A lot of people consume alcohol as a way to manage stress. How often this is effective as a coping strategy probably decreases as the amount you drink increases. But although alcohol doesn’t really work as a long-term way of handling stressful situations, it does provide relief in the short term. And this is where the problem starts.
Our tendency to consider short-term effects in preference to longer term ones is visible in many areas of our lives. But why can we not more easily use the negative consequences of alcohol in helping us decide how much to drink?
People use the word “stress” quite a lot, but what does it really mean? Do we all use the word to mean the same thing? Everyone perceives different things to be stressful, but a few aspects of our experience are probably universal.
The first aspect is that a feeling of stress arises when we believe situations in our lives require more of us than we are able to give in terms of emotional or mental energy. We become depleted, and our decision-making abilities seem to lessen along with this.
Another aspect of stress is that we encounter events which trigger the ‘fight or flight’ reaction inherited from our ancestors. When we sense threat, or the possibility of emotional pain ahead, or any outcome that might make us anxious at some level, adrenaline is produced to prime our bodies to take action and our blood pressure goes up.
Of course not many stressful situations require physical responses these days, we have to deal with most events through more subtle behaviours than running away or fighting. And yet consumption of alcohol does seem to allow us to effectively ‘run away’ doesn’t it? Maybe this explains it’s popularity.
How is it then that some people seem better at stress management than others? Is it just their resilience? More likely it depends on our beliefs about ourselves, our estimation of our ability to handle the events in our lives, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we can effectively deal with events, there may be less urge to run away from them, and hence perhaps less urge to drink. If you are drinking less, then undoubtedly your capacity to respond to stress is improved.