WEEK 3 – Anxiety and alchohol

Tam Johnston

Wednesday Worry tips

We’re moving on from sleep but still focusing on the foundational blocks that are vital to support optimum brain health to assist anxiety and stress. The condition of your brain really is dependent upon the health of your body and alcohol plays a huge part in disrupting the balance and health of the brain. Tempting as though alcohol may be as a go-to with anxiety, it confounds the problem and the low that comes with a hangover mimics anxiety symptoms and creates an unhelpful cycle that will keep your brain activated in fight or flight.

WEEK 3 - Anxiety and alchohol anxiety and alcohol

Too much alcohol increases your anxiety levels and lower your resilience and brain power. It’s easy to use alcohol under the misguided belief that it calms you down or helps you cope with stressful situations, but it’s important to understand how it feeds into the anxiety cycle and is a foe, not friend.

In reality, alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behaviour and emotion. It affects both “inhibitory” and “excitatory” neurotransmitters, meaning that initially, alcohol increases the chemical in our brain called GABA, which dampens things down in the brain and has an inhibitory effect. It slows the way our brain cells talk to each other (hence not being able to think rationally after drinking) and reduces energy levels. This is why it can seem like it’s relaxing us and kids us that we have more self-confidence because our inhibitions and ability to control impulses reduces. So although it may seem that alcohol calms anxiety down and helps you sleep (a natural conclusion to make), it actually makes things worse.

Although a little alcohol has been demonstrated to help us fall asleep faster and increase slow-wave, or deep, sleep in the first half of the night, it has been proven to cause a rebound effect whereby despite falling asleep faster, it leads to waking more frequently and experiencing lighter sleep during the second half of the night. This is because the excitatory effect is kicking in meaning disturbed, lesser quality sleep and an inability for the brain to work effectively.

The alcohol is functioning as an indirect stimulant which is the last thing you need with anxiety as it prevents rational thought, creates stress from lack of sleep, keeping the fight and flight centre active. I’m sure any of you that have over-consumed at some point have experienced that sensation of feeling ‘jumpy’ and overstimulated the next day (as well as feeling sluggish at the same time). This is your fight and flight centre activated and ‘excited’.

Alcohol is also addictive as it stimulates the brains reward centre, meaning if consumed regularly, it leads to a compulsion for more – a destructive cycle to get into. Combine this along with its well-known depressive effects and it really is a harmful drug to your brain health and functioning. Anxiety and depression are already good bedfellows, so we certainly don’t want add fuel to the fire.

So just be mindful and limit alcohol to a couple of glasses and come up with other ways to relax and alternative coping strategies. And if, when your completely honest with yourself, you think you may be overindulging or are struggling to have days without alcohol or find that you are thinking about it regularly, please seek help from your doctor to get support and medical intervention early on and bear in mind that you may need professional help to explore other ways to meet the need that the alcohol was serving like coping strategies and relaxation we mentioned here.

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TIPS IN THE SERIES

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WEEK 12 – Breathing for anxiety

WEEK 3 - Anxiety and alchohol anxiety and alcohol

When stress, tension, anxiety or panic kicks in, the first thing to respond is our breathing. Most of us have heard ‘and breathe’ yet, how many of us know ‘how’ or truly give it the adjustments it needs?

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