Stress and Alcohol Facts

How does stress influence drinking patterns?
Research and populations surveys have shown that persons under stress, particularly chronic stress, tend to exhibit unhealthy behaviors. Stressed persons drink more alcohol, smoke more, and eat less nutritious foods than non-stressed individuals. People drink in response to various types of stress, and the amount of drinking in response to stress is related to the severity of the life stressors and the lack of social support networks.

Can alcohol reduce the symptoms of stress?
While some research studies show that alcohol in low doses may lessen the body’s response to stressors, paradoxically, many studies show just the opposite effect- that alcohol actually increases the stress response, by stimulating production of the same hormones the body produces when under stress. These observations are particularly interesting given that most people report that they drink alcohol to reduce stress, and the explanation for this apparent contradiction remains unknown. It may be that the mild arousal effect of the stress hormones is not entirely unpleasant. Genetic variations in the ways our bodies respond to stress also likely play a role in how alcohol affects our bodies in stress situations.

Does stress cause alcoholism?
There is little evidence that stress leads to the development of true alcohol dependency, or alcoholism. However, stress is strongly associated with alcohol abuse- the misuse of alcohol as self-medication “therapy” for life stressors. Stress may also be associated with binge drinking in students and other populations. In already established alcoholics, stressful experiences may lead to relapse of the disease.

How do I know if I am addicted?
The U.S. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has put together a questionnaire to help people decide if they have a drinking problem. Included in the 26-item questionnaire are the following two questions:

  1. Do you occasionally drink heavily after a disappointment, a quarrel, or when the boss gives you a hard time?
  2. When you have trouble or feel under pressure, do you always drink more heavily than usual?

Answering yes to these questions is a warning sign for the early stages of alcohol dependence.

How can I get my drinking under control?
If you are using alcohol to alleviate symptoms of stress, try some healthier alternatives to help manage stress and reduce its symptoms. Exercise, improved nutrition, and relaxation and meditation techniques have all been proven effective in stress control and have other physical and mental health benefits as well. If you know you have a drinking problem, About Alcoholism Guide Buddy T offers advice in his article, “So you’ve decided to stop drinking.”

Other helpful resources:
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Web site includes online access to Alcohol Alerts, a series of publications about all aspects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Recommended Reading:
Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. This thoughtful and insightful book gives an honest and brutal account of one woman’s struggle with alcoholism and provides background information about the disease of alcoholism, its causes, effects, and treatment options

The Ten Commandments of Stress Reduction

They might not have come from a higher authority, but these commandments will reduce stress:

  1. Thou shalt organize thyself;
  2. Thou shalt give thyself positive feedback;
  3. Thou shalt reward thyself with enjoyable leisure;
  4. Thou shalt exercise;
  5. Thou shalt relax;
  6. Thou shalt take rest breaks;
  7. Thou shalt listen to what your body is telling you;
  8. Thou shalt eat a balanced diet;
  9. Thou shalt smile a lot;
  10. Thou shalt ask for help when you need it.

The Six Stress Types

1. The Speed Freak

Recognition Signs

  • Constant foot to the floor on their “stress accelerator”
  • Borderline workaholic or perfectionist
  • Everything must get 110% effort, no matter how (un)important it is
  • Rapid speech; interrupt others frequently
  • Periods of deep fatigue after all-out effort

Two skills best for Speed Freaks:

  • clarify the life goals you value most;
  • learn autogenic relaxation to control how you invest energy in those goals.

Root Causes
More often than not, Speed Freaks are victims of faulty learning. They have learned, quite correctly, thatsuccess requires effort. But, they have turned this around, coming to believe that “As long as I keep on giving 110% effort, sooner or later I’m bound to be successful”.

And, when they don’t experience feelings of success or lasting satisfaction, in work or personal life, they simply turn up the heat. They speed even more; drive even harder … expending ever more effort, meaning more stress.

To break this stress-driven cycle of ever-increasing speed, it is obvious that the Speed Freak needs to learn how to slow down – at least some of the time when the speed is counter-productive. They need to gain greater control over their own stress accelerator. But, for most Speed Freaks, just the thought of slowing down is anxiety provoking or even frightening. It certainly isn’t motivating.

Focus for Action
So, to achieve the slow-down-sometimes aim, to gain fuller control over your stress accelerator, a little self-management jujitsu is required. Much research has shown that Speed Freaks become strongly motivated to learn how to relax only when they see how this skill would give them more control, or more of a competitive edge in many business or personal life (e.g. sports) situations.

