Having a beer or two has somehow become synonymous with winding down and relaxing. Notice that even most of the characters on our favorite TV shows will grab a beer from the fridge after coming home from work. Life can get stressful sometimes. Unfortunately, people commonly turn to alcohol – and even drugs – to cope with their stress.
The thing is, drugs and alcohol are only temporary distractions from stress. It’s like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. They are by no means a cure or even an effective coping tool.
Humans – along with other mammals – have developed a survival tool to help us react to life-threatening situations. This is called the fight-or-flight response. It’s a series of hormonal and physiological responses in the brain that almost instantaneously assesses a situation and facilitates a reaction to either fight or flee from the threat. Stress actually triggers this fight-or-flight response.
The body can overreact and trigger the fight-or-flight response in stressful situations that are not life-threatening, such as a looming deadline or a spousal argument. Drugs and alcohol come into play when people try to find a fix for this overreaction triggers. While these substances may temporarily distract from the stress, they actually do more harm in the long run. Stress returns and even worsens after the effects of drugs or alcohol wear off. Drugs and alcohol also increase health risks that are already heightened by stress. Furthermore, frequent use of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress can quickly lead to addiction.
It’s important to find other ways to manage daily stress.
1. Yoga – Yoga is great for alleviating stress because it involves physical activity as well as mental awareness. Yoga is all about mental stillness, which involves balancing the mind, body, and senses, all of which are thrown out of whack by stress. You can also try other simple meditation and breathing techniques if yoga isn’t for you.
2. Change your diet – Different foods produce certain reactions in the body due to their chemical makeup. For example, doughnuts will spike your glucose levels because they have too much sugar and not enough fiber. (Fiber slows down digestion). The high glucose levels then increase cortisol, a stress hormone. Other foods, such as avocado and berries, can help combat stress. Check out this list of stress-fighting foods that you can incorporate into your diet.
3. Build a good support group – Close relationships with friends and family actually help combat stress in many ways, including intervening between the stressor and the reaction. This theory is known as the stress-buffering hypothesis. Friends and family can also act as a shoulder to cry on when you just need to vent. It’s very important to surround yourself with people who support and encourage you, especially in recovery.