Are you one of the many people who have a glass of wine or a beer after a stressful day, just to “take the edge off it”? Be warned that for those of you with anxiety, alcohol may actually make the situation worse.
Alcohol is a depressant – this doesn’t mean that it makes you depressed; it means that the parts of your brain and body stop working as efficiently as usual. We all know that that part of your brain that puts a brake on stupid behaviour is suppressed – so you start to loose your inhibitions. After a few drinks, your ability to speak clearly and at the right volume becomes effected. And you probably know all the other things that happen to you. It’s all because alcohol winds back the functioning of some parts of the brain.
If you drink regularly, the brain gets used to the effects of the alcohol and starts to change in order to compensate. This means that when you don’t get a drink one evening, the primitive part of your brain recognises that something is different from usual, and starts to enter the fight-or-flight mode. If you are used to having a glass of wine when you get home from work, you might notice increased tension on the day when you don’t get a drink – that’s the primitive part of the brain starting to engage.
Alcohol also has an effect on the chemicals in the brain, in particular it decreases the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA. One of GABA’s roles is to regulate the other neurotransmitter chemical so as to decrease anxiety and other mental health issues. This is one of the reasons why alcohol can lead to emotional and mental health issues.
Surprisingly, alcohol does not help you get a good night’s sleep. Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it acts more like a sedative than natural sleep. This means that the dreaming phase of your sleep does not work properly, particularly during the early parts of the night when the alcohol is still active in the bloodstream. As dreaming is one of the main natural ways the brain has to deal with the stresses of the day, this has a big negative impact on anxiety.
How many drinks you have and how often is up to you. You need to make your own judgement. The take home message from this blog is simple – a glass of wine may take the edge of the stress you are under, but it will not do anything for your overall anxiety levels, and may make them worse.
Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash