Got Stress? Manage it with Alternatives to Alcohol Use
Stress and her twin sister Busy seem to have pervaded just about every part of everyday life for many of us. Modern culture appears to be focused on doing more and more, often with fewer and fewer resources. As a result, people get used to competing for a slice of an ever-smaller pie from a younger age. This high-strung atmosphere inevitably leads to the emotional strain which we call stress.
If we meet someone we haven’t seen for some time and ask them how they have been, the answer is inevitably that they have been “busy.” Even when we have some time off on a weekend, it tends to be filled to the brim with errands, chores or projects around the house. It’s easy to fall into the habit of going home and deciding to have a drink to unwind at the end of the day or stopping to have a few drinks with friends as a way to build a buffer between time at work and your home life.
What is Stress?
What do we mean when we talk about stress? Stress is the way a person feels when they are pushed to take on more than they are used to dealing with.
Each person experiences stress differently. A situation that one person may find very stressful, another person may not think is stressful at all. The level of stress that someone feels will also depend on other factors, such as how many major life events are happening at or around the same time, whether he or she is generally in good health, etc.
Stress is usually thought of as something negative, such as:
- Losing a job
- Ending a relationship
- Death of a parent, spouse or child
- Getting a divorce
- Marital or relationship problems
- Issues at work or school
- A family member who is severely injured or ill
- Financial difficulties
Stress can also be caused by positive events in someone’s life. Something new or out of the ordinary that brings new responsibilities or circumstances can make a person feel out of their usual comfort zone, which is stressful. The person may be happy about what is happening, but also a bit nervous or unsure about the situation. Stress is mingled with positive emotions when the following types of events occur:
- Moving in with a partner
- Getting engaged or married
- Buying a home
- Becoming a parent (either through birth or adoption)
- Getting a promotion at work
- Starting a new job
- Relocating to a different city or town
- Starting college
- Having a child or children leave home for work or school
- Receiving an inheritance or another lump sum of money
Do’s and Don’ts of Stress Management
Do try to live one day at a time.
Taking on too much at one time is a sure way to get stressed out about events out of your control and doing so can lead to anxiety and depression.
Don’t expect to conquer stress all at once. Depending on how well you feel physically, mentally and emotionally, you will have good days and bad days when dealing with situations in your life. Try to do the best that you can day to day.
Do take some time out for yourself every day.
Even if you have to start off with five minutes to drink a cup of tea or coffee in peace, claim it as “your” time. Slowly add to it as you can and treat it like an appointment with yourself where no one else can interrupt you for whatever time you have set aside.
Don’t constantly be at everyone else’s beck and call to the point where you lose track of your own needs. It will only make you feel unappreciated and resentful. If these feelings go on long enough, you may start to feel as though the only way you can cope is to zone out by using chemicals. No one wants to see you get to that point.
Do respect your body enough to feed it with a variety of foods.
Ideally, your diet should include whole grains, low fat dairy products, lean proteins and a combination of fruits and vegetables. These types of foods will help to keep you satisfied between meals without huge variations in blood sugar levels, which can lead to irritability and higher stress levels.
Don’t fill up on a lot of foods containing high levels of refined sugar, white flour and fats. While they may satisfy an initial craving, they don’t provide a lot of nutritional value. These types of foods generally don’t keep you feeling full very long, causing your blood sugar levels to rise quickly, only to crash between meals. You’ll be left looking for another high-calorie snack and find it more challenging to deal with any bumps that come up in your day in between meals.
Do stay well hydrated through the day by drinking plenty of water.
Keep a refillable bottle with you and make a point of using it often. If you usually drink coffee or tea throughout your day, switch out one cup and drink a glass of water instead.
Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to have a drink of water. At that point, you have already started to become dehydrated. If your body is even slightly dehydrated, it increases the level of cortisol (one of the stress hormones) in your system.
Drinking more water won’t change the situation that you have to deal with. The circumstances will still be the same, but you will be better prepared physically to cope with them because your body will be more relaxed. It will be easier to understand the details and decide what to do if you are well hydrated.
Do learn deep breathing.
You can use this technique anytime you start to feel stressed to pull yourself back to center again. A very simple way to start is to breathe in slowly through your nose, hold your breath for three seconds, and breathe out again. Practice daily, and repeat until you feel comfortable using deep breathing any time you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed. You can start using your deep breathing to feel calm again very quickly.
Don’t practice deep breathing when you are feeling drowsy. If you try it after you have been drinking, you may end up becoming so relaxed that you will fall asleep. Your goal is to learn how to calm yourself when you are under stress. Trying to use the technique when you are already feeling somewhat relaxed will defeat the purpose.
Do get regular exercise.
