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LIV President's Blog 2014

LIV President's Blog 2014

Geoff Bowyer, LIV President 2014 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Are you using alcohol to deal with stress?

Are you using alcohol to deal with stress?

Today we launched the LIV Mental Health Report: A Preventative Strategy. With over half of all Victorian lawyers experiencing mental illness at some point in their career, it’s a topic that requires our continuing focus. But one of the points in the report that stood out to me is that it seems common for lawyers to drink alcohol as a way to quell stress. Do we have a problem with alcohol as a profession?

Have you found yourself reaching for the bottle after a stressful day at work? I know on occasions I have. But at what point do we step over the line of ‘just unwinding’ to drinking too much and actually exacerbating the impact of stress and anxiety?

Wellbeing and the Law (WATL) Ambassador Adam Lunn explains:

It’s easy to slip into the trap of self-medicating with alcohol because it “takes the edge off” and it doesn’t require an acknowledgement that there may be a deeper issue that can be dealt with much more effectively with sensible treatment. In my experience, the benefits of self-medicating with alcohol are at best short term and ultimately illusory. It also takes the pleasure out of drinking.

I acknowledge that giving up drinking isn’t easy in a country like Australia where alcohol is perceived as an integral part of our lifestyle and socialising - but at what cost?  Many would say that Australia has a drinking problem, with a recent report revealing that 15 people a day die from alcohol related illness. So how do you know if you’re drinking too much to deal with stress?

Keep a diary: Keep a diary of how much alcohol you drink for a couple of weeks. Those glasses of wine at lunch and dinner add up. How were you feeling when you had a drink? Was it to socialise or because you were feeling stressed? And be aware that a standard drink is much smaller than what usually ends up in a generous wine glass – so be honest about the quantity.

Check the government guidelines: The Australian government recommends drinking no more than two standard drinks a day, and no more than four standard drinks in one sitting. How do your drinking habits stack up?

Talk to family and friends: Have you shrugged off the question “R U OK” from concerned family and friends thinking that they were just being teetotalling party-poopers? It may be hard to hear the answer, but be brave and ask – “how do you feel about my drinking habits?” You may be surprised to hear how much your drinking is affecting those closest to you.

Think about it: Stop and think about recent ‘drinking sessions’. Are you OK with your behaviour when you drink? How in control are you? What does drinking do to your decision-making skills and what message is it sending to your children and loved ones? I give up drinking during Lent just to make sure that I’m not hooked. How would you go for 40 days and 40 nights?

Focus on the evidence: Most of us know if we’re headed down the wrong path – we just don’t want to stop and really look at the underlying problem. I encourage you to just take a honest look at the evidence gathered from the first four steps (we’re lawyers after all) and consider – is it time to cut down your alcohol intake and/or seek help for dealing with stress?

Try an alternative

Exercise: I’m evangelical about the benefits of exercise and/or mediation, but that’s because it works. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and to replace the urge to drink. And instead of going for a drink with friends, how about a run instead?

Modify: One of the most dangerous drinking habits is to reach for a drink as soon as you get home to ‘unwind’. Try to delay this and wait until dinner, and have a glass with your meal. If you’re out, start with water and alternate alcoholic drinks with something soft. Your body will thank you and getting up in the morning will be so much easier. I now limit myself to two glasses of wine when out, followed by lots of water and I am amazed how much better I feel at the end of the night.
Get warm & fuzzy: Next time you’re feeling totally stressed out, try a warm bath when you get home or go outside and play with your pet dog or cat. It’s amazing how much this can help you to unwind and relax.

Talk it out: Next time you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, talk to someone who is close to you. If it’s a work matter, discuss it with a trusted colleague, a mentor or a friend in the profession to plan a practical course of action. Partners, friends and family can be supportive sounding boards, and a conversation with them can provide a refreshing perspective.

Get help
However, sometimes we need help to break out of a downward spiral. Don’t suffer alone. If someone asks you “R U OK” and the answer is no then seek help. Some options to try are:

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