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Alcohol and Health

5 Ways To Deal With Stress (Without Booze)

September 22, 2021
25 min read
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The Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 22, 2021
25 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 22, 2021
25 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 22, 2021
25 min read
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The Reframe Content Team
September 22, 2021
25 min read

In the words of actress Lily Tomlin, “Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.” Stress is simply a part of life — there’s no way around it.

We've all had those days when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, and reaching for a glass of wine or beer seems like the quickest way to unwind. But what if there’s another option? Let’s explore five science-backed ways to deal with stress without booze!

The Alcohol-Stress Connection

Why do we so often feel the urge to drink after a stressful day? When we consume alcohol, it may initially feel like a great stress-reliever. We might feel relaxed or even euphoric, and our inhibitions might decrease. 

The reason is neurochemical: alcohol boosts dopamine levels in the brain, along with sending a floor of other feel-good chemicals through our bodies and numbing anxiety and pain by acting as a central nervous system depressant.

However, this booze/relaxation relationship isn't as straightforward as it seems. While booze might offer a temporary escape, in the long run, it can actually amplify stress and anxiety. Here’s why relying on alcohol to relieve stress becomes counterproductive:

  • Brain chemistry shift. Chronic alcohol consumption alters our balance of neurotransmitters, increasing depression and anxiety. Over time, the brain grows to rely on alcohol to release dopamine, making it harder to experience pleasure from everyday activities.
  • Interrupted sleep. While alcohol might help us fall asleep faster, it disrupts our restorative REM sleep, leaving us feeling groggy, irritable, and even more stressed the next day.
  • Physical side effects. Hangovers aren't just about headaches or nausea. They can also manifest as increased heart rate, dehydration, and low energy — all of which can exacerbate our anxiety and stress.
  • Behavioral consequences. Drinking can lead to poor decision-making, risky behaviors, and regrettable actions. These can create additional sources of stress as we grapple with the repercussions of our actions.

Alcohol-Free Ways To Deal With Stress

When tackling stress in a healthy way, two basic types of approach can help. The first is internal; it involves tapping into our own resources through practices such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or sound healing meditations. In the words of poet Suzy Kassem, “First apply within / To discover the world / within you.” 

Other methods call for rearranging the external landscape of our lives to make room for stress-busting pursuits and experiences. The time-tested favorites, exercise and social activities, are both great ones to try.

Let’s explore the five ways to break the stress cycle in more detail!

1. Deep Breathing: The Body’s Built-In Stress Reliever

Ever felt that instant relief when you take a deep breath? Deep breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to activate the body's natural relaxation response by increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is more than just a simple inhale-exhale routine — it’s a bridge between the body and mind. When we breathe deeply, we’re using our diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs. Unlike shallow chest breathing, deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which helps rid the body of carbon dioxide and other waste products.

As we adopt this style of breathing, several science-backed benefits emerge:

  • The parasympathetic nervous system gets stimulated. The body’s "rest and digest" system acts as the counterpart of the sympathetic system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response we associate with stress. Engaging the parasympathetic system helps calm the body and mind.
  • Stress hormone levels decrease. Chronic stress leads to an overproduction of cortisol, a stress hormone. Deep breathing can help regulate and reduce these hormone levels, bringing about a sense of relaxation.
  • Oxygen supply increases. Every deep breath supplies more oxygen to the brain and stimulates the vagus nerve, promoting a state of calmness.
Benefits Beyond Stress Relief

While it's a great tool for stress relief, deep breathing offers other benefits, too:

  • Improved concentration. The added oxygen boost sharpens focus and clarity.
  • Better digestion. Activating the "rest and digest" response optimizes digestion.
  • Enhanced detoxification. Deep breathing supports the lymphatic system, aiding in toxin removal.
Incorporating Deep Breathing Into Your Day

It's surprisingly easy to weave deep breathing into your daily routine:

