The Recipe for Relaxation
This is a dilemma that has faced every person who has ever gotten sober. We all find a way and I promise you will too. Now as you trawl the internet for ideas, you are likely to see a lot of the same things come up again and again. Why? Because they work. If you look on the internet to find out how to bake a cake, you are going to keep seeing instructions that tell you to mix up some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with some flour, baking soda, and salt and bake it. Why? Because people have found again and again that if you do that, you will end up with a cake. So yes, I am going to include things like exercise, meditation, and hot baths, because as much as I didn’t want them to, they do work. But I am also going to give you a key to find out which relaxing activities might appeal to you most. Ready?
Your most prominent sense
It all comes down to how you process the world. You need to figure out your primary sense. I am excluding smell and taste here because those are not necessarily constant, and well, we don’t want relaxation getting entwined with food because that’s a whole other issue. But generally, you fit into one of four categories
- Kinesthetic (Sensory)
We all experience these to varying degrees, but generally, we are more affected by one or two of them. So do your best to determine your primary (and possibly secondary) sense, and check out some of the relaxation activities in that category. You may enjoy something from every category, but because your primary sense is how you process the world, doing something that appeals to it is more likely to help you relax without alcohol much faster than one that doesn’t line up with who you are.
If you’re not sure – a sales trick
For most people, their primary sense is obvious and jumps right out at them from the list above. But if you aren’t sure, there is a hack that I learned in a book about sales that says to pay attention to a person’s language. Here is an example of a response from each primary sense:
Visual – “I see what you mean”
Auditory – “I hear you.”
Sensory – “I know how you feel”
Intellectual – “I understand/I think so”
Pay attention to which of these you say most often. You may say more than one, but just keep a gentle note of it when you notice yourself (or hear yourself, or feel yourself, or think about) using language in this way.
Okay on to the list!
If you are primarily visual, you will probably relax more easily somewhere quiet. Noise can be overstimulating for visual people. Things like art and design tend to appeal to you and you tend to process things very quickly. Some relaxing activities that can appeal to a visual person are:
Adult coloring books have become all the rage over the past few years and with good reason. It’s a great way to turn your brain off and make something beautiful. You can grab some colored pencils at any drug store (or steal your child’s crayons, I won’t tell) and watch as a page transforms in front of your eyes. You can google it and print out free images or you can indulge in something like Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden
If you haven’t learned to draw, now is a great time to take up a hobby. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the gold standard for teaching even someone like me who could barely draw a stickman to draw semi-recognizable figures. It is both relaxing and interesting, and you never run out of material.
Another option if you don’t have the time or interest in learning to draw for real, is to try your hand at Zentangles. This takes doodling and turns it into something repetitive, meditative, and really enjoyable.
Do a puzzle
I believe dining room tables are only good for two things: holidays and puzzles. Otherwise, they just collect junk. So find a puzzle you find beautiful and dump it out on the table and get to work. Depending on the age of your children, this may or may not be possible. I love an old-fashioned puzzle, but don’t particularly want to spend the next month fishing puzzle pieces out of the various orifices of my toddler, I tend to go the app route. Brainsbreaker is my absolute favorite for desktop, and I am currently digging “Jigsaw Puzzles Real Free” on my iPhone.
For visual people in particular, nature walks can be very restorative. The quiet and the beauty of a forest or park can be just what’s needed after all the noise and distractions of the day. It doesn’t need to be a hike. Forest bathing has recently become trendy in the United States but has been a part of preventative healthcare in Japan for over 30 years. Basically, just being in a forest and practicing mindfulness there can decrease stress and increase immunity.
Auditory people tend to absorb things better when they hear them rather than see them. They tend to have an appreciation for music and like to have long discussions.
While an engaging book is always a good way to relax, sometimes as a parent I am so fried that I can’t really concentrate. And as an auditory person, listening to an audiobook just takes the experience up a notch, and allows me to do something else at the same time (should I want to). Audible.com is my go-to, but both Google and Apple have plenty of audiobooks to download on their app stores as well. I particularly like a good thriller, as they are easy to get wrapped up in and before I know it, the rest of the world has faded away.
Audiobooks are also great if you’ve been over-thinking. It’s hard to think too hard when you are paying attention to the story. Look up a book you know you like and see what else is recommended for people who liked that book.
While most people have an appreciation for music, auditory types have a special connection to it. Make different playlists to go with different moods. Have a “cheer up” playlist of upbeat songs, a “chill out” mix for stressful days, and a “karaoke” list of things to sing along to. Which brings me to…
Singing just makes you feel good. Science says so. The vibrations both calm us and elevate our mood by producing endorphins (happy hormones) and oxycontin (a hormone associated with relaxation and love/comfort). It reduces cortisol, a stress hormone and can even help with depression. Joining a chorus or choir is great if you have the time as these benefits are magnified by singing in a group. However if like me, your voice sounds like an animal that has been run over by a car, you can still reap the benefits. Just sing in the shower or when no one else is around.
