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I can still remember the first time I decided to have a drink to take the edge off before a big presentation at work.
I was convinced that it would give me liquid courage and quell some of the anxiety that I was experiencing. I drank to calm my nerves, but it didn’t help. I had already lost my spark and the drink just extinguished it even further.
My spark was brought down by the toll my life was taking on me—drinking the night before, sleeping poorly, and being in a state of constant anxiousness. I couldn’t be the animated, sparkling person who everyone expected me to be because I’d drowned her in the wine that I thought was helping me. How ironic is that!
I’m not alone in that predicament. Now more than ever, self-medicating with alcohol is often encouraged; there are virtual happy hours or social distancing street parties. It seems like everyone is choosing alcohol to deal with the anxiousness and uncertainty we are all feeling. It all starts innocently, but there’s hidden dangers to choosing alcohol to control your anxiety. In fact, it can actually make your anxiety worse in the long run.
We all start off considering alcohol our friend. It’s that shoulder we turn to when life feels too big. We feel like we can rely on alcohol to quiet those fears and maybe even take them away. I know that I kept going back to alcohol as my anxiety kept increasing. What I didn’t realize is that my anxiety kept increasing because my alcohol intake kept increasing. Crazy, right?
There’s actually something called “hangxiety.” Drinking itself can increase your anxiety and leave you feeling worse once it wears off. Drinking for anxiety is like sucker punching yourself. It will initially relax you since it is a sedative. In fact, it was often used as anesthesia in the early days of surgery. The dark side to this is that alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other transmitters in your brain. This yo-yoing of the chemical levels in your brain means that anxiety levels can be higher than they were before drinking.
If that’s not reason enough not to drink in order to treat anxiety, it turns out that alcohol might actually cause anxiety in the first place. A University of North Carolina School of Medicine study found long-term effects of drinking can cause the drinker to find it difficult to recover from traumatic events. In other words, it takes away our ability to cope and process events. Scientists believe alcohol could be the source of anxiety in some people rather than a reliever of it.
While alcohol wasn’t physically helping my anxiety, I still believed that it had a benefit to me. It was what I associated with relief when it came to coping with anxiety. Unlearning that and discovering healthy ways to relieve anxiety was going to be the key to unlocking my dependence on it.
I quickly learned that one of the best ways of dealing with anxiety was to stop avoiding it. The truth is that life gets uncomfortable sometimes. There are situations that will make us feel uneasy or that stretch us. Rather than trying to bury our heads in the sand and hope those situations just go away, we can face them head-on. You relieve anxiety by making the source of it go away.
Obviously there are times we can’t make the source of our anxiety go away, but in those cases we can take steps to mitigate it. If the current pandemic has you stressed, you can be proactive in what will help you feel in control of the stressors. For me, that has meant controlling my sources of information, limiting my exposure to not only the virus but the media coverage of it, and being proactive in protecting my health and my family’s health. For us, that has meant relying upon grocery delivery, only allowing one of us to be the one making essential trips and really just limiting our chances of exposure.
I am also still relying upon my everyday coping mechanisms—exercise, meditation, journaling, and, occasionally, a good cry. Yet, there’s no shame in realizing that your anxiety might be bigger than what you can handle alone. In that case, gain back your power by consulting a professional who can help you to get back to the person you were meant to be.
If you are curious about your drinking, and don’t want to hit “rock bottom,” join me for The Alcohol Experiment. You will receive encouraging and mindset shifting daily videos and emails and an incredible community of 110,000 people also experimenting with their alcohol intake. It is completely free (and always will be): join here.