From hangover anxiety to wellness anxiety… and everything in between
From anxiety-riddled hangover days to mindful moderation and steady mental health. Read Club Soda member Rosie’s story below.
How mindful drinking helped me to find balance and manage my mental health
It’s safe to say that in my late teens and early 20s, I was full of anxiety. Like most people that age, I worried constantly about the future and struggled to make sense of adulthood. To escape the pressures that came with looming university deadlines, Tinder dating and job hunting, I drank and partied. A lot.
While it temporarily helped me to forget my troubles, I always felt 10 times worse the next day. Not least because I was also suffering from chronic anxiety which, as any medical professional will tell you, does not mix well with booze.
I remember clearly the first time I had a panic attack the day after drinking. I was away at university and on the phone to my mum when suddenly my heart rate rose through the roof, and I struggled to breathe. For a moment, I was convinced that I was going to die but thankfully my mum helped calm me down.
Perhaps even scarier than the panic attack was the all-encompassing anxiety that shrouded me for days afterward. I couldn’t shake the sense that something terrible was about to happen, and a permanent tightness gripped my chest. Somehow I struggled through lectures and society meetings, feeling only half present in whatever I was doing.
The experience had shaken me up, but not enough to stop me from drinking. Almost as soon as the anxiety had lifted, I texted a friend to arrange our next night out. From then on the anxiety that accompanied my hangovers became a near-weekly occurrence. I desperately wanted to do something about it but as my social life revolved around drinking, cutting down never felt like an option.
Joining the wellness brigade
Flash forward a couple of years and I went the total opposite way, embarking on a ‘wellness’ drive. This was inspired partly by my desire for better mental health but mainly by the bodies of the impossibly perfect fitness bloggers I followed on Instagram. As part of this restrictive new lifestyle, I cut out alcohol on the basis that it made me feel anxious (although it was more to do with achieving my body ‘goals’).
For a while my mental health improved – I certainly didn’t miss the panic attacks and the heart palpitations that came with a hangover. But I also missed out on dinners with friends, nights out and socialising with work colleagues. I was so afraid to drink that I started to avoid any situation avoiding alcohol altogether. Over time I grew increasingly lonely, unhappy and, well, even more anxious.
With the help of a brilliant therapist, I started to let go of the restrictions in my life and find more balance overall. I realised I didn’t want to be the girl who always left the night out early but I also didn’t want to go back to the cycle of heavy drinking and crippling hangovers from my early 20s. I wondered if I could reach a happy medium instead.
The ‘lightbulb’ moment came when I discovered Club Soda and the concept of Mindful Drinking – it was the moderate approach I had been looking for all along. I loved that it involved no hard and fast rules or restriction, but would give me a solid grounding to avoid falling back into my old ways. For the first time, I felt hopeful that I could achieve a balanced relationship with alcohol.
Bit by bit I started rebuilding my social life, using the Mindful Drinking resources on Club Soda as a guide. It wasn’t easy to begin with – the first few times I drank, I worried that it would trigger my anxiety and wrestled with a nasty guilty feeling the next day. I still had to push myself to say ‘yes’ to nights out and stay longer than I would normally choose to.
Likewise, not everyone understood as moderate drinking was still a pretty new concept among 20-somethings. A few people tried to encourage me to drink, while interestingly others projected their own insecurities around alcohol onto me. In the early days, I often turned to other Club Soda members to help me make sense of what I was doing and for moral support.
After a while though, Mindful Drinking became the new normal for me. With practice, I learnt that assessing my mental health and motivation was key to deciding whether to drink. On days when my anxiety was low, I could enjoy a few drinks and feel fine. By contrast, I knew that if I’d been having a tough time, it was better not to drink at all. Nowadays, I swear by this approach – and Mindful Drinking has given me the words and confidence to say, “I’m not drinking tonight because I’m not feeling great”.
Thanks to Mindful Drinking I no longer feel left out in social situations or anxious beforehand, while the boozy highs of Saturday nights and hungover lows of Sunday mornings are a thing of the past. It doesn’t take much to ask myself, “How am I feeling about this?” before reaching for a drink, but it makes all the difference to my mental health.