Do you find yourself reaching for the bottle as a reward after a stressful day – every day? Hypnotherapist Ailsa Frank shares ten tricks to help you drink less.
Almost without you realising, alcohol intake can increase gradually over time until you reach a point where drinking to excess is a difficult habit to break. During the ten years that I’ve been working with clients to help them reduce their drinking, I’ve seen people transform their lives from sad and frustrated to fulfilled and empowered, no longer hostage to a life of disturbed sleep, wasted weekends, hangovers, excess calories, arguments and a sense of being worthless.
The vast majority of my clients want to reduce their alcohol intake rather than stop drinking altogether, and many of them tell me the same thing: ‘I want to stop alcohol controlling me.’ I help them regain control rather than make alcohol a taboo for ever.
There are many triggers that make people drink more than they want to. For example, just thinking about that glass of wine you’d like might excite your taste buds and induce overwhelming cravings that can make it hard to say no. Once you identify the hotspots of stress in your week, you can begin to make changes to eliminate those pressures and your need for alcohol. By making small changes to your daily routine, you can break the habits connected with drinking.
People think that life with less or no alcohol will be boring, but the reality is that it gets better and better. Drinking less means feeling more energised and focused, having more money and being in control so that you use your time wisely. However, I wouldn’t recommend going cold turkey. Instead, reduce your alcohol intake by following my tips to change your thinking, routines, cravings and lifestyle.
1. Identify hotspots and triggers
Make a list of the hotspots in your week, then think of a solution for every situation. Are you using alcohol as a coping mechanism to help you juggle work with home? Perhaps your job is too demanding or boring, or you dread work meetings or after-work drinks with colleagues. Do you pour a glass of wine following a stressful phone call with a relative, or after the children’s homework or bedtime? Perhaps you are running too fast to keep up, giving yourself no me-time. Or maybe the pace of your life is too slow, leaving you bored or lonely.
Deal with the problems by making new choices. Solutions could include going to bed earlier, creating relaxation time for yourself, limiting the time you spend on each task, learning to delegate, taking phone calls at a time that suits you or explaining things differently to your children or partner so that they become team players.
2. Plan your drinking
Whether you are at home, meeting friends and family or on holiday, get into the habit of planning and visualising what you will drink and on which days. By seeing this in your mind in advance, you will have already begun to programme yourself to drink less.
Buy bottles of sparkling water to keep in the fridge (or still water if you prefer). Try pouring the water into a wine glass with a sprig of mint or a slice of lime. Half the battle is won by having the comfort of a wine glass in your hand. By taking time to pour yourself a refreshing glass of water you are giving yourself permission to relax, too. Visualise this ritual during the day so that your mind knows what you will be doing later. Turn wine o’clock into sparkling-water o’clock.
3. Social drinking
If you are meeting up with people socially, plan to start the occasion with a long soft drink or glass of water. Say ‘I’m thirsty’ – no one will stop you having a drink of water if you’re dehydrated. Then alternate water or a soft drink with an alcoholic drink sipped slowly. Limit yourself to two alcoholic drinks to stay in control. Visualise this in your mind in advance of the event.
When you first change your drinking habits it’s a good idea to avoid telling people that you are reducing your alcohol intake. If you do tell them, you might feel that they are watching you to see if you stick to your word or they could say something critical if you do have a drink of alcohol. Others who know about your intention might try to encourage you to drink with them.
If someone hands you a drink, accept it casually, then visit the loo and lose the drink on the way back – by putting it on a table, for example. Replace alcohol with a soft drink such as a sparkling water with ice and lemon, which looks like a vodka and tonic. You need to be clever until you have got used to the new you.
What often works best is inventing an excuse for not being able to drink alcohol, such as pretending you’re taking antibiotics, that you have an important early-morning meeting, for which you need to have a clear head, or that you’re driving. In the early days of cutting down, avoid events where there’s likely to be heavy drinking. Once you take back control of your intake, you will find that many of your friends will want to drink less, too.
4. Detox your cravings
This exercise will put you off drinking too much alcohol. I suggest you actually do this in the kitchen, but if that’s not possible, visualise it instead.
– Pour wine into a glass, or open a bottle or can if you are used to drinking out of one. Take some ketchup and/or mayonnaise, add it to the alcohol and stir or shake to mix. Bring the glass towards your lips. Imagine what it would be like to drink it. Disgusting? Imagine it being ten times more disgusting until the idea seems revolting. Imagine all the alcohol beyond the odd glass or two that you drink occasionally being contaminated with the ketchup or mayonnaise. This exercise will quell your desire for alcohol.
