October is here, and for many, this means taking a break from drinking alcohol for Sober October.
Similar to Dry January, Sober October has gained popularity over the past decade as more people take a break from alcohol to rethink their drinking habits.
“Mostly, it’s about getting curious,” said Linda Fenelon, owner of NuPower Yoga + Barre in Nashville, who said that some people will be giving up sugar for the month in solidarity while others take a break from drinking alcohol at the studio.
So if you’re thinking about participating in Sober October, here are some tips to keep in mind to prepare yourself.
What is Sober October?
The challenge is to take a break from drinking alcohol for 31 days. Like Dry January or Dry July, these challenges have gained visibility in recent years with more people participating for a variety of reasons. Participation in “Dry January” grew from 21% in 2019 to 35% this year, according to CGA Strategy, a food and beverage industry research group.
“It became so glaring during the pandemic how much more people were drinking. Many are starting to realize it’s good to reset and take a break from it and really think about this,” said Sam Barker, a yoga instructor at NuPower Yoga + Barre.
The Sober October challenge was technically started almost 10 years ago by the MacMillan Cancer Support Group in the United Kingdom as a way to raise funds for charity. In the U.S., some participants raise funds to support mental health care for people in recovery.
How do I participate?
These challenges are about abstaining from drinking alcohol for a full month. It’s important to note that quitting alcohol without consulting with a medical specialist could be dangerous or life-threatening for people with severe alcohol dependency.
Fenelon has taken breaks from drinking alcohol leading up to the Sober October challenge she’s coordinating at her studio. Having support from others and finding activities to make up for the time that might otherwise be linked to drinking alcohol is important, she said.
The studio provides various suggestions for participants, including five-minute meditations and yoga classes.
“We are going to be checking in with each other, and hopefully, some people will keep going afterward,” she said.
What are the health benefits?
From better sleep to less anxiety, the benefits are plenty. Since 2016, Molly Kimball, a registered dietician with the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, has led the health care system’s 40-day alcohol-free challenge following Mardi Gras celebrations. Since the second year of the challenge, participants have been invited to get a full panel of blood tests before and after to note significant changes following a month without alcohol.
“It’s really interesting the benefits and experiences people have, and it can be very different year to year,” she said.
In addition to measuring things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, participants can have their photos taken to see themselves before and after.
“There is often a visible, striking difference by the end of the challenge,” she said.
Participants also have access to an online forum on Facebook, recipes for alcohol-free drinks and healthy food options, and a place to connect as they go through the challenge and beyond.
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What are some ways to make the most out of the challenge?
In New Orleans, where alcohol is omnipresent year-round, taking a break from alcohol for however long can be especially difficult. Kimball recommends that people try to remain active and involved in communal activities.
“The more you can string together normal experiences, football games, parties, the more you realize you don’t have to have alcohol connected to them,” she said.
These challenges are also meant to be a time for introspection, when people can gain a better understanding of themselves and their triggers. Alcohol use is part of a spectrum, and everyone has a different relationship with it, she said.
“Know your triggers and understand where you are on that spectrum and have a strong respect for that,” she said.
Talking with other people who are also doing the challenge or who don’t drink alcohol is also important, said Barker, who stopped drinking about two and a half years ago. Talking about it normalizes it and helps hold you accountable, he said.
Fenelon recommends finding alternative, alcohol-free beverages that taste good and can be easy substitutes. For example, instead of a glass of red wine in the evening, she drinks tulsi hibiscus tea.
For the 40-day alcohol-free challenge, participants post a variety of alcohol-free beverages and mocktails to try out.
“For a lot of people, these challenges are a catalyst to have deeper conversations about what life could be like without alcohol,” said Kimball.
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