Therefore, the starting point for most Speed Freaks is to get a more precise handle on “what’s really important”, and on which situations are truly worth all-out effort. By doing this, by clarifying their values and goals, the Speed Freak sorts out which prizes in life are really worth pursuing at full bore. Second, they quickly place a high value on “not sweating the small stuff” … on going slower in those situations, on conserving their energy for what really matters (e.g. for a key meeting; or for time with my kids). And, third, control of the stress accelerator becomes a top priority when they see its value in winding down from a busy schedule so as to be more fully “present”, not preoccupied, in a highly valued situation later in the day.

At this point, Speed Freaks become the best students, although a little impatient, of how to relax at will. In fact, they often give copies of our Autogenic Relaxation tape to close friends and business associates.

2. The Worry Wart

Recognition Signs:

  • Have trouble turning off their thoughts;
  • Drive themselves at high RPM, but rarely put themselves in gear for action;
  • Paralysis by analysis; useless wheel spinning worry;
  • Frequent anxiety; tension headaches;
  • Slow to recover or to come down from high-stress situations

Two skills best for Worry Warts:

  • Psychological relaxation or reframing and;
  • Clarifying values and goals.

Root Causes
Typical Worry Warts spend as much as 30% of their time and energy just worrying. And, perhaps surprisingly, they don’t worry about an endless list of things, usually they are preoccupied with from three to five worry situations.

The effectiveness of the two top priority skills recommended above arises because they address and, then, progressively reduce the central driving force in chronic worry … namely, worry is usually done as a substitute for taking action.

Actually, worry is a form of action. And endless mental rehearsal of “What should I do IF …?” is used by Worry Warts to convince themselves they are actually moving towards a solution … by worrying about the various ways their situation is likely to turn out badly. Energy is spent uselessly; hence the drain on vitality.

Focus for Action
Here’s how the Worry Wart’s two top skills work for them. Psychological relaxation means, first, becoming very specific about one of your recurrent worries, really nailing it down by itemizing very concretely all the terrible things that you imagine may happen to you IF the situation you are worried about actually does turn out badly for you.

And, then, as your second step, honestly answering these three questions. Writing down your answers is a very good idea.

  1. Can I change the situation I’m worried about? How? If I can change it, will I actually do that? How?
  2. If the situation does turn out badly, what are the worst REALISTIC effects on me?
  3. Assuming it does turn out badly, what’s my plan? How will I handle that?

Practice using these three questions until they become second nature for you.

For Worry Warts, clarifying values and goals means getting very specific and clear about what you want or who you want to be (e.g. an honest employee; a caring parent) in the situation you’re worried about. This is effective in several ways. First, it provides the additional motivation you’ll need to follow through on the actions you identify for yourself in the psychological relaxation exercise. And, second, because much worry can arise when trying to keep too many options open, clarifying what’s important to you will help to sort through your options, shutting down those that aren’t very worthwhile.

3. Drifters

Recognition Signs
Tend to shotgun their energy across many options

  • In perpetual “mid-life crisis”;
  • Often feel dissatisfied; that life is not “adding up”; or that something is seriously missing in their lives;
  • Doubt their existing goals; don’t buy into anything very deeply;

Two skills best for Drifters:

  • Focus on more self-affirming relationships;
  • Follow up by pinpointing the satisfying experiences you value most in those relationships.

Root Cause
There are two basic types of Drifters. The first, Drifter, dabbles in many pursuits. The other, Drifter, typically has one all-consuming involvement – usually work – within an otherwise quite barren lifestyle.

The Drifter often seems like a walking paradox. By shot gunning their energy across many involvements, trying to keep all their options open, they typically don’t explore or develop any of them in any depth. So, in effect, they often have no personally meaningful, deeply involving options at all. They become a prisoner of their own freedom; that’s the paradox.

The Drifter’s feelings of low vitality come only secondarily from the very considerable amounts of energy (i.e. stress) they spend across the many possibilities in their life. More so, their vitality is low because they are experiencing so little satisfaction in return from their sizable across-the-board stress investments.

The Drifter has usually been the victim of a slow seduction (of their energy), often beginning early in life. In the early days, one activity (usually work, dating or school) provided relatively high levels of satisfaction, security, meaning, etc. for moderate investments of time and energy. Increasing amounts of effort in, and reliance on this activity, of course, were followed with less and less attention to other areas. As life progressed, returns on energy invested gradually reduced, leading the Drifter simply to try harder, with yet fewer outside interests being pursued. It’s only as this downward trend line in satisfaction becomes painfully undeniable that the Drifter will take action to regain more balanced fulfillment.

