Why relaxing with alcohol doesn't work

Everyone knows that image of that man or woman who comes home after a hard day's work and grabs a beer or pours a glass of wine. So first a… glass of alcohol. Nothing on your mind, no hassle, no stress, just enjoy. guess what? Alcohol does not reduce stress, but increases stress.

What is stress? Stress is running for the train, chairing an important meeting, or having to search for your keys when you're already in a hurry. That is everyday stress, a form of stress that you get rid of relatively easily. But there are also stressful situations and events that have more impact, such as a divorce or death. The stress that is released is felt for a longer period of time.

Physical reactions to stress

When you 'shoot into stress', your body first gets a rush of adrenaline. The hormone adrenaline causes your muscles to tighten and your blood pressure plus heart rate rise. Your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. Blood vessels constrict to avoid wasting blood. Your digestion slows down and you sweat to avoid overheating.

Then the hormone cortisol becomes active. It ensures that your blood sugar level rises and your metabolism speeds up. After all, you need fuel to cope with the stressful situation. At the same time, cortisol production suppresses the immune system. Because surviving the danger is more important than fighting germs, healing wounds, digesting your food et cetera.

stress? Have a beer!

Back to that long, busy day. With maybe some hassle at work. Or arguing at home. A scratch on your car or that renovation that just won't move. There are plenty of reasons why a glass of alcohol would do you 'good'. As tempting as it may be, don't do it. As you read, a lot of the stress hormone cortisol is released when you experience stress. Cortisol is broken down by the liver. A liver lasts an average of two days with that.

If you drink alcohol when you are stressed, your body prioritizes breaking down that alcohol. Alcohol is seen as a toxic substance. Cortisol breakdown is stopped and alcohol breakdown is started instead. So you stay stressed longer after you have drunk alcohol.

A pile of cortisol

If your stressful situation lasts longer and you continue to 'soften' it with alcohol, the stress will pile up. The liver is too busy breaking down the alcohol and so you get more and more stress. In addition, stress counteracts the positive effects of alcohol. How you feel makes a huge difference to the effect of alcohol. Drinking with a tense feeling usually has a negative effect.

So…

Do you feel bad? Are you tense? Or do you want to clear your head? Walk around your neighborhood, take the dog for a long walk, take a warm bath, cook your favorite meal, watch your favorite movie for the fourteenth time, listen to that fine playlist, read a book or rake the garden. Plenty of options!

 

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