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A new year brings a fresh start, and for many January 1 is a chance to reset both habits and nutrition. The holidays bring a whole lot of indulgence, both in decadent foods and an increased number of celebratory libations and alcohol-fueled happy hours. And if you’re feeling like you need a reset in your diet and what you’ve been drinking for the past month-plus, you definitely aren’t alone. That’s exactly what Dry January is all about.
Dry January, which first became popular back in 2010, is a month of voluntary sobriety. It’s 31 days during which you give up alcohol and stop drinking to start the new year off in a healthier manner. And while most of the perks of participating in Dry January are focused on your physical health and wellness, this month-long practice can also offer fantastic benefits for mental health.
Abstaining from alcohol throughout January won’t treat or prevent long-term health issues, but it can deliver short-term benefits. If you’ve been thinking about cutting back on drinking or are hoping to focus on positive actions that can improve your mental health, here are some of the most impressive benefits Dry January can offer.
Staying sober can improve your mood
Sure, in the moment drinking a cocktail might feel great and even relaxing at the end of a stressful day. But alcohol is a depressant – and if you’ve been using it as a coping strategy, it may even mask mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Alcohol contains ethanol, which can temporarily stimulate your mood and then have a depressant effect, altering your cognitive function along the way.
Plus, alcohol can ruin your mood and exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety, depression and other ailments. Your mood can become less stable overall, subjecting you to swings and a reliance on alcohol. And you can increase your risk for a number of health woes, including mental health conditions like anxiety.
When you participate in Dry January, you can see a significant positive impact on your overall mood. You won’t be introducing a depressant into your system, and you can see more stability in your outlook and attitude. Plus, who doesn’t feel happier when you don’t have a hangover (and all of the other not-so-great effects of drinking) weighing you down all day long?
Dry January often leads to better sleep
After a night of drinking, you may find that you knock out pretty quickly once you head to bed. But that sleepiness often doesn’t last long, and a few cocktails can leave you wide awake in the middle of the night. According to research, that’s because alcohol interferes with your ability to process adenosine, a chemical that helps promote sleepiness and prevents you from waking too early. So, when you have a few drinks – or frequently drink – you’ll struggle to stick to your usual sleep schedule.
In addition to leaving you groggy in the mornings and sleepless at night, alcohol is also inflammatory. Research has suggested that drinking booze leaves you in a state of constant inflammation, particularly in the gut. And that inflammation can also wreck your ability to get a restful night of sleep.
Sleep and inflammation are intimately linked. When you’re living with inflammation, it can be difficult to fall asleep and you may suffer from ailments like insomnia. Add to this the fact that inflammation and sleeplessness together can exacerbate the symptoms of conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic stress, and your mental health can really see a negative effect.
But there’s another reason drinking alcohol may affect your mental health. Sleep and mental health are also tied to one another. Struggling to get good sleep can trigger the onset of some mental health conditions. It can also lead to changes, like increased symptoms, for some mental health ailments. And when your mental health isn’t faring so well, that can further worsen your ability to sleep soundly. It’s a vicious cycle.
Dry January, however, can help. Staying sober throughout the month can help you restore good sleeping habits and patterns, which in turn can help you fight inflammation and potentially reduce the symptoms of certain mental health conditions. You’ll likely be able to achieve better, more consistent sleep as well as deeper sleep that leaves you feeling far more rested come morning. Kicking booze to the curb can help you from all angles when it comes to getting decent, restful sleep.
Alcohol tends to worsen the symptoms of mental health ailments
Drinking while you’re already experiencing symptoms of conditions like anxiety or depression can worsen your thoughts, feelings and overall mental health. Alcohol doesn’t help you manage feelings of stress, sadness or anxiousness – instead, it can increase them.
As WebMD explains, you’re likely to experience a worsening of your mental health and feelings of post-drinking anxiety or depression. Binge drinking in particular can exacerbate these effects, leaving you feeling both physically and mentally unwell.
Taking the month of January – or any month of the year! – off from drinking may help you alleviate drinking-related worsening of your mental health, any mental health conditions and their symptoms. Even if you aren’t currently diagnosed with a specific mental illness, you’re likely to feel less anxiety or depression, particularly if your symptoms have been connected to frequent alcohol consumption. Dry January can help you avoid hangovers and all of their effects, from headaches to low moods to anxiety.
Research suggests that even one month of sobriety can overall benefit your mental health
Sure, Dry January is just 31 days of eliminating alcohol. But this one month of sobriety can have a much larger effect on both your drinking habits and your mental health. Giving Dry January a try just might help you improve your relationship with alcohol and overall well-being.
According to research, cutting out alcohol for even just one month can have a broad impact on your health and quality of life. In an examination of alcohol drinkers and their drinking patterns, researchers found that those who gave up liquor for a short period of time saw a positive change in their mental well-being. And another study reported that reduced alcohol consumption was associated with better mental health quality of life.
While a month might feel short, participating in Dry January can have farther-reaching effects on your health and wellness. Taking a break can help you reassess how much you’ve been drinking, and if your drinking is at an unhealthy level. And once you have the clarity of a few weeks of sobriety, you may find that you feel so good not drinking that you decide to continue abstaining.
Plus, the improved sleep, potential reduction in anxiety symptoms and overall better mental health that may result from Dry January may encourage you to go beyond just 31 days. You may want to participate in other “dry” challenges, like Sober October, or simply out of drinking alcohol more often. And that can have a bigger positive impact on your mental health both now and into the future.
For more ideas and inspiration to help you put Dry January into practice and keep your mental health in its best shape, keep reading: