Long Day, Long Pour. But Does Alcohol Calm or Cause Anxiety?
Work + Life Balance

Long Day, Long Pour. But Does Alcohol Calm or Cause Anxiety?

by Sarah Berneche
Photos Lauren Kallen | November 04, 2015

A FEW DRINKS CAN SEEM LIKE A GOOD WAY TO UNWIND, BUT DO THEY REALLY RELIEVE STRESS OR THE OTHER WAY AROUND? LET'S WEIGH THE PROS AND CONS.

Like just about every #girlboss I know, my days start before the sun comes up and end long after the moon rises from behind the condos that line Toronto's waterfront. After a heavy week of client work, writing, recipe testing, photography, meetings, commuting, and general troubleshooting, nothing sounds quite as right as spending a Friday night catching up on the newest Netflix series while enjoying a glass or two of vino. Yes way, Cabernet.

But as a holistic nutritionist who strives to reconcile a rockin' social life with sometimes serious bouts of stress and anxiety, I'm acutely aware of how alcohol can exacerbate symptoms, compromise mental health, and prevent a driven young professional from fulfilling her potential. So what's a modern ladypreneur to do?  

THE PROBLEM WITH TOO MANY VODKA SODAS  

The Coping Effect

You may have heard this before: alcohol is both a sedative and a depressant that affects the central nervous system. It's actually extremely common for people with social anxiety disorder, an estimated 20%, to use and abuse alcohol to cope with parties and related situations, especially women. While alcohol can help us to feel less inhibited and temporarily calm symptoms of social anxiety, it's also reputed to increase anxiety, irritability, and/or depression. {Click to Tweet} And those feelings linger, starting from a few hours later and often continuing through the day after consumption.

The Constant Slump

Alcohol also alters the levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety and other mental health conditions. While alcohol can initially make us feel lighter and happier, regular consumption may lead to, at minimum, mild depression as our bodies become increasingly imbalanced and nutrient deficient.

The Queasy Factor

And what about the hangovers, the variety that tempt us to swear off drinking forever? We all know the signs -- overconsumption of alcohol can lead to headaches, dehydration, nausea, dizziness, and low blood sugar. To counteract the sedative effects of those martinis, the nervous system places the body into a state of hyperactivity, which can lead to shaky hands, sensitivity to light and sound, and sleep deprivation.

All of this is to say: alcohol may offer a temporary, instantaneous, and fun stress release, but it's not without its long-term consequences.

Alcohol alters the levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety and other mental health conditions. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Does this mean you should never imbibe? The answer is yes, no, maybe.

Those who struggle with extreme anxiety and depression should certainly consider how stimulants like alcohol affect them; some individuals are far more sensitive than others. That said, strong and healthy bodies have the capacity to cope with occasional assaults, especially if we fuel them well. If you love red wine as much as I do, here's some ways you can protect your body to prevent drinking-related deficiencies:

Before a Night Out

  • Drink water with fresh lemon juice and green smoothies and/or juices throughout the day to make sure you're well-hydrated.
  • Eat a healthy meal before going out, complete with high-quality protein, vegetables, good fats, and some complex carbohydrate -- think salmon, broccoli, and a sweet potato with a pat of coconut oil.
  • Decide in advance how many drinks you will have and stick to it.

At the Party

  • Avoid sugary drinks, which are hard on the liver. Instead, choose wine or a high-quality spirit with soda water and a spritz of lime.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages slowly -- avoid shots -- to prevent overconsumption.
  • Drink water throughout the evening (the rule of thumb is one glass of water per boozy drink). If you have a hard time drinking water at events, try sparkling water instead.

The After Party

  • Once home, remind yourself to drink water before bed.
  • Make sure your kitchen is well-stocked with healthy food and unsweetened coconut water -- nature's sports drink -- so you can eat right the following day.

Other Tricks

  • Consider limiting drinks to weekends only (or your version of the weekend, if you keep irregular hours).
  • Regularly consume fermented foods -- like barrel-aged pickles, lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and kombucha tea -- to restore good gut bacteria and promote production of serotonin. Alternatively, supplement with a high-quality probiotic.
  • When possible, sub cocktails for mocktails. Kombucha is naturally effervescent, comes in a wide range of flavors, and with several health properties (like B vitamins, enzymes, and good bacteria), makes an excellent substitute for your go-to Cosmopolitan. I like to take a couple of bottles to house parties; talk about a conversation starter!

THE TAKEAWAY

While alcohol can feel as though it's relieving your anxiety in the moment, it tends to worsen symptoms in the long-term. The first thing to do is to pay attention to how you feel after imbibing and to determine its impact on your health and sense of well-being. If you do choose to drink, be conscientious by sticking to the guidelines above and limiting yourself to a couple of standard drinks per week.

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Have you tried any of these tips? Are there certain guidelines that you follow when you go out at night or enjoy a few glasses of wine at home? Share them with us in the comments!