If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety, you may have found yourself turning to alcohol to relax yourself. Whilst alcohol can bring you a temporary sense of relief and confidence, it isn’t a sustainable way to manage your emotions.
In this article, we’ll explore sobriety and anxiety so you can learn to control how you’re feeling without the “help” of alcohol and gain confidence to drink less so you can lead a healthier lifestyle.
Firstly, let’s just establish what anxiety is and the common symptoms it can cause. Generalised anxiety is where someone feels anxious a lot of the time and experiences feelings of unease, fear, worry or panic. There are different types of anxiety too, including social anxiety which is a form of social phobia.
If you have anxiety, you may suffer from the following symptoms:
Whilst everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, there are people who struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. If this is you, you may have found an “escape” from these powerful emotions through drinking alcohol. Later in this article, we’ll be highlighting how unhelpful this can be in the long run.
But first, let’s consider how you can manage these feelings in a healthier way.
The first thing you can do is try to understand what it is that makes you anxious and why. It’s likely that there will be a deep-routed cause here, something which may go all the way back to your childhood. This may be difficult to work out on your own, so it can be particularly helpful to speak to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (who offers therapy known as CBT for short). This type of therapy is designed to get to the bottom of why you feel anxious and help you to change your way of thinking.
If you’re able to identify triggering situations, people or objects, you can try to avoid them. For example, if a certain group of people make you feel anxious, you could try taking a break from socialising with them and take some time to focus on yourself.
Everyone will have different triggers, so taking the time to reflect on what makes you feel the need to drink in the first place is a step in the right direction. Once you know what it is that leads to your alcohol abuse, you can take actions to deal with it more effectively.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you’re focused on your senses and how you’re feeling in the moment. Often with anxiety, you’ll be thinking about past events or worrying about the future, so finding the time to ground yourself and be present can be an effective way to calm yourself down.
Mindfulness can include:
Essentially, mindfulness is a way of slowing things down and making time for yourself. You might find it easier to practise mindfulness at home, but in time, you’ll learn how to be more mindful in your everyday life, so you can use this as a coping mechanism no matter where you are.
Being active has enormous benefits for both your mental and physical health. Physically, it can give you more energy, lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of developing artery disease and more. In terms of your mental health, exercise helps you to think more clearly and reduces stress. When you workout, your body releases chemicals called endorphins (these are also known as feel-good hormones) which give you a natural “high”.
By exercising, you can take your mind off of what’s worrying you. If you’re in a situation where you feel anxious, try going for a walk and take in your surroundings. You could also ask a friend to join you in an activity, so that you can enjoy being active and taking your mind off of daily stressors together.
You can learn more about the benefits of exercise on mental health here.
Now, this is easier said than done, we understand that. However, practising positive self-talk will help you to change the way you think about yourself and events.Typically, people with anxiety will say negative things about themselves, such as, “I’m not good enough”. What you want to try and do is challenge what it is that you’re saying and frame the situation in a different way. For example, if you’re operating a till at work and you give back the wrong amount of change, instead of saying “I’m stupid” or “I’m not good enough at my job”, try telling yourself “I made a mistake, and that’s okay”.
The more you tell yourself that you are good enough, and that you are valuable, the quicker you can change your mindset and see things in a more positive light.
Journaling your thoughts is also a great coping mechanism, as you can write down all your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes just getting these down on paper can bring a sense of relief, but you can also take time to reflect on the day and think about how you could handle situations in future.
When it comes to getting help for anxiety, there are plenty of options. You could:
You may feel that drinking alcohol calms you down when you’re stressed or anxious. For example, if you suffer from social anxiety, you might drink to feel more confident at a party. Alcohol acts as a sedative, meaning it puts you at ease due to a change in the chemicals and processes in your brain. However, this effect will eventually wear off, and when it does, your anxiety will still be there. Essentially, you’re only masking the problem instead of treating it.
It’s also worth noting that the more you drink, the more used to it your body gets, which increases your tolerance to it. That means that you’ll likely end up needing to drink more to feel the same effects as you used to, which of course can lead to more health issues.
You can feel anxious or even depressed after your body has processed alcohol as a result of withdrawal effects. Whilst this experience is different for everyone, if you suffer from regular anxiety, the symptoms could be worse. For example, if you have social anxiety, you could worry about the things you said the day before.
Post alcohol anxiety becomes part of the cycle of anxiety and drinking. Below is a typical full cycle:
So, in short, yes, alcohol can lead to increased anxiety. You can learn more about the impact alcohol can have on anxiety and depression here.
Now that you have some ideas for how to deal with anxiety without alcohol, it’s time to put them to practice. Anxiety can be debilitating, but remember that this is a common mental health disorder that many others struggle with, so you’re not alone. You’ll be able to connect with others facing similar feelings in support groups, access professional health services and can work on getting into the habit of changing your thoughts yourself. If your anxiety has led you to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, the best thing you can do is act now, so you stop relying on it as a means to cope.
Alcohol abuse can worsen your anxiety and could lead to further health issues down the line, so, by admitting you’re struggling to manage your emotions and by reading this article, you’ve taken the first step - so you should be proud of this!
Whether you’re at home or out with friends, there’s a variety of non-alcoholic drinks you can enjoy, such as mocktails or non-alcoholic beer. Take a look at these alcohol-free drink ideas so you know what to order next time.
Here at LiveWell Dorset, we understand the impact that mental health can have on your relationship with alcohol. It’s our mission to support people living in Dorset who are looking to drink less in order to improve both their physical and mental health. With a professional team of coaches and advisors who will be there to keep you on track each step of the way, you don’t have to worry about taking this journey alone!