Focus for Action
Your two top priority skills are developing one or two more self-affirming relationships, and then clarifying your values and goals … in work or personal life. The following synopsis of these two skills-in-action applies equally for both types of Drifter. While their beginning to make committed lifestyle choices based on clarifying their values and goals might seem the obvious starting point in a Drifter’s action plan, our research shows that it isn’t. Most Drifters strongly resist getting clear about what really matters, i.e. about what will give them deeper fulfillment.

Only those Drifters who, as an essential first step, become more fully and actively involved in one or two important relationships actually seem to possess the perseverance and the social support that is required to get them to settle down and then to make some more self-fulfilling choices.

So, the Drifter’s starting point is (a) to seriously recognize the pleasure they get, or used to get, from spending time with a compatible someone [not another Drifter], and then (b) to plan the early steps in their action plan around one or two enjoyable activities that really benefit from having a partner.

A real flesh and blood partner gives both the stimulation and the feedback the Drifter needs in order to realize (a) that some activities are more enjoyable than others and, then (b) that they are going to have to set some priorities and make some action choices if they want this pleasure on a regular basis. Only at this point does clarifying their values and goals become motivating for the Drifter.

4. The Loner

Recognition Signs

  • Difficulty in giving or receiving easy, relaxed closeness or intimate sharing;
  • Feel uncomfortable with others; often masked with a smile;
  • Feel lonely, often unfulfilled in relationships;
  • Feel alone in carrying burdens or worries;
  • Often drop out of or cancel social events at the last minute.

Two skills best for Loners:

  • Clarify what you value and truly enjoy in work or personal life;
  • Cultivate relationships which affirm what you value.

Root Cause
Because they rely so little on others and, therefore, tend to receive less support from others, Loners suffer from “relationship malnutrition”. While the “keep a low profile” emotional habits of Lone Rangers can help to avoid some stress, the supportive quality of our relationships is an even more important resource for reducing stress.

The key driver of stress is high levels of uncertainty – uncertainties about what our options really are, about what we should do, about how well we’re handling things, and about what support we can count on in tough situations. And much of the information and feedback that keeps those uncertainties at a healthy level come from our key relationships at work and in personal life. Loners, in short, tend to carry a much heavier load of stress than their more socially nourished counterparts.

Becoming a Loner is usually a slow, often lifelong process. And, it’s always a self-reinforcing cycle, because (a) relationships form and deepen around the values and interests that two or more people bring to them, and because (b) most of us become clear about our values and interests in the process of relating with others. Therefore many Loners find themselves caught in an ever-deepening Catch-22. In short, most Loners tend to be fuzzy about what activities they really enjoy, so they have less reason to seek out partners for any activities. Having, therefore, few shared experiences; they tend to remain unclear about their real preferences, which just might involve other people. So the next cycle in the Loner’s Catch-22 begins – they become even more likely to remain socially on the fringe.

Focus for Action
You might think that the linchpin solution is simply for the Loner to set about (re-)cultivating one or two close relationships in their family or with friends. It isn’t.

Developing such relationships is, in fact, the second skillful step. The first skill to be honed is to clarify one’s core values and, then, the goals which best express those values. The starting point for Loners is to pinpoint one or two experiences or activities in work or personal life which (a) they know from past experience have provided real satisfaction, and (b) require someone else’s involvement for fullest satisfaction.

Because Loners are often skeptical, or sometimes anxious, about enjoying things with others, it’s important that they get clearly focused on and strongly motivated by the satisfaction they will get from sharing one of their valued experiences. Creating a short-list of “Things I really enjoy doing that would involve someone else” is difficult for many of us, especially for Loners. So, to get started, here are several examples from other recovering Loners:

  • Read the (auto) biography of someone you admire or find interesting, and try to pinpoint what role any of their relationships played in their life. Share what you discover with someone you feel comfortable with;
  • Pick a charity or community activity you think is worthwhile, and volunteer some of your time (not your money) to help out in an activity that involves other people;
  • If you know an elderly person who might be lonely, give them a little of your time and company.

