Sunday, 22 September 2019

Anxiety and alcohol

OK, so the shed roof is not quite finished, but it’s weather-tight, so after grafting for much of Saturday, I took Sunday off in order to drive Mrs PBT’s down to Pevensey Bay, near Eastbourne. Her brother and his girlfriend are staying in their camper-van, at one of the local camp sites, and invited us to join them for Sunday lunch, at a nearby pub - more of that in a later post.

In the meantime here is a lengthy, and rather personal article that I’ve been meaning to post for quite a while. I’ve kept putting off publishing it, as it’s a bit too personal in places, but leaving that aside, it concerns an issue which affects a lot of people, and is something which can have a real negative affect on them and their lives.

The subject I want to discuss in some depth is anxiety, but seeing as this blog is primarily a beer related one, I particularly want to explore the relationship between anxiety and alcohol. Before looking at that relationship though, here’s a short summary of what anxiety is all about.

Anxiety, or uneasiness of mind is caused by fear of danger or misfortune. It is a fear of what might happen in the future, but it is not a fear about something that is happening now. Understanding this simple summary goes a long way towards finding a cure for this often distressing affliction of the mind, which is an ailment which many people suffer from.

It helps to know that anxiety can be regarded as the space between the “now” and the “then.” This is the so-called “anxiety gap,” which in effect means being here, but wanting to be there. You know the feeling, you find yourself in an awkward situation; something you feel uncomfortable with. You would much rather be somewhere else, somewhere familiar, somewhere safe, somewhere you feel confident with, but instead you are faced with a situation or an event that is way outside your comfort zone.

We’ve all experienced these feelings, and nine times out of ten we can put them aside, rise to the occasion, sort out whatever it is that is bothering us, and emerged, unscathed on the other side. Sometimes though, this all becomes too much for people and they end up feeling unable to cope with what life is flinging at them. causes–

They retreat back into their shells and hide themselves from the world. Anxiety then develops into depression (the two are closely linked).  The worst thing about anxiety/depression is one loses interest in virtually everything, and things that once afforded the greatest pleasure no longer matter or seem important to the sufferer.

I suffered a particularly bad bout of anxiety for much of 2011. The condition was brought on by a problem that had been building at work, for sometime beforehand, which was then made worse by me blaming myself for not having taken action and dealing with the situation in the way I know I should have done.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but in the end, I cured myself. There is some really good self-help material out there on the web. I also attended some counselling sessions, arranged through my GP, which were very helpful. Talking through one’s problems, and looking for ways to deal with them, is always useful.

One thing the counsellor told me, is that people who go through these sorts of experiences, emerge stronger on the other side.  I have heard this from several other sources as well. I didn’t believe her  at first, but it didn’t take too long after my recovery to realise she was right. 

So if you do feel as though life is getting on top of you, and you are finding it increasingly difficult to cope, please remember there is eventually light at the end of the tunnel, and you WILL emerge from your experience a stronger an better person.

One final thing that is well worth taking note of, before we look at the relationship between anxiety and alcohol, is that anxiety is a fear of what might happen in the future, rather than what is happening now. Remember the future is then, rather than now, and our past has shown us we will have all we need in the future to deal with whatever situation arises,  in the same way as we have all we need now to avoid the situation arising.

Put simply anxiety is caused by not being present, and trying to live in the future. We cannot know what the future will bring, or what it will be like, even though we like to imagine that we do know. This means that the sensible thing to do is to live solely in the “now”, as it is the only thing there is. We cannot live in the past, because it has already happened, just the same as we cannot live in the future, because it has yet to happen. So the now (or the present), is all there is, and this is where we should try to always live.                                                                                                                          

Now I would like to say that I don’t suffer from anxiety anymore and to all intents and purposes this is largely true, but there is one exception. Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol, over an extended period (several days), does seem to bring on unwanted feelings of insecurity. This is especially true, late at night, when one has been away from home for a while, such as being on holiday or on an overseas business trip.