Phone a Friend
Texting seems to have taken the place of phone calls over the past decade, and while it’s definitely more efficient, it’s not as much of a bonding experience as a long gab session with a friend. Auditory people, in particular, connect very well this way, and hearing a friendly voice at the end of the day can be a big help. These tend to work best when you set up a “phone date”. Otherwise, no one answers these days. Text a friend and say you want to catch up – do they have time for a call tonight? Like 20 minutes? Putting a time limit on it makes it seem less daunting, and if you are enjoying yourselves you can always blow right past it.
As a kinesthetic or sensory type, you experience things in a very physical way and tend to feel things very deeply emotionally as well. So slip into something really comfy and let your body help you relax.
In the recovery community, yoga is very popular. It produces a sense of calm and euphoria that can be very helpful when you miss the feeling of a buzz. As a kinesthetic person, it’s particularly helpful that this practice is slow and steady, and allows you to focus on the sensations and your breathing.
Whether it’s your spouse, your child, or a fur baby, find something you can cuddle. Cuddling releases oxytocin and particularly for kinesthetic types, helps you feel more connected and bonded with those you care about.
You can’t be in early recovery without someone telling you to take a bath. No, it’s not because you smell (probably?), but because it really is one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself. Do your best to make it as full a sensory experience as you can. Use some lavender bubble bath (lavender is calming), light a couple candles and soak for fifteen minutes. This is best to do before bed because your body temperature drops when you get out of the tub, which leads to much deeper sleep if you go to bed right after drying off. That said, don’t wait until too late to take a bath because you don’t want to fall asleep in there!
Get productive with your hands. Whether it’s weeding a garden, knitting, sewing, soapmaking, painting, or working with clay, find something your hands love to do. A lot of women who are attached to drinking think of it as something “just for me” after doing so much for others. Hobbies are a great way to have something that is just for you. Find something you love to create with your hands. It’s satisfying on a very basic human level.
Cooking can be very relaxing if done for fun. Figure out a recipe you’d love to try and take your time with it, focusing on the feelings of preparing the ingredients. Experience the sounds of chopping and sautéing, the smells of the food, watch it all come together… It really involves all the senses and can be a lot of fun.
If you are an intellectual type you tend to be in your head a lot. You think things out logically and like having lists and rules. It can be hard to get out of your head and you might have used drinking to get your head to give you peace for five minutes.
Sometimes it helps to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, whether that is in a journal or just a random word document. For some reason, problems tend to stop rattling around and repeating themselves if you put it down on paper. To that end, I also recommend list-making. Do a brain dump of all your to-dos, ideas, projects, next steps, concerns, things to follow up on etc. Then organize it into action items and reference files. This is the basis behind the “Getting Things Done” system and it can be very helpful for anxiety. Knowing where everything stands can allow you to give your brain a break. Which makes you more likely to be able to…
This can be hard if you are an intellectual, but it’s also the most beneficial for you. If you drank to turn your brain off, this is learning to do that without alcohol. It’s not hard at all. Apps like Calm and Headspace walk you through it, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Meditation has cumulative benefits so that over time, things that used to get you all worked up just don’t seem to bother you anymore.
Running (or another hard exercise)
This is another thought killer and a great way to deal with anxiety. Make your body work so hard you can’t have a thought in your head. And get a rush to boot. (Get a doctor’s okay to do this first.)
Real Housewives, silly competitions on the Food Network, Property Brothers, The Bachelor… Find something absolutely mindless yet somehow entertaining and enjoy the hell out of it. No one has to know!
These are just a sampling of all the ways you can unwind. It won’t be automatic at first, because you have conditioned yourself to associate alcohol with relaxation, so you will have to learn what it feels like to relax without alcohol. It might feel a little different (but still awesome) and if you are in very early recovery your body may still be in a bit of shock, so it may take some time to relax properly. But you will find what does it for you. Pick one or two of these that sound appealing and give them a try. If you feel like you don’t have time, think of all the time you spent glued to the couch or barstool. The time is there if you work to find it. You don’t have to spend hours on these things. Just start creating new relaxation habits that fit your new life.
If you’d like some help, my new FREE mini-course Beating Wine O’Clock can teach you how to unwind, beat cravings, and have a great sober night!
How do YOU relax without alcohol?
I’d love to hear other ways you’ve found to relax without alcohol. Drop me a note in the comments or on social media!