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Hangxiety: Does alcohol affect anxiety?

Kicking back with a beer at a weekend or indulging in a glass of wine on a special occasion (like 4pm on a Monday, during a global pandemic) may be tied to lower anxiety. Alcohol relaxes us and leaves us less inhibited; we don’t take ourselves or others so seriously. cabernet is calming, a lager lightens the load. And that may indeed be the case for some people – alcohol, every now and then, can help us deal with the stress of everyday life.

It is because of this that many people reach for the bottle in times of stress – no more so than right now. The UK has just been plunged into another lockdown, schools are shut, some women are trying to combine work with homeschooling, others are struggling with the impact the pandemic has had on their work, finances, family and personal life. The overall effect on mental and emotional health is immense.

So although some studies show while alcohol in moderation (although who really knows how to do that anyway) may have some benefits is it really the best thing for those of us already pre-disposed to anxiety?

Overindulging (or drinking too regularly) compounds your anxiety in many ways. These include:

Using alcohol to numb our emotions: Women in particular have managed in incredibly difficult situations in the past by learning to control their emotional responses. We’ve been taught that when we are feeling angry we better not react less we be labelled a hysterical woman or when we are sad we better not cry in case we make others feel uncomfortable. But if we continually ignore our emotions and don’t express or deal with them they sit within our body making us feel uncomfortable and heightening our anxiety.

But you know what really helps us to ignore these uncomfortable emotions – a large glass of wine! Yep, it certainly does in the short term. But unfortunately once we wake up in the morning guess whose back! Yep, it those blasted feelings that we never dealt with.  They often come back ten-fold when we wake up in a pool of shame, panic and self-loathing unable to remember our last few drunken hours. Not a fun time.

It is so important that we work through all our hard and uncomfortable emotions as the arise so that we do not have to turn to the bottle just to get us through (EFT is a great way to do this!) Until we do they are just going to keep coming back and like a fizzy can that has been shook up, could overflow at any minute.

Influencing chemicals: Certain chemicals in your brain work together to keep things balanced. Serotonin, for instance, regulates mood – this is why anti-anxiety drugs usually increase serotonin levels in those afflicted. Alcohol can change these levels as well. It might make you feel better while your tiddly, but once the alcohol wears off and you wake up in the morning, like I said above for anxiety sufferers their anxiety levels are often through the roof.

Physical dependency: Most people who drink alcohol don’t become physically dependent on it, but for many it does happen. Many things work together to influence your susceptibility (including trauma, past history and genetics). For those that do become dependent your physical health deteriorates too. Tremors, clouded thinking, poor skin, lower immune system, anger, nausea, and dehydration – this can worsen your anxiety (hello health anxiety sufferers) and overall mental state.

If you’re plagued with anxiety, there is no better time than the New Year to reassess your drinking. Perhaps you can find a pal and do Dry January together or sign up to one of the many support groups who can help you change your drinking habits. Some of the ones I have found useful are: One Year No Beer and Club Soda. Also, some inspiring books to read are ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’ by Catherine Gray and ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace, two inspiring women who are leading alcohol free lives.


Hiya, I’m Karen, energy therapist and mind body expert for dynamic and ambitious women who are struggling with anxiety. I help them to get to the root cause of their anxiety so they can take back control other thoughts and be the calm and confident woman they want to be.
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