5 & 6. Basket Cases and Cliff Walkers

Recognition Signs (Basket Cases):

  • In constant “energy crisis”
  • Energy often fades by mid-day
  • Frequent aches/pains in muscles or joints
  • Sometimes depressed; feel most activities are too much to do

Recognition Signs (Cliff Walkers):

  • A walking life insurance company “risk factor chart” – high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol misuse, no exercise
  • Believe “It will never happen to me”
  • Usually have a somewhat worn appearance
  • Difficulty sustaining energy

While the secondary Stress Types for Basket Cases and for Cliff Walkers are usually different, I’ve combined these two Types here because the start-up prescriptions for both are very similar.

Two skills best for Basket Cases and Cliff Walkers

  • High Performance Nutrition;
  • Essential Exercise.

Root Causes
Feelings of low energy, more frequent minor illnesses, or aches, pains and other “run down” feelings can arise from a number of interacting sources, including poor nutrition, sleep or cardio-respiratory fitness, as well as from impairment on any of the other four vital factors at the heart of your secondary Stress Type.

For example, a low score on the factors of Control-of-Stress or Worry Control means that you are relying too frequently on the high octane hormones of stress to drive your activities.

If this is habitual, you will also experience longer and longer periods of fatigue because (a) all body systems (e.g. digestive, immune, etc.) function less and less efficiently under chronic high stress; and (b) your body’s self-protective hormones will periodically induce fatigue-like time-outs in order to repair and reverse stress-driven inefficiencies.8p] Alternatively, low scores on the factors of Fulfillment or Personal Relationships can also lead to stress-based fatigue experiences. Low scores on either factor are invariably associated with feelings of frustration, deprivation, and anxious or depressed mood. All these drive the person to “try harder”, to generate more stress until fatigue or illness inevitably set in.

Focus for Action
To regain peak vitality, the action plan for these two Stress Types is usually best pursued in two stages.
First, rebuild a reliable store of energy on tap, focusing on (i) high performance nutrition and then, within two to six weeks, build in (ii) essential exercise to improve cardio-respiratory fitness.

And, then, when both these factors are solidly re-established, you should learn simple energy conservation techniques to protect against future overdrafts on your energy account. Daily take-a-break sessions with a 10-minute autogenic relaxation tape are a vitally important tool for re-programming the body to a more even keel biochemistry. Basket Case and Cliff Walkers’ stress hormones have become locked in at chronically high levels because they rely on adrenaline so frequently to compensate for the inadequate energy they get from (a) their diets and from (b) typically inefficient cardio respiratory systems.

High performance nutrition does not require mega-doses of anything. In fact, such radical solutions almost always fail radically. Rather, it requires consistent practice of the following eight vital guidelines. While none of these guidelines is miraculous, their combined effects on feelings of energy and on resistance to colds, flu etc. are very impressive:

  • Eat a variety
  • Of unprocessed and little processed foods
  • With high nutrient density
  • In moderate amounts
  • During at least three regular meals a day, definitely including breakfast
  • Combined with smart snacking patterns
  • While drinking at least six to eight glasses of fluid daily, with at least four of them being water
  • And taking a broad-based vitamin-mineral supplement.

As you phase in your exercise program, make sure it is realistic and truly motivating for you. Be sure it builds in the “seven S’s”, namely that it targets: stamina; suppleness; strength; stress recovery; self-image; sensory pleasure; and social stimulation.

Now, you’re on your way. While it takes years of self-neglect to become a Basket Case or Cliff Walker, within two months you’ll have all the energy you need to make solid progress on turning around the strain drains coming from your secondary Stress Type.

Next Steps:

As you get to know your Stress Type, and then begin personalizing your stress control, you will discover you now have the most powerful success factor needed in any wellness plan – stronger, more focused motivation. You can now pinpoint your unique vulnerabilities. And, by seeing your stumbling blocks, you become more energized to transform them into stepping stones for action.

Mood Lifters

Not feeling your usual positive self? Try these pick-me-ups:

Re-wire what you say and think. Instead of saying things like, “This day is shot” or “I’m not good at this,” or thinking things like, “This is really a downer” or “I feel terrible,” make a conscious effort to talk and think positively. I can get over this. I can do this, and I feel great. Things are going to work out just fine. It’s amazing how just a few words can make such a big difference.

Play your winners. Winners are things that almost always make you feel good or lift your spirits. At work, keep a photo from a recent vacation or of the car you’re rebuilding or display a craft project or one of your child’s drawings. Other winners include a favorite CD or a book or video that always makes you laugh.

Help others. To help someone else is probably the last thing on our minds when we feel we need help ourselves. But reaching out to someone in need has so many positive emotional benefits. The good feeling that comes from volunteering at a soup kitchen, youth clinic, shelter or other venue can naturally lift sagging spirits.

