Alcohol and stress have a complicated relationship. An occasional drink can help you to feel happier and more relaxed. On the other hand, heavy and prolonged consumption increases your risk for anxiety, depression, and other undesirable consequences.
Much of this is due to how alcohol affects your brain. When you’re healthy, your body deals with stress by increasing hormones like cortisol that prepare you for action, and then quickly restoring the usual levels once the challenge has passed.
Relying on alcohol disrupts this balance. Your stress responses become less efficient, and you may build up tolerance, so you have to drink more to achieve the same effects.
Meanwhile, your drinking may create additional sources of tension. You may develop mental and physical health issues, and your drinking may interfere with your relationships and career.
You can break the cycle if stress is making you drink more, and your drinking is causing more stress. Try these tips and reach out to your doctor and your loved ones if you need more support.
- Think positive. Pay attention to the wonderful things that happen each day. Remember that hardships are temporary. Try to find the humor in difficult situations.
- Plan ahead. Identify potential obstacles before they occur. It’s easier to stay calm when you recognize your options and have a plan of action to pursue.
- Focus on solutions. Devote your energy to overcoming a challenge rather than complaining about it. Concentrate on the things you can change. Find ways to turn setbacks into opportunities for learning and growth.
- Eat healthy. Self-care makes you more resilient. Nourish your body and mind with a balanced diet rich in whole foods and fiber. Limit your intake of sugar, salt, and empty calories.
- Sleep well. High quality sleep promotes healing. Go to bed at the same time each night so you’ll wake up feeling alert and refreshed.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity reduces stress hormones and lifts your spirits. Enjoy a variety of workouts so you’ll stay motivated while you build up your strength and condition your heart.
- Live mindfully. Meditation and deep breathing can help you calm uncomfortable emotions and racing thoughts. Practice on your own or browse for instructional videos and apps online.
- Set limits. Decide how many drinks you’ll have before you get started. That way you’re less likely to overindulge. You may also want to schedule alcohol-free days or weeks.
- Slow down. Pace yourself by sipping your wine. Stay hydrated with a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink.
- Eat a snack. Alcohol enters your bloodstream more gradually when you have food in your stomach. You still need to drink responsibly, but a snack gives you some extra protection.
- Resist peer pressure. Do you find yourself drinking more when you’re around some of your friends or coworkers? Create strategies for dealing with such triggers, like suggesting activities that don’t involve alcohol.
- Avoid binge drinking. There’s a big difference between having one drink a day for a week and having 7 drinks in one evening. Stick to the conventional guidelines for no more than 1 or 2 drinks a day.
- Ask for help. Moderate drinking is safe for most adults, but you may need to give up alcohol if you have certain medical conditions. Talk with your doctor about the appropriate decision for you.
Positive thinking, relaxation practices, and self-care are more effective than alcohol when it comes to handling stress.
If you think your drinking may be affecting your health and wellbeing, call a community hotline or ask your doctor about resources that can help you get back on track.