It’s a vicious cycle: stress creates anxiety, alcohol is consumed to reduce anxiety, but it only intensifies anxiety in the long-term. This is the relationship alcohol has with stress, a relationship all too familiar to many reading this right now.
In these difficult times, it’s not surprising some people are looking to alcohol for a little stress reduction. But, there are healthier ways of coping with life’s challenges. Below we round-up a few positive ways to manage whatever life throws at you.
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Why do we crave a drink after a hard day?
Put simply, alcohol initially and quickly helps us relax. It releases chemicals in the brain that temporarily block anxiety.
This is why people who feel stressed tend to drink more than people who are less stressed. In fact, we often see increases in people’s alcohol consumption after catastrophes, like a recession or pandemic and natural disasters.
Although alcohol initially helps us relax after drinking – especially the next day – you can feel even more anxious.
But our brain likes to be in balance. So after consuming alcohol is reduces the amount of these “relaxation” chemicals to restore balance, increasing feelings of anxiety. Alcohol also has a depressant effect on your central nervous system. When you stop drinking and the level of alcohol in your blood returns to zero, your nervous system becomes overactive.
The real catch-22 with drinking to alleviate stress, is that once we start drinking, it’s hard to know when to stop. Do you feel relaxed enough after just one of two drinks? Or do you need a bottle? It’s easy to justify it to yourself – “another won’t hurt”, “I deserve it…sound familiar? Unfortunately, the more you drink the more it takes you to reach that level of supposed ‘relaxation’. The higher the tolerance the higher your dependence is, which isn’t healthy.
The effect of alcohol on the body
Aside from increasing stress, drinking has a host of negative effects on the body – we already know cutting back on alcohol has many benefits for our appearance but it’s also to consume mindfully for health reasons:
- Drinking heavily reduces your body’s natural immune system. This makes it more difficult for your body to fight off invading germs and viruses. Thankfully, there are foods and supplements that help boost immunity but drinking in moderation is highly recommended if immunity is a concern.
- Drinking can affect your mood, making you prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Digestive damage that can lead to inflammation like pancreatitis. Drinking can also damage the tissues in your digestive tract and prevent your intestines from digesting food and absorbing nutrients and vitamins, leading to malnutrition.
- Drinkers are more at risk of heart-related illness and circulatory system issues such as strokes, heart attacks and heart disease.
Tips for managing stress without alcohol
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, stressed or just bored, there are plenty of healthier ways to manage stress without resorting to alcohol.
Don’t stock up on alcohol
First of all, don’t buy it! It it’s not in sight and you have to go out of your way to get it, it makes it less accessible to indulge after a stressful day.
Breaking a sweat is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. Exercise releases brain chemicals that make you feel good. Even better still, pound the pavement outside – research has found you can significantly reduce stress with nature.
Exercising outside for 20 minutes each day is a great way to relieve stress / Free People
Taking regular mini-mindfulness breaks throughout the day is a healthy habit to get into if you’re prone to stress. Try a mindfulness app for anxiety or just practice slow breathing when you feel the pull of the bottle calling.
Get eight hours sleep (minimum!)
Lack of sleep, or lack of quality sleep, is a huge trigger for anxiety. Prioritise a good night’s sleep by sticking to a schedule, detoxing from technology before bed, sleep apps and sleep-inducing supplements like Magnesium and Ashwaganda.
Make time for the things that make you happy
It’s important to make time for the things and people that fill up your cup. Instead of sharing a bottle of wine with a friend, suggest going for a walk and brunch.
Nourish from within
Never underestimate the role diet plays in your mental health. Maintaining a nutrient-rich diet brimming with superfoods is essential for a healthy state of mind.
Fuel your body with healthy foods for a healthier state of mind / Free People
Remember, change doesn’t have to be negative. There’s nothing wrong with a drink or two but if you’re turning to drinks to mask feelings of anxiety, then it’s important to find new, healthier ways of managing the stress.
Where to get help:
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free
Lifeline(open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline(open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline(open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Main image: Free People