  1. Morning start. As you wake up, spend a few minutes breathing deeply to set a calm tone for the day.

  2. Traffic tamer. Stuck in traffic? Use the downtime for some deep breathing exercises.

  3. Desk doses. Set hourly reminders to take a few deep breaths, especially if you have a sedentary job.

  4. Pre-sleep ritual. Before hitting the sack, practice deep breathing to ensure restful sleep.
To Take Your Practice to the Next Level, Try These Breathing Techniques From Around the Globe:
  1. Pranayama (India). A fundamental aspect of yoga, pranayama consists of various breathing techniques designed to harness “prana,” or life force. For instance, "Anulom Vilom" involves alternate nostril breathing, which can balance the hemispheres of the brain and induce tranquility.
  2. Qigong (China). Rooted in Chinese medicine, martial arts, and philosophy, qigong combines breathwork with movement and meditation. The aim is to cultivate and balance the “Qi” or vital energy. A popular qigong breathing method is "Abdominal Breathing," which focuses on deep diaphragmatic breaths and involves visualizing energy flow with each inhalation and exhalation.
  3. Tummo (Tibet). Often referred to as "Inner Fire" breathing, Tummo combines visualization with controlled breathing to generate body heat. It’s a technique used by Tibetan monks to withstand cold temperatures, and it's believed to purify and elevate mental states.
2. Meditation: Harness the Power of the Mind

More than a health fad, meditation has ancient roots and is backed by modern science. In our hectic lives, it can be a lifeline that allows us to tap into the power of simply observing life around us without getting caught up in mental “chatter” or external stimuli.

Meditation isn't one-size-fits-all. Various styles cater to different needs:

  • Mindfulness meditation. Rooted in Buddhist teachings, this form emphasizes staying present and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment by watching them come and go like clouds in the sky, fish in a pond, or balloons in the air — whatever metaphor helps you shift inward. Studies have shown that meditation reduces stress and anxiety and improves attention. It even increases gray matter density in the brain!
  • Guided meditation. Think of it as a journey led by a narrator: you might visualize a serene place, guided by a voice and often accompanied by soothing background sounds. It's perfect for beginners or those who find it challenging to focus.
  • Transcendental meditation. This is a more structured form in which you silently repeat a specific mantra. It's all about diving deep into your consciousness.
  • Loving-kindness meditation. Cultivating compassion is what this is all about. You’ll start by directing warm feelings towards yourself and then project them outward to others.

Decades of research affirm the transformative potential of meditation. Here are some of the science-backed benefits:

  • Brain plasticity. Studies using MRI scans have found that regular meditation can increase the density of gray matter in regions linked to learning, memory, and emotion regulation.
  • Stress reduction. Meditation has been scientifically shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
  • Improved focus. With consistent practice, meditation can bolster attention span, making it easier to concentrate on tasks.
  • Enhanced emotional well-being. Meditation improves mood regulation, reduces depression, and increases levels of contentment.
Embracing Meditation in Daily Life

Starting a meditation practice is simpler than you think:

  1. Start small. Begin with just a few minutes a day, gradually increasing as you become more comfortable.

  2. Create a calming environment. Choose a quiet spot and dim the lights. Maybe light a soothing scented candle or some incense to engage more of your senses.

  3. Consistency is key. Just as with any skill, the more you practice meditation, the more profound its effects.

  4. Seek guidance. If you're unsure where to start, numerous apps and online platforms offer guided meditation sessions for all levels.
3. Sound Healing: The Resonance of Relaxation 

From the whisper of leaves rustling in the breeze to the soothing hum of ocean waves, sound has a profound impact on our psyche. But did you know that sound can be intentionally harnessed to foster healing and well-being? Sound healing is an age-old practice now gaining momentum in wellness circles.

Ever felt the goosebumps when listening to a beautiful piece of music? That’s sound healing in action! This ancient practice uses instruments or vocals to balance our energy — and there’s science behind it!

All About Frequencies

Sound healing is grounded in the principle that everything in the universe, including our body, vibrates at specific frequencies. While stress, trauma, and illness can disrupt our natural vibrational balance, sound healing aims to realign these frequencies and restore harmony.

There are diverse sound healing tools and practices that incorporate the science of frequencies:

  • Binaural beats. When we hear two slightly different frequencies in each ear, our brain perceives a third tone, which is the mathematical difference between the two. This can help entrain the brain to enter states of relaxation, focus, or even sleep. Science shows that listening to binaural beats reduces anxiety and promote relaxation. Some great ones to try on YouTube are Minds in Unison, Magnetic Minds, and Greenred Productions.
  • Brainwave entrainment. Our body has various resonant frequencies. The correct sounds can stimulate the body to resonate in harmony with those frequencies, fostering healing. Certain sounds and frequencies can stimulate the release of neurochemicals and hormones in the brain, elevating mood and reducing stress.