Step into the light. More people seek help for depression in the winter than in the summer. Many researchers believe it’s because there are fewer daylight hours in the winter. The condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Look for ways to work sunlight into your day just as you would exercise or any other healthy behavior.

Exercise. Exercise releases a chemical in the brain that naturally elevates mood. Athletes sometimes refer to this effect as a “physical high.” Take a brisk walk, shoot some baskets or whatever else you enjoy that your doctor recommends as appropriate for your state of health.

Stay away from alcohol or other drugs. Relying on chemicals to feel better is a common practice. But it doesn’t work. Alcohol or other drugs only cover up painful feelings that may need to be addressed before lasting, positive change can take place.

Ask for help. It isn’t always possible to easily rebound from an emotional down like a relationship breakup or job change. In such

Managing Your Stress in Tough Economic Times

As talk of falling housing prices, rising consumer debt and declining retail sales bring up worries about the nation’s economic health, more Americans feel additional stress and anxiety about their financial future.

Money is often on the minds of most Americans. In fact, money and work are two of the top sources of stress for almost 75 percent of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey. Add to the mix headlines declaring a looming economic recession, and many begin to fear how they can handle any further financial crunch.

But, like most of our everyday stress, this extra tension can be managed. Psychologists first recommend taking pause and not panicking. While there are some unknown effects in every economic downturn, our nation has experienced recessions before. There are also healthy strategies available for managing stress during tough economic times.

The American Psychological Association offers these tips to help deal with your stress about money and the economy:
Pause but don’t panic. There are many negative stories in newspapers and on television about the state of the economy. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, but refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype, which can lead to high levels of anxiety and bad decision making. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.

Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Take stock of your particular financial situation and what causes you stress. Write down specific ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your finances more efficiently. Then commit to a specific plan and review it regularly. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, putting things down on paper and committing to a plan can reduce stress. If you are having trouble paying bills or staying on top of debt, reach out for help by calling your bank, utilities or credit card company.

Recognize how you deal with stress related to money. In tough economic times some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors—if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help from a psychologist or community mental health clinic before the problem gets worse.

Turn these challenging times into opportunities for real growth and change. Times like this, while difficult, can offer opportunities to take stock of your current situation and make needed changes. Think of ways that these economic challenges can motivate you to find healthier ways to deal with stress. Try taking a walk—it’s an inexpensive way to get good exercise. Having dinner at home with your family may not only save you money, but help bring you closer together. Consider learning a new skill. Take a course through your employer or look into low-cost resources in your community that can lead to a better job. The key is to use this time to think outside the box and try new ways of managing your life.

Dealing with Money Stress

The instability of the economy, the banks and the stock market are causing quite a bit of anxiety with many people, and rightfully so. With so many Americans reeling from still-too-high gas prices, instability in the job market, and rampant foreclosures, it seems like there’s no shortage of stressors to contribute to the already-stressful daily lives that many are living. One thing that makes large-scale stressors like this situation especially difficult for many, and something that distinguishes them from the smaller-scale stressors of annoying colleagues, bickering kids or a too-busy to-do list, is that many people feel that they have little control here. These are major changes where individuals may feel that they have little power to alter their own fate.

I wish the stress relief options I have to offer you included a formula to make the situation go away, or perhaps seeds to plant a money tree. Unfortunately, that’s not quite within my grasp, but, as with other stressors, the situation doesn’t need to change for our stress levels to go down. We often can’t control our circumstances as much as we can control our responses to them.

So what I do have to offer are resources for managing the stress that you may be experiencing from financial troubles or other challenges in life. These techniques can help you get through current stress you’re feeling and build your overall resilience toward stress.

Financial Stress Relief Resources:

Quick Fix: Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises rank high on my list of stress relievers for a reason: they’re a quick, easy, do-anywhere method of relieving stress. Try it now; you can relieve tension quickly in your whole body.

Mindfulness Exercises for Stress Relief
While it’s tempting (and, to a point, necessary) to think about all the different difficult things you may face in the future (so you can plan), you also need to take a break from all the stressful thoughts ricocheting around in your head. Mindfulness exercises can really help here. See how they work, and give them a try!

Using Exercise as a Stress Management Tool
Carve out a few minutes for a workout and you’ll see many benefits, not the least of which is a change of scenery and a little distraction. Learn about the other stress relief benefits to exercise, and get moving!

Okay, so they may not be a ‘magic formula’, but these resources can help you make informed decisions, which can help you relieve stress.