TV commercials encourage you to have a drink to relax. Social media constantly touts booze as the antidote to anxiety. We are barraged with messaging about how alcohol is the remedy for a hard day, tough parenting, stressful jobs, heartbreak, and on and on. However, the relationship between alcohol and anxiety is more complicated than that. In fact, alcohol creates the very anxiety you are attempting to control.
There are several reasons why alcohol tends to disturb your peace of mind.
Embarrassing yourself at an office party may be an obvious danger, but there’s also a molecular explanation. Alcohol causes changes in your brain chemicals, including gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) that’s involved in regulating anxiety.
Your brain adjusts to the sedating effects of alcohol but may have trouble balancing itself again when your blood alcohol content starts to fall. That will leave you feeling more anxious than when you started, and that uneasiness may last for a day or more.
Lifestyle changes and professional help can make a big difference if alcohol and anxiety are disrupting your life. Learn what you can do to turn things around.
Tips for Drinking in Moderation
Prolonged drinking often contributes to anxiety. The CDC recommends limiting yourself to one drink a day for women and two for men on the days you do drink. Moderation can be a touchy subject; however, when people are advised to stop all together it causes fear and avoidance. Many times starting with attempting to moderate is a good first step for unlocking the alcohol-anxiety trap.
Try these techniques to limit alcohol consumption:
- Plan ahead. Decide what you’re going to drink before you get started. Maybe you’ll skip cocktail hour so you can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.
- Slow down. Sip your Margherita. Order a glass of water in between if you consume more than one alcoholic beverage.
- Eat food. Filling up on food allows your body to absorb alcohol more gradually. Fats and proteins are especially useful for slowing the process down. On the other hand, skip the salty snacks that will make you thirstier and more dehydrated.
- Enjoy other activities. If you’re used to bar hopping on date nights, go for a hike or visit a science museum instead. Spend your leisure time working on hobbies rather than drinking beer while watching TV.
- Resist social pressure. Rehearse what to say if someone asks why you’re turning down a drink. Let your family and friends know you’re trying to cut back, if that is comfortable for you.
- Take time off. Celebrate Dry January or the abstinence days of your choice. Taking a break from alcohol gives your body and mind time to recover.
Other Tips for Coping with Anxiety
Using alcohol to manage anxiety is likely to backfire.
Replace cocktails with strategies that are safer and more effective, such as these:
- Take sensible risks. Avoiding things that scare you may be adding to your anxiety. Facing your fears teaches you that you’re strong enough to handle life’s challenges. Start with small projects and work your way up.
- Get enough sleep. You’re more resilient when you’re well rested. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of high-quality sleep each night.
- Eat healthy. Your diet can help you to relax. Use foods rich in fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. Experiment with foods high in certain minerals, like leafy greens for magnesium and egg yolks for zinc.
- Exercise regularly. Working out is a great way to use up nervous energy and benefit your mood.
- Seek help. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting almost 20% of the adult population. Search for therapists who have experience treating anxiety and substance abuse issues. You may need to target both areas in order to avoid relapses.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, a glass of wine may relax you in the short term, but it’s still important to deal with underlying issues. Adopt healthy habits for managing stress and talk with a professional if you need more help.