    Sound waves with a consistent rhythm can guide our brainwave into patterns that correspond with specific states, from relaxation (alpha waves) to deep meditation (theta waves), and all the way to deep sleep (delta waves). Brainwave Music, Yellow Brick Cinema, and PowerThoughts Meditation Club are great places to start.
  • Tuning forks. Striking tuning forks emits specific frequencies. When used in therapeutic settings, they can balance energy fields and promote physical healing.
  • Gongs and singing bowls. Producing deep, resonating tones, these instruments are often used in sound baths — immersive sessions where participants absorb the therapeutic sounds. Try this Sound Bath by Sleeping Vibrations or this Spiritual Healing Sound Bath by Healing Vibrations to see for yourself!
  • Voice. Chanting, toning, and overtone singing can regulate breathing, calm the mind, and tap into the body's healing frequencies.
Tips for a Sound Healing Experience
  1. Create a calm environment. Whether you're listening to a recording, attending a sound bath, or practicing vocal sound healing, ensure your surroundings are calm and free of distractions.

  2. Stay open-minded. Sound healing is a unique experience for everyone. Embrace it with an open heart and mind.

  3. Consistent practice. Just like meditation or exercise, the benefits of sound healing compound with consistent practice.

  4. Seek expertise. If you're new to sound healing, consider attending sessions led by trained practitioners. They can guide you through the experience and tailor it to your needs.
Alcohol-free tress relief activities
4. Physical Activity: The Natural Elixir for Stress and Beyond

“Exercise” might conjure images of sweaty gym sessions, heavy weights, or marathon runs. But you don’t have to run a marathon! Even a brisk walk around the block can do wonders — and it’s also backed by science.

Here’s what happens in the body and brain when you get moving:

  • Endorphin boost. Physical activity prompts the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers. They trigger positive feelings, often called the "runner's high."
  • Balancing act. Stress can sometimes result from an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Regular exercise helps regulate stress hormones such as cortisol, ensuring they're in harmony.
  • Distraction and diversion. Engaging in physical activity provides a constructive distraction from stressful thoughts, breaking the loop of rumination.
  • Improved sleep. By helping you fall asleep more quickly and deepening your sleep, exercise can address the sleep disturbances often caused by stress.

You don't need a gym membership to reap the benefits of physical activity. All kinds of activities will do the trick:

  • Aerobic exercise. Think jogging, swimming, or cycling. These activities increase our heart rate, allowing the heart to pump more oxygen through our body and brain.
  • Strength training. Using resistance bands, weights, or even body weight can help build muscle, improve bone health, and boost metabolism.
  • Flexibility and balance. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates are excellent options. They not only enhance flexibility but also promote mindfulness and concentration.
  • Recreational activities. Dancing, gardening, hiking, or playing with pets — they all count! Find joy in movement, and it will never feel like a chore.
Making Movement a Habit

To truly harness the benefits of exercise, consistency is essential:

  1. Set realistic goals. If you're new to exercise, start slow. As you build stamina and strength, you can intensify your routine.

  2. Schedule it. Make physical activity a priority. Mark it in your calendar, set reminders, and treat it as an essential appointment.

  3. Find a buddy. Pairing up with a friend can make exercise more fun and keep you accountable.

  4. Listen to your body. While it’s good to push your limits occasionally, it’s equally important to recognize when to rest. Remember, it’s about holistic well-being.
5. Stay Connected: The Bridge to Wellness

In an age when screens often replace face-to-face interaction and solitude sometimes feels more appealing than socializing, it’s easy to forget the power of human connection. But at our core, we are inherently social beings — even for introverts, connecting with people we trust can help ease stress. It’s another science-backed solution for many of life's troubles.

Behind every heartfelt chat, every shared laugh, and even every good cry session, there are neurochemical reactions taking place.

