Controlling Alcohol Intake
Each week we feature Andy's answer to one of the questions he has been sent by a member of the Headspace community about their meditation practice.
In answer to a question about how meditation can help improve self-discipline around drinking, Andy points to the increased sense of self-awareness that mindfulness brings, resulting in the capability to simply observe the thought with a mind that is responsive rather than reactive.
Polly Vernon mentioned in one of her blogs, how mindfulness helped her cut down on her alcohol intake. It is probably so blindly obvious, but how can one use the discipline from meditation to stop reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day?
It’s a good question.
The first thing to say is that it’s quite ok to learn meditation or mindfulness and still enjoy a glass of wine once in a while. Like most things, it’s about moderation and so once we realise we are no longer benefiting from or enjoying the experience due to an excess, then that’s the time to make a change or reduce the intake.
Funnily enough, it often happens very naturally and I know that was Polly’s experience too. As we become more aware, we become more aware of everything - that includes the feelings associated with too much alcohol. Unsurprisingly, heightened awareness of a hangover is not all that pleasant. So it all becomes very conscious. We don’t like the outcome and so we take appropriate action to avoid that same outcome in the future - in this case by drinking less. So the first part of the puzzle is about increased awareness, clarity of thought and decisive action.
But there is something else going on too. When we train the mind on a regular basis in this way, we are changing the neural network. The part of the brain which is associated with self-regulation has been shown to get stronger through the practice of mindfulness, encouraging blood flow to that region and greater activity. The result is a mind which is responsive rather than reactive.
In real terms, this means that when a thought pops into the mind saying “Oh, I really fancy a glass of wine”, rather than simply reaching for a glass because that’s what we’ve always done, instead we actually see the thought clearly, we see it for what it is, as nothing but a thought. And at that point we have a choice, we have given ourselves the opportunity to choose, between acting on the thought or simply letting it go.
Needless to say, this same idea goes well beyond reaching for a glass of wine and applies to every part of our life. But applying it to this is a great place to start.
Hope that’s helpful, warm wishes, Andy
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