5. Control your thoughts
When you are first aware of a craving or you find yourself looking forward to having a glass of wine or spirits, switch your thinking immediately. Imagine pouring the wine/spirit down the kitchen sink. Visualise all the alcohol you have ever drunk, then imagine it all going down the drain. Wave goodbye to the alcohol in your mind. Say to yourself, ‘I am detoxing safely.’
6. Let go of the reward
People reward themselves with a drink at the end of a hard day. Ask yourself, ‘Is my drinking really a reward enhancing my world, or is it slowly eating away at my happiness like the rust on the underside of an abandoned boat in a harbour?’
– Close your eyes and visualise a boat in a harbour with each wave lapping against the hull slowly eroding the metal in the same way alcohol has eroded your energy levels and affected your sleep patterns and lifestyle in the past. Above the waterline the boat looks fine, but underneath it damage is being done. Visualise taking the boat out of the water, then repairing and replacing the metal. See yourself making the boat good to set sail again. Now imagine making repairs to your own life: finding the answers to improve your future, such as looking after your health, retraining to progress your career, relaxing into family time, finding yourself a loving partner, saving money to give you financial security.
7. Daily de-stress
Perhaps you have been meeting the needs of everyone but yourself, looking after work projects, a family member who’s unwell; a difficult husband/partner, or you are struggling to adapt to a change in circumstances.
– This technique will help you let go of your stress: close your eyes and imagine standing on a beautiful golden beach with warm sunshine and a cool breeze relaxing you. Imagine your problems and drinking habits are like small coloured grains of sand on the beach near the water’s edge. Each one is so small it seems insignificant among the billions of other grains of sand. Imagine the waves gently lapping against the shore, washing away the grains so that they become a distant memory as you put things into perspective and take back control of your life.
8. Manage your emotions
A series of emotions will have contributed to your drinking, perhaps including low confidence at a younger age, work insecurities, family pressures, money worries, a broken relationship – to name but a few. Find an outlet to release these emotions by engaging in a hobby and doing something you’re good at to boost your enjoyment of life. For some people this could be hitting a bucket of golf balls at the driving range, horse riding, an art class, going for a walk or a cycle, or reading the paper while having a coffee in a café after work.
– Close your eyes and imagine putting your emotions and worries on to clouds in the sky. See them floating away as the clouds drift into the distance. Allow the feelings to pass as you say, ‘Let it go. Let it pass.’ Then visualise yourself pursuing the hobby you would most enjoy.
9. New conversation
Be aware of the number of conversations you have had with yourself about alcohol, which have programmed you over time. Everything we surround ourselves with or speak about affects us. It is important to change your conversation to reduce alcohol successfully.
Old conversation: ‘I can’t imagine life without a drink.’
New conversation: ‘Life is fun and easy without alcohol. It feels natural not to drink.’
Old conversation: ‘I wish I hadn’t drunk last night.’
New conversation: ‘I am relieved my drinking is under control.’
Old conversation: ‘What will I do with my time if I don’t drink? My life revolves around alcohol.’
New conversation: ‘Life is so interesting and enjoyable with little or no alcohol.’
Old conversation: ‘All my friends and family drink. How can I drink less when I’m with them?’
New conversation: ‘I am confident with a soft drink.’
10. A bridge to a better life
Making an abrupt decision to stop or reduce your drinking is like leaping from one side of a river to the other without a bridge – you would likely fall into the fast-flowing water. When you change your drinking habits, you are building a bridge in your subconscious mind that will allow you to get safely across to the other side. The following visualisation will help.
– Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking over a bridge, with the water representing past alcohol flowing underneath. Imagine the worries, anxiety and drink issues washing away. It is time to let go of the alcohol. Imagine being confident as you walk over the bridge, relishing the feeling of having made all the adjustments in your life to let go of alcohol safely. When you reach the other side of the river, look back at where you once were. See yourself now, happy and contented, with less alcohol or none at all, looking back at the old you.
For more information about Ailsa’s services and hypnosis downloads, visit ailsafrank.com or call 01276 683123. Ailsa’s book Cut the Crap and Feel Amazing will be published by Hay House on 4 July, price £10.99. To pre-order a copy for £8.24 (a 25 per cent discount) until 18 June, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15