  • Oxytocin release. Often called the "love hormone" or "bonding chemical," oxytocin is released during positive social interactions such as hugging, touching, or gazing into someone's eyes. This hormone can reduce anxiety, foster trust, and strengthen bonds.
  • Reduced cortisol levels. Social connections can counteract the effects of stress by reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Improved immune system. Strong social bonds can boost our immune system, making us less susceptible to illnesses.
  • Increased longevity. Numerous studies have shown that folks with strong social connections tend to live longer and have better mental health.
Nurturing Connections in the Digital Age

Building and maintaining genuine connections isn't about quantity — it’s about quality. Embracing authentic connections involves a few key practices:

  1. Regular check-ins. Drop a message or make a call to friends or family members, especially those you haven't connected with in a while. A simple "How are you?" can go a long way.

  2. Video calls. If distance is a barrier, utilize technology. Video calls offer a more personal touch than traditional calls or texts.

  3. Online communities. There are myriad online platforms and forums where folks share experiences, advice, and support on topics ranging from hobbies to mental health.

  4. Joining groups or clubs. Whether it's a book club, hiking group, or a choir, joining a community with shared interests can be a wonderful way to connect.

  5. Seeking support. It's okay to lean on others when you need it. Sharing your concerns and vulnerabilities strengthens bonds.

  6. Limit digital distractions. When spending time with loved ones, minimize screen distractions. The memories you create in real-life interactions are invaluable!

  7. Active listening. When conversing, truly listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Being present in the conversation fosters deeper understanding and connection.
Action Steps for a Stress-Free Life

Based on the 5 approaches we discussed, here are some easy ways to start incorporating booze-free stress busting activities into your life:

  • Five-minute breathing. Set aside five minutes, sit in a comfortable position, and take deep breaths. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four. Feel the calm wash over you!
  • Try a guided meditation. Plenty of apps and YouTube channels offer free guided meditation. Find one that resonates with you and embark on your relaxation journey.
  • Shake a leg. Choose your favorite song and dance like nobody's watching. Let those endorphins flow!
  • Binaural beats session. Pop in your headphones and search for binaural beats tracks on streaming platforms. Opt for tracks designed for relaxation, and feel the vibes.
  • Nature walk. Even if it's just around your neighborhood, take a walk, breathe in the fresh air, and let nature soothe your soul.
  • Sound bath. Search for local sound healing or sound bath sessions. Immersing yourself in these vibrations can be a game-changer!
  • Phone a friend. The next time you feel stressed, call a friend or family member. Just talking can make a huge difference.
Relieving Stress Without Alcohol: The Takeaways

In the words of Frank Herbert, “The mind can go either direction under stress — toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.”

In the grand scheme of things, stress is inevitable. But with these tools in your arsenal, you can navigate life's challenges without leaning on booze. Remember, every moment is an opportunity to choose wellness!

Summary FAQs

1. Why should I consider alternatives to alcohol for stress relief?

Alcohol might provide temporary relaxation, but in the long run, it can intensify stress, disrupt sleep, and lead to behavioral consequences. Embracing healthier alternatives ensures genuine relaxation without potential drawbacks.

2. How does deep breathing reduce stress?

Deep breathing activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" system. It increases oxygen supply to the brain and stimulates a natural relaxation response, offering immediate stress relief.

3. What are the benefits of meditation for managing stress?

Meditation, particularly mindfulness and guided forms, helps in grounding oneself and finding inner calm. Scientifically, it's shown to reduce stress symptoms, improve attention, and even increase gray matter density in the brain.

4. Can sound really have a healing effect on our bodies?

Absolutely! Sound healing, including practices like listening to binaural beats, can balance our body's energy. When exposed to certain frequencies, our brain and body can enter states of relaxation, focus, or even deep sleep.

5. Why is physical activity a recommended method for stress relief?

Physical activity, from jogging to dancing, releases endorphins—our body's natural mood lifters. Exercise also reduces stress hormones and offers a constructive distraction from stressors.

6. How does staying connected with others alleviate stress?

Human connections foster feelings of understanding, value, and support. Engaging in heartfelt conversations, sharing experiences, or even just laughing with someone can provide emotional relief and strengthen resilience against stress.

7. What's the difference between internal and external solutions for managing stress?

Internal solutions, like meditation and deep breathing, focus on tapping into your inner energy and harnessing personal strengths for relaxation. External solutions, on the other hand, involve engaging with the world around you through physical activities and social interactions. Both pathways are effective and can be tailored to individual preferences.

Ready To Deal With Stress Without Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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