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Is Alcohol Helping You Regulate Your Nervous System?

One of the top wellness trends of 2024 is the nervous system regulation. We're seeing that the wellness space is starting to shift away from intense changes to our health, and more toward softer ways to support health.

In other words, high intensity workouts are OUT and yoga is IN.

But have you ever thought much about how alcohol affects your nervous system?

Sure, alcohol seems to lower stress, but what's actually happening to our nervous system when we chronically consume alcohol?

Let's start by defining the nervous system.

The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that travel all throughout the body. But nervous system regulation is about how your body responds to stressors and moves between different states of rest and arousal.

For example...that feeling you get when you're nervous... that's your nervous system going into hyperdrive.

But what happens when our body is in a frequent state of stress or hyper arousal?

We all know that stress is harmful to health. It drives inflammation, contributes to hormone imbalances, messes with our sleep, disrupts our gut health and so much more. We live in a world where we're always "ON" and stress is often unavoidable.

So, what if alcohol cravings are just cravings for a regulated nervous system?

Follow me for a moment…

You’ve had a long day….

It all started as soon as your eyes opened and you instantly felt a flood of stress from your looming to-do list.

You hopped out of bed, made yourself a pot of coffee, raced out of the house and to the office.

You spent the whole day stressed over all of your tasks, and even while you felt stressed all day… you hardly feel like you made a dent in your list. You realize you skipped breakfast, and raced out of the house so quickly that you didn’t bring lunch. You grab a sandwich or a fast option and eat at your desk.

Your boss messaged you with a stressful new project, due…. tomorrow.

You stare at the clock until 5pm before you start the trek home for dinner, chores, family time, laundry or other tasks.

By the time you arrive, you’ve already mentally poured yourself the drink and when you walk in the door the bottle is irresistible. (By the way, research shows that even the thought of a drink will increase cravings for alcohol).

Ugh… of course by the end of the day you’re looking for some relief — you spent the whole day in a state of chaos!

What if… instead of drinking alcohol, we started to build a list of resources for regulating our nervous system (that actually works).

While it might feel like alcohol helps relieve your stress, studies show that alcohol makes stress worse. It increases cortisol levels over time, which can actually influence future drinking behavior. This can keep us stuck in the alcohol-stress cycle. See the graphic below.

When we’re caught in the cycle it can be hard to escape, but trust me that once you pull yourself out with other tools for regulating the nervous system, its easier to stay in a healthier pattern.

Here is a list of ways to regulate your nervous system (that aren't alcohol):

  • Exercise or movement
  • Going for a walk
  • Getting sunshine, especially morning sunlight on the face
  • Meditation
  • EFT (Tapping)
  • Spending time outdoors/in nature
  • Self-care
  • Having a high-protein snack
  • Try adding supplements:
    • Magnesium
    • GABA/L-theanine
    • Herbs, like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola

 

 

 

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