It’s the end of another busy day and you’re looking forward to a glass of wine or a beer and putting your feet up. And when Friday afternoon rolls around you and the team are heading out for after work drinks. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
Not really, but I wonder if the sexual harassment issues facing New Zealand law firms recently would have occurred if people were sober. I could be wrong. Just saying.
While I’ve given up alcohol for the year, rest assured this is not an anti-alcohol rant. I’m no going to tell you about my new-found sobriety, and I’m certainly not demonising drink (although in my own experience every stupid thing I have ever did had alcohol involved…).
It’s about why we drink, which is usually to wind down, relax and take our mind off things. We’re not all alcoholics just because we have a drink or two. Many of us though, drink to numb-out. Other things which achieve the similar results include watching mindless TV, spending hours on Netflix or glued to our screens.
We know we shouldn’t.
Then why do we? Because it’s an escape from our full-on lifestyles and crazy-busy jobs.
Unable to deal with our difficult emotions and circumstances, we’ll do anything to get away from ourselves and the uncomfortable feelings associated with overload. We’re desperate to find relief from our frenzied state.
Many people live on a roller-coaster, lurching between feeling stressed and over-worked to desperately looking for ways get away from feeling stressed and over-worked. So we numb. It’s a delicate balancing act; either numb me or entertain me – anything to stay sane.
And it seems to work (for a while) but eventually it doesn’t.
Evolutionary-wise, our minds still primitively grasp for what feels good, while avoiding what feels bad. This worked for our ancestors. Today though, what feels bad is unlikely to kill us (not meeting a KPI and missing out on promotion are not life threatening); and what feels good (alcohol, drugs, fast-food, sitting on the couch addicted to Netflix or social media) probably will. And if it doesn’t, it’ll rob you of vitality, joy, your health and relationships.
Our clever brains (smart as we are) haven’t yet caught up with or worked out how to live in this crazy modern world (well not sanely anyway!). Consequently, we’re more obese, depressed, anxious and stressed than ever.
Numbing behaviours effect our kids too. There’s this thing called ‘proximal abandonment’ where parents are there, but they’re not really there. Kids crave connection and are traumatised because their parents are simply not available. They’re physically present but their attention is on their smart phones and tablets.
I’m guessing you don’t really want to live a numb life or ignore your children. If you’re concerned about why you drink alcohol, or the amount of time you spend watching mindless TV, playing virtual games, or cruising social media then there’s an alternative worth considering.
Instead of numbing, why not try a bit of mindfulness? It’s free, it’s effective and there are no harsh side effects (unless you really don’t want to feel more engaged and alive?).
However, if you’ve been numbing for a while – you’ve created a habit – and habits are notoriously hard to break. So, I suggest you begin practising for just a few minutes and build up from there.
Simply start by sitting and noticing your breath. Feel the movement in your body that occurs as you breath. You might feel movement in your chest, shoulders, or abdomen. After a few minutes of that, turn your attention to how your body feels. Ask yourself how you are feeling. Yes, that’s right – get in touch with any emotions and physical sensations that are present. Stay with those feelings. Where do you feel them? Be curious. Explore them with a gentle and kind curiosity. You might find a crazy thing happens when you pay attention to how you feel – often those feelings just up, move on and evaporate.
Mindfulness is a great alternative to numbing. It’s not zoning out, but being intimately tuned into yourself, your life and other people. It naturally relaxes you by turning on your parasympathetic nervous system (like the fire department for your stress response). At the same time (because you’re more aware of what you’re thinking and feeling) you get better at interrupting old unconscious habits, like pouring the entire bottle down your throat, or heading to the refrigerator for another beer.
Just imagine never having to experience the embarrassment of Netflix asking if you’re still there ever again!
Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director of Mindful at Work Ltd. She is on a mission to make the M-words cool (mindfulness and meditation). She works with businesses across New Zealand and Australia delivering ‘My Off Switch’ mindfulness programs to embed and merge mindfulness with workplace behaviour, build resilience, optimise attention, and regulate emotion.
It’s all about changing the way you work – to be more engaged and on-game – and to positively influence workplace culture.