alcohol and anxietyAnxiety ruins many people’s lives, and lessens the enjoyment of it for most of us. It’s focus can be anything, from the seemingly trivial to the life-threatening. Threat and fear can thread their way into many aspects of our lives.

Of course the solution that many people find is through alcohol. This can provide temporary but effective relief – allowing us to relax again and get on with life without being so preoccupied. But alcohol does not actually allow us to deal with our anxiety or manage the situations provoking it, so we fail to develop our resources.

Anxiety arises as a result of our interpretations of a situation as being in some way threatening or unpleasant. This is then combined with our perception of our ability to cope with that threat.

For example, two people are experiencing the exact same event – the possibility that they will lose their job. The anxiety prone person might think –
“but I’ll never find another job, I’m not good enough. I won’t have enough money, I won’t be able to cope – I’ll lose my house”. Obviously thoughts like that will tend to create anxiety.

The other person facing the same situation might think –
“I can get another job easy enough, I’m adaptable. Money might be a bit tight for a while, but I can cope with that”.

So if the first person can learn to adjust their perception of their abilities, they might not get so anxious, and they might not feel the need to drink so much alcohol as a result. Those perceptions and beliefs happen so automatically, we often forget that we have a degree of choice over them.

Unfortunately alcohol consumption tends to exacerbate anxiety levels subsequently – firstly by causing disruption to the nervous system, secondly by creating behaviour likely to induce further worry. A spiral of increased drinking causing increased anxiety can develop.

Anxious people tend to have a central belief about themselves as being helpless – they underestimate their ability to cope. Although, they are often aware that their fears are exaggerated.

Five key questions can be used to challenge the initial perception of threat and the appraisal of your coping ability:

  • What alternative interpretations could I make about this situation?
  • What concrete, factual evidence do I have to back-up or deny these beliefs?
  • What is the worst that could really happen, and how would that ultimately affect me?
  • What positive action can I take to manage this?
  • What are the pros and cons of me continuing with these catastrophic thoughts I’m having?

Coupled with some simple relaxation techniques like keeping aware of your breathing, you can soon lessen your anxiety to a tolerable level. If you can adjust the way you interpret the world, and thus not feel so worried about it, then you may not need to drink so much alcohol to cope.