep, easier weight management, an increased immune system, decrease in anxiety, among others.
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However, like most New Year resolutions, staying motivated can be tricky despite the best of intentions. Here are some tips from experts on how to keep January as dry as possible.
Know your why
First, says sober coach, Ryn Gargulinski, it’s important to figure out why it’s important for you to give up alcohol for the month. What’s the big reason you decided to go for it? Perhaps you want to be healthier physically or more energized mentally and spiritually. Or maybe you found yourself drinking too much over the holidays. “Whatever the reason,” says Gargulinksi, “Write it down and refer to it often as you move through the month.”
Challenge your friends to join you
According to Dr. Irene Little, founder of Access Counseling and author of The Book of Addiction: A Parent’s Guide to Restoring Structure and Serenity to Your Home, a great way to hold yourself accountable is to challenge your friends to join you in your Dry January goal.
“You can use your social media friends and family by reporting daily how you feel, or post a pic of you with your drink and share what you chose to drink instead of alcohol,” she tells SheKnows. You might also want to create a group tracker in Google Docs and place check marks for each day you completed to track your progress.
“The key to accountability is to maintain awareness for yourself and with others,” says Little. “When others are aware of your goals, they step up to support you and encourage you.”
Check in with yourself
When you find yourself with the urge to drink, like after a particularly stressful day at work, or find yourself in a situation where you would normally drink, like a birthday party, Emily Lynn Paulson, author of Highlight Real: Finding Honesty And Recovery Beyond The Filtered Life, says it’s important to take a moment and check in with yourself. Get curious whether you’re using alcohol to self-medicate or out of habit.
“Ask yourself if there is anything else you can do to help the feelings that you’re experiencing,” she says. “If you are stressed after work and are missing your 5 pm cocktail to ‘take the edge off,’ try meditating or taking a yoga class instead.”
Plan ahead and, when in doubt, choose alcohol-free venues as much as possible
It’s girls’ night and you usually frequent your local wine bar. Now what? If the temptation to drink and partake with others is too high, Celine Beitchman, Director of Nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education, recommends doing some legwork before going out and taking initiative. “Instead of going with the crowd, pick the place,” she says. “Search out all of the great new venues with non-alcoholic options in their beverage program — from shrubs and kombuchas to bitters and fresh juices.” There’s bound to be a location that will suit everyone’s needs.
However, in most social situations it could be a challenge to escape the presence of alcohol. While Little says each situation is an opportunity to be successful, you will not only need to plan ahead but also be open about your new commitment. “If you are going to your favorite concert, share your plan to stay committed to Dry January and plan to be the designated driver,” she says. “If you are planning a date during Dry January, let your date know you are committed to a healthier month and be confident in your decision.”
Create weekly meal plans and re-stock your fridge
Do you usually have a glass of red with dinner? Do you cater your meals around that new bottle of Pinot? If so, it’s a good idea to rethink your meal plans and restock your fridge. “Consider what you will drink in place of the alcoholic beverage you’re giving up,” says Beitchman. “Then stock that in your home and identify where you’ll get it when you’re out with friends.”
She also recommends making a meal plan for January “that includes what you’ll drink with meals and stick to a plan you can reference every day/week.”
Make new habits
Rather than simply trying to eliminate the habit of drinking, Gargulinksi suggests replacing it with a healthier habit. “If you drink to unwind every day after work, for example, fill that time with something healthier instead. Perhaps you can unwind with a walk through the park, a trip to the gym or a romp with your dog around the neighborhood.”
No matter what: Be clear and confident about your decision
While Paulson says it’s “nobody’s business whether you are drinking or not,” sharing or not sharing your plans for Dry January comes down to personal preference. When in doubt, stay firm with your new commitment. “If you seem to be questioning your decision, this may inadvertently cause your friend to discourage your plan,” says Little. “ I have learned that when people say ‘I can’t’ do something people will try to provide a solution on how they ‘can’.”
So, instead of saying “I can’t drink” because I committed to Dry January, Little says it’s better to tell your friends and family “I’m not drinking this month.”
“You will be much more successful and receive far more support,” she says.
Adds Paulson: “Taking a positive step for your health is something to be celebrated, so a simple, ‘no thank you,’ or “I’m not drinking tonight.” is perfectly fine. If the questions persist, feel free to return the, ‘why aren’t you drinking?’ inquiry with, ‘why are you drinking?’ It may start an interesting conversation!”
Celebrate your success
We tend to stick to things when we measure our success. Which is why Gargulinksi says it’s important to see that every day you stay sober throughout your challenge is a success. “Don’t forget to take a moment to pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a little reward at the end of each week, and a bigger one at the end of the month.”
Although she’s quick to point out that no, the reward needn’t be a drink. “What about a fresh bouquet of flowers, or dinner at your favorite restaurant? Or maybe even a brand new dress as it’s not uncommon to lose a few pounds when you give up alcohol.”
One more tip? “If you’re loving the results, keep it up! You may find you’re much more energized, happier and optimistic without alcohol, and that this lifestyle suits you for the long haul. That one’s not uncommon, either! Good luck!”
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