Waking up in a strange bed, in momentary unfamiliar surroundings and wondering where the hell you are, is not always a pleasant experience. All very silly really, but I know from experience it is my over-indulgence in alcohol that is responsible for bringing on these feelings in the dead of the night.

The feelings normally only last a short while and it doesn’t take long to regain my composure, but when I say it is the booze which is responsible, I know I am right. Two contrasting examples illustrate this nicely, as both involve trips away.

The business trip I made to Cologne back in March was a boozy affair. After a long, and some times boring day on the company exhibition stand, my colleagues and I tended to let our hair down in the evenings.  Each evening we would typically convene in the hotel reception and neck back a few Kölsch’s, before heading into town for a meal.

There would be more beers with the meal, and sometimes wine as well, then there would be the inevitable night-cap of a couple more glasses of Kölsch back at the hotel, before heading up to bed. I can recall at least two occasions when I awoke in the small hours, feeling really anxious with a feeling almost of dread, wondering where I was.

The feelings, which soon subsided, were similar to those associated with delays in getting to the airport and missing your flight or mislaying your passport. Groundless fears really, because if such events did occur, they wouldn’t be the end of the world and could be relatively easy to resolve (the lost passport might be a little trickier).

Now contrast this with my recent visit to China, where not only was I several thousand miles away from home, but I was in a large, sprawling city, in a country where relatively few people spoke English, and where even the alphabet was a confusing jumble of intriguing, but undecipherable symbols.

If there was anywhere to wake up in the dead of night, in a cold sweat, then China was surely the place and far more so than Germany, where things are much more familiar. Interestingly, not once did I have these feelings, despite the, at times, almost alien surroundings, and the fact I was the other side of the world.

I can only put this down to a very modest consumption of alcohol during my three days in the country, with just a few glasses of beer of an evening. I felt totally safe in China, and completely at ease travelling around by myself. What’s more, I slept like the proverbial log.

Now I’m not for one moment advocating giving up alcohol, but I’m keen to know whether there is a connection between anxiety and alcohol. Speaking personally, I’m not sure whether the link was always there, or if it just appeared. If the connection was there, I don’t think I ever noticed it, so it was quite surprising to discover that during my period of anxiety in  2011, I found that drink can have a dark side.

I initially found, that a beer or two helped me relax, but I then found myself waking the next day, or even in the night, feeling more anxious  than ever. I knocked the booze on the head for the best part of a year, despite at times really craving a pint. Sometimes I fancied a beer so much that I dreamt about it, and I can tell you that even in those dreams it looked really good and tasted even better!

That’s probably enough on the subject, but as someone who thought he was immune to such ailments of the mind, I want to end with a warning. Anxiety can and will creep up on you, but only if you let it. The trick is to remain vigilant and not let it in. See it for what it really is, which is an illusion.

Finally, endeavour to remain present as much as possible, and live your life in the now. The NOW is all that there is, because the past has already happened and the future is yet to occur. It is now, now and in five seconds time it will still be now….and now………and now!


Martin Taylor said...

"Finally, endeavour to remain present as much as possible, and live your life in the now. The NOW is all that there is"

Spot on, Paul.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, I've certainly noticed that, on occasions, over-indulging a bit leaves me feeling down the following day. I've learned to recognise this and know it will pass.

Having said that, while I still enjoy a few pints, as you get older the appeal of having a skinful greatly diminishes.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm glad you agree, Martin. It took me many years to appreciate the wisdom behind that philosophy, but once you accept it, life becomes much, much easier.

Mudge, I think that feeling down, following a heavy session, is the body's way of getting the metabolic processes working properly and attempting to mitigate the harmful effect of over-indulgence. It also serves as a reminder that such behaviour is not healthy and certainly not good, in the long term.

I definitely agree that the appeal of drinking large amounts diminishes as one gets older, so I try to avoid those situations where the temptation to over-indulge is present.

Curmudgeon said...

No, I mean a distinct feeling of depression/anxiety, not just the normal day-to-day fluctuations of mood.

Paul Bailey said...

That's what I was alluding to in the main post, Mudge. I agree that these feelings pass, but they are obviously related, in some way, to over-indulging in alcohol.