Physical activity releases endorphins, which are the body’s “feel-good” hormones. You’ll feel more positive during the activity and for some time after you have finished exercising.
Don’t focus solely on going to a gym when you think about getting exercise. Any type of physical activity counts, as long as it increases your heart rate for about 20 minutes each day. Going for a walk, dancing, gardening, biking to work or even vigorously doing housework can all count toward your daily exercise allotment.
Alcohol and Stress Relief
Alcohol has been used as a means of relieving stress for many years. People have also turned to it as a way to feel calmer when faced with difficult situations.
Having a few drinks with friends can help some people to feel that they have support for whatever is going on in their lives. They can stop worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. The distraction of having company is good for them, and they find that they can enjoy themselves.
The factors that are important here are drinking in moderation and having company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines stating that moderate drinking is up to two drinks each day for a man and up to a single drink daily for women. These guidelines refer to the amount being consumed in one day, and do not mean that you can average the number of drinks consumed over a number of days.
Once someone finds that alcohol brings some relief from stress, he or she is more likely to use it as a coping strategy again. The fact that being around other people helps to provide a distraction may be overlooked, and the stress-relieving powers of alcohol are often given too much weight.
Someone who has already found that alcohol “works” for them as a way to deal with stress needs to take care that they don’t overindulge in alcohol while trying to feel better.
Drinking alcohol to deal with stress can backfire and have the opposite effect. When consumed, it lowers the body’s response to stress. Unfortunately, it takes more than a moderate level of alcohol consumption to get this effect. In short, someone will need to get very drunk in order to use alcohol to forget about stress.
Drinking to that level regularly causes physical stress on the body. Alcohol is a substance that is not processed by the body’s metabolism in the same manner as food and non-alcoholic drinks. Your body would need to expend a lot of energy to complete the process, even if you are under the impression that you are relaxed because you have consumed several alcoholic drinks. Furthermore, drinking to excess regularly to relieve stress does significant and often irreparable damage to vital organs such as your heart, liver, pancreas, and brain.
Does Alcohol Worsen Anxiety?
Over time, a person who has turned to alcohol as his or her preferred way to relax will find that they need to drink more to get the same effect. At this point, alcohol dependency begins.
Simply knowing that you are drinking too much can cause stress. It can lead to difficulties in relationships with a spouse or partner, performance issues at work and financial difficulties.
You also run the risk of being arrested for a DUI offense if you are drinking and driving. Not only will you have the stress of the criminal charges, but you will also have the financial struggle of lawyers’ fees, increased insurance costs and possible loss of employment to deal with. If you need a vehicle to get to and from work or part of your position requires driving and your license is suspended, the consequences could be severe for you and your family.
Drinking can disrupt sleep, which makes it more difficult to cope with everyday situations. Someone who is tired tends to be more irritable and lacks his or her usual level of problem-solving abilities. It becomes much easier to get frustrated, which can lead to increased drinking as a coping mechanism.
More drinking means increased likelihood of hangovers. Someone trying to disguise the physical symptoms from family members, co-workers, supervisors and friends may feel anxious. An outburst due to feeling unwell can definitely lead to anxiety, since it will affect personal, and possibly professional, relationships.
Will drinking to excess regularly increase symptoms of anxiety? In a word, yes. These signs indicate that alcohol makes anxiety worse. It is not the remedy for stress that it might seem to be at first.
There are much better ways to deal with stress than turning to alcohol. Although it can be an enjoyable part of time spent with friends, you shouldn’t rely on drinking as a way to escape from stressful situations. Once that point is reached, you might benefit from professional help.
Professional Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
At 12 Keys Rehab, we understand that the best way to help our clients reach their goal of achieving long-term sobriety from alcohol addiction is to treat the whole person. Our holistic approach includes addressing our clients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
During their stay with us, clients eat nutritious meals from our gourmet kitchen. For a number of our clients, eating a balanced diet is one of the things that has been neglected as a result of their addiction. We reintroduce them to the joy of eating well-balanced meals, which is part of their overall recovery plan.
Our subtropical Florida location makes us an ideal place for clients to enjoy a number of physical activities, including standup paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing and swimming. We also take clients to a gym with a trainer on staff. Staying busy with a number of activities teaches our clients that they can have fun and enjoy leisure activities without having to be under the influence of chemicals.
Part of the recovery process also needs to include time for reflection, and 12 Keys Rehab has made certain that its clients can relax on the property’s porches and decks. We encourage clients to take time to read, enjoy our gardens and walking paths, and get reacquainted with themselves.
With the right treatment from caring professionals, you can achieve long-term sobriety from alcohol addiction. Call us 24 hours a day or contact us online.