Is Alcohol Increasing Your Anxiety?

We’ve all read the reports that many of us are drinking more than ever in lockdown, and is it any surprise? That lovely warm fuzzy feeling we get after 2 or 3 glasses can seem to take the edge off what’s turning out to be a stressful year. I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve been drinking more in lockdown!

But you’ll also have read the reports that predict a mental health crisis is coming, and alcohol actually plays a pretty important part in this.

Many of my clients have anxiety or depression and I always ask them how much they drink. Those that drink a lot will normally say that is helps them sleep or it helps them deal with stress. So, let’s take at those two statements.

Myth – alcohol helps me sleep

Fact – you may be passed out after a few drinks but it’s not the same thing. When you drink, you don’t get the same quality of sleep. You miss out on crucial REM sleep; this is the part of sleep when you dream, and this helps you process your stresses and worries. That’s why, when you wake up the morning after the night before, you’re more likely to feel miserable and out of sorts.

Myth – alcohol helps me cope with stress

Fact – it actually does the opposite. People who drink a lot are more likely to experience clinical anxiety or depression. And that’s because alcohol (and nicotine incidentally) stops you producing your own serotonin, that happy chemical in your brain. What happens is your brain gets lazy. It gets the artificial chemical and thinks it doesn’t need to produce the serotonin. But alcohol is a very poor substitute for serotonin so anxiety and depression can follow.

As someone who likes a glass of wine, I’m not about to tell anyone to stop drinking. But I do think it’s important to be aware of the facts and if you’re one of the many who’s anxiety has risen this year then now might be a good time to cut back.

If you do want to join me in drinking less, here’s how to make it easier.

With any habit, there are 3 parts:

The cue – what prompts the behaviour

The behaviour – drinking

The reward – what does it give you?

So, to stop a habit, firstly think about the prompt, what leads you to pour that glass of wine? If it’s stress, can you do something about the stress? If it’s just routine, can you change your routine? If you pour a drink after work can you go for a walk instead?

Then think about the reward, what does it give you? If it helps to mark the end of the working day, could you treat yourself to a bubble bath instead? If it helps you to slow down and switch off could you meditate instead?

Remember to have a nice alternative drink to hand as well. Giving up wine for water isn’t very appealing – so what else can you drink that will feel like a bit of a treat?

We know what drinking stops your brain producing natural serotonin. So, when you cut down or stop, you’ll need to kickstart that part of your brain again. Here are my top tips to increase your serotonin levels.

  1. Write down/ talk about what’s been good about your day. Focusing on positives gives your brain a natural serotonin boost.
  2. Connect with others. We’re meant to be part of a tribe, so our brains reward us with serotonin when we connect with others. That might be a bit more difficult this year but go for that walk with a friend, spend time with those in your bubble and call/ skype others
  3. Take one small step towards your goal – taking action produces serotonin. You’ve already taken one step by cutting back on your drinking- what else can you do to look after your mental health?

If you do need help with this, I recommend www.drinkaware.co.uk and also www.oneyearnobeer.com and of course if you want to find out how hypnotherapy can help, get in touch for a free consultation on 07973913718 or at info@stepaheadhypnotherapy.co.uk