Happy holidays! Whatever you celebrate, I hope that your holiday season is joyful and filled with good friends, enjoyable family, yummy food and lovely events to attend.
As I assist clients with navigating the often tricky business of family, holiday expectations and end of year work concerns, I often hear about an uptick in drinking. My clients talk about either needing a little stress relief, or say they are leaning on alcohol to help make social or family events easier to manage. However tough your Uncle Frank is to listen to at the dinner table, or how stressful navigating office politics, there is a problem with this strategy. You see, alcohol is actually a depressant and can make things harder in the long term, even if they help make that family gathering/office holiday party an easier experience in the moment.
The rebound depressant effect of alcohol was first brought to my attention by my fabulous high school guidance counselor. (I actually still exchange holiday cards with him, some 30 years later, how cool!). Tom sat down several of us in my peer group and observed that we often had difficult Mondays and Tuesdays. He challenged us to notice that our difficult start to the week might have something to do with our partying over the weekend. It was a pretty effective approach: instead of being another adult who would just tell us not to do something, he asked us to look at our behavior and become like detectives. How often when we were drinking the weekend before did we feel mentally lousy a few days later? A lot! was the answer. (Now for those of you wondering why we were drinking underage in the first place, that is another issue for another day).
Turns out that, despite it lifting us up in the moment, alcohol has an overall depressant effect in our brains and bodies. It seems kind of wild, but the depressant effect of alcohol often waits to make an appearance until 48 to 72 hours after overconsuming. Now this does not typically occur for the person who is sensibly drinking (full stomach, only 1-3 drinks total), but will very predictably occur for folks who are over drinking, binge drinking, mixing alcohols (shots plus beer, wine plus cocktails), or drinking on an empty stomach.
Here’s what to look for: check out your mood after your next hard party weekend on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Look for heightened anxiety levels, feelings of doom and gloom, a general feeling of malaise, pessimism or just a “down” feeling emotionally in your world. These feelings often get blamed on stress or work or other issues, but, if you look closely, they are often actually just a negative side effect of too much booze a few days before. Try an experiment: Decrease the alcohol and see if the negative feelings a few days later also decrease. I bet you will like the results of this experiment.