I’d been questioning my relationship with alcohol and the effect it was having on my anxiety for a number of years. Drinking no longer seemed like fun. When I first started drinking wine in the week to relieve the stress of a long day at work, yes it did appear to relax me. As time went on, I noticed that instead of feeling relaxed, it would make me feel more jittery and anxious.
My ‘monkey mind’ would feel like a monkey who had drunk 20 cups of coffee! It would jump from thing to thing at the speed of light, pulling me into a spiral of worry and despair. I felt tearful and unable to cope much of the time. Small problems would become amplified until they felt like fierce monsters. Often I would wake up with a surge of adrenaline and a dry mouth, sometimes around 3am. My heart would be racing and I’d be unable to get back to sleep. On occasion, I nipped downstairs for another swig of wine to try and switch my brain off.
I hated the control it had over me
This wasn’t easy, I’d tried before and had only managed to go a couple of days without having a drink. At one point I ended up signed off from work with stress and anxiety. The doctor prescribed sertraline.
To this day, the packet remains unopened in my bathroom cabinet. I didn’t take it as the leaflet told me I wouldn’t be able to drink. I couldn’t contemplate not drinking at the time, so I chose alcohol over my prescription.
In December 2017 I decided enough was enough
Hungover and with my anxiety levels sky high, I knew that I couldn’t go through Christmas feeling that way. I signed up for a 90-day alcohol-free challenge with a support group called ‘One Year No Beer‘. I also bought a number of books on the topic of quitting booze and got stuck in.
Within a fortnight (it can take a few weeks for the alcohol to leave your system) my anxiety levels had dropped dramatically. A year and a half on, yes I do still get stressed and anxious at times. The difference is that the feelings are nowhere near as chronic or long-lasting as before.
During my time sober, I’ve dealt with family illness and bereavement as well as a whole load of stress at work. Emotions come up, but instead of numbing them only for them to pop back up twice as bad the next day, I deal with them.
The science explained
William Porter covers the science behind alcohol’s link with anxiety in his fascinating book Alcohol Explained. Basically, alcohol creates a need for itself which then roots deeply into our subconscious mind. Let me explain this further: While taking a drink may give you a sense of feeling relaxed, this is short-lived; anxiety will soon replace it. This may be at such a minor level that you don’t notice it to begin with. However, working behind the scenes, your subconscious has now learned that having a drink can relieve the feeling of anxiety. So you drink again, which leads to more anxiety – and the cycle continues.
When I read this, a light bulb came on. I now understood why I’d found alcohol relaxing in the early days. And why my anxiety levels became sky high as the years went on. Another thing alcohol has a huge effect on is sleep quality. When I drank pretty much daily I was rarely getting the deep sleep or the REM sleep that I needed. No wonder I had constant jitters!
You may be scared, but you can do this too
You may be reading this and suspect that your drinking is impacting your mental health. Maybe you would love to take a break from alcohol but are too scared to try. I’ve been there so I understand this. In the early days, I worried about not having a social life. I worried what other people would think and I thought I would miss the taste and ceremony of a glass of wine.
Joining a group and immersing myself in ‘quit lit’ helped me get through those first days and weeks; then it got easier. The first thing I would say to you is you don’t have to stop forever. If you can give it a try for a few weeks, I guarantee you will feel some of the same benefits I have. After that, you can decide whether to keep going or not.
Will I go back to drinking? Probably not to be honest as I genuinely now can’t see any point. Quitting alcohol has rescued me from my anxiety. The list of other benefits goes on – better skin, more energy, better clarity and focus, to name a few. If you decide to join me in going alcohol-free, even for a little while, I promise that you won’t regret it!
Alison Wilson is the founder of the Little Blog of Positivity where she shares all she has learned on the topics of personal growth, self-improvement, health and well-being.