A peg of anxiety

Anxiety is like your brain synapses are firing a million signals at the same time, asking you to finish the job you have been procrastinating, analyzing what you said and did, revisiting painful memories, wondering where you are going in the future, thinking of some new projects or ideas, wondering what to make for lunch all at the same time. And because you are thinking of so many things at the same time, you are unable to get even one task done. You feel like you have been physically shackled down and you can’t move. Which in turn makes you even more anxious because you are supposedly wasting time.

Something I am going through right at this moment. My Fitbit tells me my heart rate is 110, which is insane. It reaches that when I am doing moderate level of physical activity. So sitting on my couch since morning and getting this reading is not right. While I have had anxiety forever, I noticed a marked change in the last year and half. It was usually after socializing. Next day I would try to analyze what triggered it. Was it the lack of sleep? The people I met? The conversations? Was it that foolish comment I made under the influence of alcohol?

After watching the pattern for a long time I realized, it was the alcohol. Somehow consuming any amount of alcohol was leading to a horrible bout of anxiety for the next 24 hours. It was time to research and of course, I came across “Alcohol induced anxiety”. I came to know that this is not just limited to alcohol but to a lot of other mood altering substances. I am not an expert and I am just sharing my experiences and what I learnt in trying to figure out a way to deal with it.

I love my alcohol. I really do. But, the anxiety next day was not something I looked forward to. The sense of relaxation you feel when you drink can often be attributed to your blood alcohol content (BAC). A rise in BAC levels leads to temporary feelings of excitement, but feelings of depression occur as BAC levels fall. As a result, it’s possible that having a few drinks that make your BAC rise and then fall back to normal again can make you more anxious than you were before. Alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety.

It’s the same with a lot of other mood elevating substances including Cocaine, Cannabis and opioids. They all lead to the initial increase in serotonin level that makes you more comfortable in social situations, takes away your inhibitions and your anxiety. But once the levels start going back to normal, you tend to have a worse attack of anxiety than before which could last to several hours to a day post consumption.

I had a few beers at a friend’s place last Saturday afternoon and I couldn’t sleep the night or function the next day. My brain is replaying every second of the afternoon, forcing me to analyze what I said and did. I am having breathing difficulties and I have deployed all the coping mechanisms that I know. The simple answer would be, “Don’t drink at all!” And honestly, I don’t. Thanks to this and a very altered (positively) lifestyle, my alcohol consumption has fallen to 10% of before. But now, because I barely drink, this 10% can create a havoc.

While I don’t look at alcohol as a vice as most of our nation does, it is not a great idea for people with anxiety disorders or any mental health concerns to consume any mood altering substances. The only treatment is therapy. So if you are someone like me who struggles with anxiety after imbibing alcohol (hope you aren’t taking other illegal drugs) the best way for you would be to cut down your consumption as much as possible and to figure out other cushioning techniques that help you. For example, the company I had spent my time with definitely affects my anxiety levels the next day. Having a routine that keeps me physically busy also keeps it in control. Switching off my WiFi or data (a habit every night) stops me from looking at my phone every 5 minutes and increases the chances of falling asleep. Adequate sleep is a big positive. Also, writing about it right now helps me manage it.

You would have to figure out what works for you. But from one sufferer to another, the best way is to minimize the instances. Don’t drink to ease away your social anxiety, you are just making it worse. Keep it for the special occasions and so you don’t beat yourself up for it again and again. Take someone in your confidence who would help you control the number of drinks you are having. I am sure you will find a way to make it work for you.

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