The run-up to Christmas can be a frenzy of fizz-fuelled catch-ups and events – and while being invited to too many parties is a good problem to have, what if you’re trying to watch your alcohol intake?
"The way we celebrate, the way we socialise – especially as we enter the festive season – we want to have these moments and make memories, but we do it in a way that the day after or for a few weeks after, we feel heavy, we feel anxious, we feel like we’re not celebrating ourselves and doing ourselves justice," says La Maison Wellness founder Camille Vidal, a globally recognised bartender turned mindfulness and meditation teacher.
So, how can you embrace festive merriment but stick to your goal of dialling down the hangovers?
Think carefully about the events you attend
"It’s helpful to understand that for most people, if they try to go to all the events they’re invited to because they feel bad saying no, then firstly they will not be great company as they will be feeling jaded with low energy – which makes excess drinking more likely," says Sandra Parker of Just The Tonic Coaching, who works with clients one-on-one to help them get control over alcohol.
"Secondly, when you don’t give yourself time to rest and recover, you increase your likelihood of getting sick. Giving ourselves permission to say no to some invitations will ensure we can be at our best at the events we choose to attend."
Find quality alternatives you love
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After 15 years in the industry, Vidal appreciates the elements that make certain drinks feel special and the role they play in social occasions – and she's adamant drinking more mindfully shouldn’t mean missing out.
"For me, the key is to focus on alternatives. Maybe it’s finding delicious, alcohol-free sparkling wine that you really enjoy, learning how to make a very low-alcohol cocktail that you’re going to love this festive season," says Vidal, who has created a vast range of 'mindful cocktails’ recipes, ebooks and workshops available via the La Maison Wellness website. Some of these are alcohol-free, while some simply contain less alcohol and more mindfully chosen ingredients.
"By bringing these options into your repertoire, you are giving yourself the opportunity to celebrate, have a special moment and something that tastes delicious, without having the impact of alcohol the day after."
Garnishes, colour and flavour can all still shine – and don’t overlook details such as glassware. Vidal says she’ll even pour a sparking soft drink into a fancy glass at home in the evening: "It’s about thinking how we can drink more mindfully but still feel like you are having a sophisticated drink."
Have an action plan
What's likely to make sticking to your goals tricky? Getting to the bar and panicking? Peer pressure? Explaining it to friends and colleagues?
"It’s critical here to plan ahead," says Parker. "If you are going to a bar or restaurant, check online to see what alcohol-free options there are and decide in advance what you are going to drink. If you are going to someone’s home, take your favourite alcohol-free options with you."
If telling others makes you anxious, she suggests doing so in advance: "This avoids the situation where you are handed an alcoholic drink and put on the spot. In terms of how to tell people, I recommend keeping it vague and saying you are on a health drive, or you’re cutting down because alcohol has disrupted your sleep. Both are easy explanations that will resonate. If you are worried about real pressure to drink, then say you are on medication."
If you’re keen not to draw too much attention to the fact you’re not having alcohol, having a drink that looks sophisticated can also help. Vidal says bartenders are used to people asking them to "make something that looks like a gin and tonic – because you don’t want to drink but also don’t want to have that conversation with everyone tonight".
Start off strong
Another of Vidal’s top recommendations is to "start your evening with something alcohol-free – because most of the time when you arrive at the bar or it’s the end of the day, actually you are just thirsty," she explains. "And if you start with something alcohol-free then you quench that thirst, and you also have a bit more time to think about what you want to order."
This is especially useful at a busy bar or Christmas party, when a bit of social anxiety can creep in and it’s easy to get swept up in the welcome drinks or whatever everyone else is having.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t nail it every time
Vidal’s final word of advice? "It doesn’t have to be perfect," she says. "People can have really high expectations and then feel like they’ve failed, and so they give up. But it’s a journey and there’s no right answer. We often feel like it has to be a one-size-fits-all, instead of really figuring out what works for yourself," Vidal adds. "Find the balance that works for you and do it for yourself – it doesn’t matter what other people are doing.
"And if you plan on being alcohol-free for the week and then find yourself going out and having a glass of wine, don’t beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t mean the whole festive season is game over."
And Parker notes, if you do find it a big struggle and frequently drink more than feels healthy, it might be time to seek further support, whether that’s via your GP, a coach or counsellor specialising in alcohol habits: "Alcohol is highly addictive and once you have ingrained patterns of over-drinking, you may need support to get unstuck."