Mindful drinking: what’s it all about?

Lucy Nichol

The word “mindful” has become a staple in our everyday language. We know that practising mindfulness is good for our soul—and we’ve started learning that there are many ways to do it, including when it comes to drinking

Mindful walking encourages us to take in our surroundings and all the sensations that go with it. Mindful body scanning encourages us to focus on the physical sensations we experience as we move our concentration from the top of our head to the tips of our toes.  

With that in mind, if you haven’t come across mindful drinking before, you might wonder if it’s simply about enjoying every drop of Prosecco in a Nigella Lawson / Marks and Spencer’s ad campaign kind of way… 

Well, there is that. But in reality, it’s about the health benefits that being mindful of what we drink can bring. 

Club Soda is a social business that’s just delivered its eighth Mindful Drinking Festival (online of course!) and its co-founder, Laura Willoughby MBE, explains what mindful drinking is all about: 

“Mindful Drinking is a term that applies to anyone thinking about their drinking habits. Whether they have never drunk alcohol or are looking to moderate or go alcohol-free. It is about paying attention and changing your drinking in ways that help you live well. 

“When we launched the festival in summer 2017 it was to bring together the small number of alcohol-free brands that were just hitting the market. We wanted people to taste and experience something different—a healthier drink designed for an adult evening experience. Last festival we had over 60 brands and this global event has demonstrated that this trend is here to stay!” 

So it’s not necessarily about total abstinence, but it is about considering your relationship with alcohol, whether it’s cutting down, giving up completely or thinking about the other ingredients in alcoholic drinks that can have a negative impact on your health. The obvious one being sugar. 

Alcohol-free drinks are often lower in sugar content, but there is a trend for low sugar versions of alcohol-based wines and beers too. And the “gin and slim” remains a firm favourite on the low sugar front. But there are brands out there that focus on cleaner versions of all their drinks—and that doesn’t stop at sugar. 

Amanda Thomson is founder and CEO of Thomson and Scott, an organisation that prides itself on creating a whole new sector in the wine industry—a producer of wine that cuts unnecessary sugar, is organic and vegan certified and transparent about what’s in the bottle. Amanda said: “Never has there been a better moment to start understanding what is in your bottle. Even the government now thinks what we’re championing is a good idea! It’s well known that sugar has a really negative impact on both our physical and mental health which is why we’re proud to produce low-sugar, cleaner drinks.” 

The idea that sugar is bad for our mental health as well as our physical health isn’t something that’s always front of mind. The “beer fear”, on the other hand, is a well-understood concept—we’ve all been there the morning after feeling anxiety and dread rising up inside of us. But it’s not just hazy memories of uninhibited behaviour that cause alcohol-induced anxiety. 

Ruth Cooper-Dickson is a positive psychology expert and founder of Champs—a consultancy that focuses on promoting mental wealth. Ruth is now almost two years alcohol free and doesn’t regret a thing. She says: “As someone who has suffered long term with panic attacks and panic disorder, I believe it’s no coincidence that my panic attacks have been less frequent over a sustained period of sobriety. For me, my SSRI medication and alcohol do not mix well, therefore it was out of respect for my body I decided to quit booze. 

“Being a more mindful drinker allows us to understand our relationship with alcohol. Often alcohol can be a coping mechanism to deal with stress or if we are experiencing negative emotions, so it is therefore about utilising other self-care strategies which build positive behaviours.    

“Sleep, for example, is an often forgotten superpower we have to boost our mental health. We need sufficient sleep to restore and recharge both our mind, body and brain. Alcohol can affect the quality of our sleep and our sleep hygiene factors, this can create a negative impact the following day, which then has the opportunity to become a vicious cycle.” 

The key message here isn’t that everyone should cut all alcohol out completely—but that we should think twice about what we’re consuming, how much, why and when. Nobody wants to drink lemonade on an evening out. But if every so often we can swap a cheeky glass of bubbly for an alcohol-free tipple, we could be doing ourselves a favour in more ways than one. 

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