Are You Using Alcohol to Cope with Back-to-Normal Anxiety?
As societies reopen many people are feeling uneasy about returning to social settings. We look at how you can control your anxiety without turning to alcohol.
Restaurants are reopening, office-work is returning, and the long-awaited ‘end’ is in sight. Yet, many people feel far more apprehensive than expected.
This ‘back-to-normal anxiety’ is the latest addition to our pandemic-specific vocabulary, and it is impacting nearly half the population. For instance, over 50% of Americans and 49% of UK citizens are struggling to adjust. Experts argue that this feeling of uneasiness is normal. We still live in uncertainty as we await a virus-free future with bated breath. We have also adapted to our lockdown lifestyle. Humans are wired to crave predictability, so a change in our routine will always provoke discomfort.
Anxiety is a pervasive condition amongst CEOs, and the spotlight is usually on them in social settings, which can exacerbate the problem.
While fear may be expected, we need to be mindful of how we are responding to it. Anxiety is one of the leading causes of alcohol abuse because anxiety reeves up our nervous system. As alcohol is a depressant, it can feel as though it is calming us down. Combined with this, many of us are also struggling with social anxiety that was either laying low in lockdown or triggered by a year-long isolation period. This is particularly true for celebrities and successful individuals.Anxiety is a pervasive condition amongst CEOs, and the spotlight is usually on them in social settings, which can exacerbate the problem. At Paracelsus Recovery, we have seen a spike in ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) clients struggling to control their drinking habits due to back-to-social anxiety.
Liquid Courage: The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder, otherwise known as social phobia, is characterised by a fear of judgement, avoidance of social interactions, trembling or light-headedness around others, and a constant self-analysis of one’s performance in social settings. Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions, second only to depression. Studies show that approximately 20% of those suffering from social anxiety will also suffer from substance abuse dependency.
More still, while some people can control which social events they attend, this is not the case for leaders or celebrities. They often have to ‘show their face,’ at countless events where all eyes are on them. To navigate these experiences, many self-medicate with alcohol as it reduces inhibitions, increases confidence and can feel as though it is helping them ‘get out of their head.’ But, in the long-term, alcohol abuse worsens anxiety, lowers self-esteem and can lead to dependency.
Studies show that approximately 20% of those suffering from social anxiety will also suffer from substance abuse dependency.
Five Non-Alcoholic Strategies for Coping with Social Anxiety
Therefore, as the world reopens, many now face a two-fold trigger: back-to-normal anxiety and back-to-social anxiety, making the post-pandemic world feel intense and unfamiliar. If you are struggling, try to:
Take the Focus Off Yourself
Try shifting your attention to what’s happening around you instead of what’s inside your head. For instance, if you feel your heart rate speeding up and your mind racing, look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear and move three parts of your body. Alternatively, try to come up with a few questions to ask people. Remember that people will appreciate it if you are interested in them, and they will be thinking about themselves, not you or your anxiety.
2.Pre-Plan Your Anxiety Management
We usually over consume alcohol when we are drinking in response to a difficult emotion rather than our environment. Remember that what we are feeling determines where we focus our attention and thoughts, which in turn will lead to actions. To navigate this, try to understand your triggers and preemptively create strategies for responding to them. For instance, if speaking to multiple people at once overwhelms you, try to focus on each of them individually.
3.Practice Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques alleviate anxiety because they shift our bodies away from chest-breathing and back to belly-breathing. As a result, our oxygen-carbon dioxide levels stabilise, and our stress decreases. Focusing on our breathing also helps reconnect us to our body and our immediate environment. If you are struggling, try to return to diaphragm breathing. To do so, place one hand under your rib cage and one hand over your heart. Breathe slowly through your nose, and try to notice if your stomach or chest moves as you breathe. If your chest is moving, focus on returning that breath to your stomach.
However, as the famous saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It is critical to be realistic with what is achievable.
4.Be Aware that all Humans have Limitations (Including You)
As society re-opens, we may expect ourselves to do it all, which will induce more anxiety. Thus, your work schedule might increase alongside expectations to spend time with your friends, visit family members and so on. However, as the famous saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It is critical to be realistic with what is achievable.
5.Seek Professional Help
If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed in social settings, to the point that you either cannot control your substance abuse or you feel that the fear is detrimentally impacting your life, seek help as soon as possible. Mental health conditions are akin to our physical health because the sooner we treat the problem, the sooner we can restore our wellbeing.
Finally, above all else, try to be compassionate with yourself. It is a tall ask to suddenly feel content in environments that were deemed unsafe for the past year and a half. We are all adjusting to these changes, and no one is doing it perfectly. Instead, try to focus on moving forward with self-compassion and a few stress-management tools.