Women, Anxiety & Drinking

The number of people suffering from anxiety has doubled in the last five years and more women are affected than men, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). The survey found that 22% of women say they ‘feel anxious a lot of the time’. In an article about the MHF study in today’s Telegraph, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10825167/Anxiety-Are-you-anxious-most-of-the-time.html) Beth Murphy, head of information at UK mental health charity Mind, explains: “Anxiety’s a word we use in general to describe worry; it’s hard to know when it becomes something more significant. But in a more clinical sense to be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, it’s more than just a little bit of worry.”

Murphy goes on to describe the main symptoms of anxiety. They include: having an irregular heartbeat; a racing pulse; panic attacks; thoughts endlessly going around your head; having trouble sleeping; and not wanting to leave the house.

There are many reasons behind a person developing anxiety but I know from personal experience what a major factor alcohol was in the significant anxiety problems I once suffered with.

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I haven’t had an anxiety attack for just over three years, which surprisingly enough aligns exactly with the period I have spent as a non-drinker. Prior to quitting alcohol I had at least one anxiety attack a week, always the day after a big boozy session, and something which I never attributed to drinking.

My heart would pound, I would sweat and I couldn’t breathe properly (this was the worst of the symptoms and was often so severe that I feared I might be dying of an asthma attack, even though I don’t suffer from asthma). Interacting with strangers in situations such as paying for bus fare or ordering in a café would spark off a chain reaction of nervy responses, culminating in a very real fear of having to speak to people I did not know unless I had a drink to hand.

During the last few years of my drinking life it became normal to avoid conversations with people whenever I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. I would avert my eyes and dip my head if I saw someone walking towards me who may have wanted to chat. I hid indoors for entire days when hungover because I couldn’t face the stress of having to speak to people. I often joked with friends, who were also heavy drinkers, about the struggles of ordinary encounters, how excruciating it was to have to hold a conversation with someone about the weather or some other triviality when dealing with a crippling hangover and trying to not show it.

My denial of the fact that I drank way too much resulted in me ignoring my anxiety issues. To face up to the fact that booze was behind these frightening attacks would have meant getting a handle on my alcohol dependency. And so, in order to subdue any fears or suspicions, I drank more.

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The thing is that ever since I finished my last glass of wine in April 2011 I haven’t endured a single anxiety episode. I am in control of my senses. I do not fear everyday situations or conversations with well-meaning people who merely want to be friendly. I’ve known fear in that time, but I have addressed it and succeeded in calming myself down. I’ve been able to rationalise whatever has caused me to be scared.

I have discovered that I possess the ability to face my fears head on rather than hiding indoors, missing out on life, stagnating instead of growing, drinking away my emotions rather than listening to my intuition and acting on it.

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Desperately Seeking A Natural High

When I drank alcohol I did so because I perceived booze to be an effective way to lift me out of my current situation. That may sound simplistic but essentially it’s the only reason why anyone would drink alcohol – it’s a mind-altering substance, ergo, people drink it in order to alter their minds. (If that wasn’t true then people would only drink alcohol-free drinks thus avoiding the potential negative health consequences of alcoholic beverages.)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to escape reality. We do it all the time via a variety of alternative means; watching films, reading books, engaging in sports, and through consuming alcohol and ingesting other drugs. Much of the human experience revolves around plodding through somewhat mundane obligations while looking forward to enjoying whatever light relief we choose to engage in during our spare time.

My problem (and that of countless others) with choosing alcohol as a method of escape arose out of the fact that drinking brought about a miserable parallel reality, as opposed to the brighter, happier, more fun life that I imagined it would give me. Ever the hedonist, I perpetually opted for instant gratification over long-term happiness. Alcohol artificially made me happy for a short period of time, but then took vast amounts from me and my well-being as payment. The ratio of happiness to misery was woefully imbalanced.

As a drinker I failed to see that almost my entire existence was spent under the cloud of booze, one way or another; either I was drunk, hungover, or excited about drinking again. The sum of all this alcohol-related thinking amounted to an inability to perceive the world clearly. Crucially I failed to grasp that my whole personality would be different without alcohol thus the crutch that I so heartily believed in would no longer be required as a way of making it through life.

Without alcohol in my world I, and all those other people who have kicked the stuff out of their lives, am without an instant escape route from life. However, with all the ponderings and emotions and hopes and fears that we all experience on a daily basis, it’s natural to crave a break from ‘the norm’ from time to time. If you choose to quit drinking alcohol then I believe you have to find something which serves that same purpose (i.e. escapism), only without the negative consequences that crop up when (like me) you are bereft of a functioning off-switch.

I consider this to be a simple case of arming yourself with the right ammo to win the sober fight long term. You just need to work out what it is that lifts you out of your reality for those occasions when you feel the need to take a break. Even if the act itself only takes a couple of minutes, if the effect is powerful enough then it can be sufficient to alter your state of mind for a few days, if not weeks.

The best films in my opinion are the ones that make you feel differently about yourself and the world. You know the ones that make you feel like impersonating the life of the protagonist for a while (that is, until you remember that that was Hollywood and this is your regular existence and when you act in that way all your friends think you’re just plain weird so you resume the old you, pronto)? Those kinds of films are excellent for temporarily altering your state of mind. Carlito’s Way has this effect on me, as does Thelma and Louise.

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Some novels can do the same – they fire you up and create an inner determination to be different to the way you’ve always been.

But for me, the best, most effective methods of elevating myself from everyday life come in the guise of fast and exhilarating sports; skiing, skydiving, zip-wires, running in the rain. These are the things that help the most. Their impact on my state of mind lasts far longer than the time it takes to scrub the mud off my legs in the shower afterwards.

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I don’t always find the time to do these things, especially after having my second baby. It was so much easier to pick up a bottle of wine and throw it into the supermarket trolley, but that attempt to achieve a quick respite from life pretty much always resulted in tears.

After any of the above activities, I have never ended up with anything other than a big, fat buzz and a smile on my face.

Soberistas Competition Time

If you have already become a paying member of Soberistas you will now be able to access the brand new Soberistas Discount Club (SDC) page on the Soberistas Website. Here you’ll find a range of products and services offered at a discounted rate especially for our members. The companies we’re partnering with in order to bring you these discounts will change from time to time, so don’t forget to check the SDC page periodically to see if there’s anything that may be of interest to you. (You’ll find the SDC page under the ‘Books’ tab on the menu bar of Soberistas.com).

At the moment you can access promotional codes for an amazing women-only boot camp in Mallorca set in the mountains and close to the Mediterranean Sea, Daniel Sandler make-up products, anti-ageing products from Rejuvenated and beauty delights from Ginvera, as well as gorgeous jewellery from Merci Maman (providers of our Member of the Month bracelets), as worn recently by Kate Middleton!

You can also buy 2 standard entry tickets to The Anti-Ageing Beauty Show (showcasing the latest innovations in anti-ageing treatments and products at London Olympia, Kensington, on 10th-11th May 2014) for the price of 1 and pay just £18 (normally £36).

In addition, absolutely everyone who has already taken out a subscription to Soberistas, or who does so before midnight (GMT) on May 18th 2014, will be entered into a competition to win one of three fabulous prizes;

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Ginvera Beauty Packs x 2 worth £150 each

Rejuvenated ‘Look Younger in 2 Weeks’ pack x 1 worth £119.90

This is just our way of saying thanks to all those members of Soberistas who have supported and helped build the community so far, and who are helping to ensure it continues in the future.