We’re often encouraged to have a few drinks to loosen up and overcome anxiety.

Whether it’s to help us get in the mood at a party, or pluck up the courage to talk to that guy or girl, the message we often hear is: alcohol will help.

When I first quit drinking, the idea of socialising sober seemed unthinkable! I’m a pretty shy person and I used to rely on booze to get me through those situations.

So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that ditching alcohol actually reduced my anxiety. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But when you look at the science around this, it’s not actually all that surprising. Here’s why:

 

Science shows alcohol increases anxiety

What if the drug you rely on to calm your nerves actually made them worse? This study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine shows that long-term drinking can increase our susceptibility to anxiety problems.

These findings tally with my own experience and that of my students. As a drinker, I was a lot more anxious in general, but I’d see a massive spike in my anxiety the morning after a big drinking session. I think the cool kids call this ‘hangxiety’. It was pretty horrible.

 

Over time you’ll need more and more

Tolerance is not your friend. If you’re convinced that alcohol puts you at ease, you need to be aware that over time, alcohol will stop working so well. Your body will build up a tolerance to booze, so you’ll need to drink more and more to feel any effect.

 

Alcohol never treats the problem

If your children felt too nervous to join in with the other kids at a party, would you give them a drug in order to help them conquer their nerves? I doubt it. You’d want them to figure out how to socialise on their own.

You’re in the same situation here. Drinking isn’t treating your anxiety – it’s just masking it for a while. That means you’re not getting the opportunity to grow your sober muscles and discover what the real you is capable of.

 

Tips for dealing with social anxiety, sober:

 

Flip your perspective

Rather than seeing parties or events as challenges that need to be avoided, try and view them as something to push through and rise up against. It’s like building muscle at the gym – you have to do the work and put some effort in if you want to get stronger.

 

Make a commitment to show up and give it your all

Promise yourself that you’ll listen, ask questions and be fully present. This makes you so much more interesting than the drunk person who just talks and talks and isn’t having a two way conversation.

View everything as an experiment – you’re simply on a fact-finding mission. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to show up and see what happens.

 

Celebrate and review afterwards

Observe how things felt. If it was a lot easier to make small talk than you imagined, you’ll want to acknowledge that – don’t gloss over it! So often the beliefs and stories we have about ourselves just aren’t true.

No matter how the event goes, celebrate with an amazing sober treat afterwards. You showed up and pushed yourself outside your comfort zone, and that means you are AWESOME! 🙌

 

What are your tips for overcoming anxiety and socialising sober?

I’d love to hear what works for you. Let me know in the comments!

 

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