Dr. Wall Says

Speak up, listen up, bridge the gap

Alcohol, caffeine, food; intentions matter

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If your mom told you she took a bit of meth in the evenings after work to take the edge off and unwind from her day, would you think it’s okay? Me neither, see why…

My idea of a perfect Sunday morning is one in which the kids play cooperatively while I enjoy a hot cup of coffee and catch up on a week’s worth of blog posts in my Feedly account. The reality of my Sunday is waking up way too early for my taste, making breakfast, drinking a warm cup of coffee and getting one or two blog posts covered before a fight, a nagging request or a spill occurs. This week, I was lucky enough to come across Mark Sisson’s article on his 45-day experiment with cutting out alcohol from his diet altogether. I enjoyed the article on many levels, but the main reason it hit home was the fact that is subtly echoed work I have been doing with several individuals in my practice. I encourage you to read the post to learn more about the effects of even small amounts of alcohol on the gut, on sleep and functioning, but the aspect that I want to highlight is the use of alcohol or any substance at all to manage stress.

I have a recurring debate with a few of my clients, it goes something like this: they complain about the behavioral impact (doing things they later regret) or the physiological impact (digestive, sleep and gut issues) of alcohol, I recommend quitting all alcohol for a short period of time, they argue the need to continue using it for social, stress management or personal reasons. Philosophically, it is a debate I would love to carry on for hours, but professionally it is unproductive for them and ineffective for me. Instead, we often agree to disagree, with the caveat that we both know I am right and they are knowingly choosing to complicate their lives .

I argue most ferociously when these habits (whether in excess or moderate) are in response to stress – i.e. “after a long day it takes the edge off” or “I just grab a glass or two to unwind, it helps me sleep at night.”   My argument is that if you are knowingly addressing stress with a substance it makes more sense to attack the actual sources of stress, or at the very least to approach the issue in a more proactive and effective manner. This same debate can be had about needing coffee to manage chronic sleep deficits, cigarettes, over the counter sleep agents, food or even marijuana. If you know that you have to take something daily to offset the impact of something else, would it not behoove you to actually do something about the underlying problem? For many people, the answer is “no”.

I have no issue with alcohol, caffeine, and eating foods you enjoy even if they are not healthy. I do have an issue with passively accepting distress, or misery as a status quo that can only be remedied by dulling its effects temporarily. I am a firm believer that we can be masters of our destiny and our health. I like to think that many of the people I work with believe or at least hope this is true. Many of us love a good glass of wine, a great beer, a hot cup of coffee or a wonderful meal. The idea is to enjoy them without relying on them to treat our issues.

Ask yourself, are there substances you are consuming daily to better handle stress. If so, can you identify the stressors that are affecting you? Is there anything you can do to moderate those stressors. If there is nothing you can do to change them, is there anything else you can do to manage the stress more directly and proactively (feel free to refer back to this and this post on stress management)? Have you tried cutting something out of your life because you realized you relied on it to manage a larger issue? If so, what did you do and how did it work? I would love to hear about it!

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.

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