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Why This M.D. Says Wine Can Worsen Anxiety (And What To Try At Night Instead)

December 1, 2017

You’ve had a long day, and you’re stressed and frazzled from work, kids, your partner—life! You can’t wait to get home and pour a glass of red wine, kick up your feet and relax. Thank goodness all the latest news about red wine boasts its antioxidants and its potential memory-protecting and anti-aging properties. And what’s more relaxing than a beautiful glass of jewel-colored deliciousness?

Sorry to cork your wine, but I’ve got some not-so-relaxing news—wine can actually exacerbate stress and anxiety and disrupt sleep, especially if you are already someone who suffers from being a bit tightly wound. And seriously, if you ever suffered from anxiety, you know how debilitating the condition can be—and common. Over 30 percent1 of people will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Plus, it occurs nearly twice as often in women.

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Here's how wine can contribute to anxiety:

It can throw your body chemistry off balance.

Any sort of alcohol changes the levels of serotonin, other neurotransmitters, and other hormones in your brain and body, which can worsen anxiety. While one glass may feel relaxing, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which can cause a rebound effect when it wears off, which can last for several hours and up to an entire day after imbibing.

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It can spark hot flashes and night sweats.

When your body is thrown off kilter, it goes to work to get you back into balance. If you are perimenopausal or menopausal, your body can miss the mark when striving for balance. When you have a glass of wine, your body reads it as a sugar, which causes a spike in insulin to handle the increase in blood sugar, which disrupts other hormones including estrogen and progesterone. This means that in an attempt to reach equilibrium, your body can try too hard and overcompensate, which can cause hot flashes and night sweats.

It can disrupt sleep.

When your body is out of its normal state of homeostasis, it can’t relax. So, while you might swear that a glass of wine helps you to drift effortlessly off to bed—and it may be true—it is equally true that the reason you wake up a few hours later is because the sedating effects wear off, and you are left with the aftermath of a body trying to get back into balance. Not sleeping well can cause—you guessed it—more anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

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It's a slippery slope.

Even if you’ve never had issues with alcohol, you may still have some addictive characteristics (most of us do) that can lead you to overdo it in other areas of your life. Think sweets and/or salty snacks, shopping at the outlets or online, bingeing on Netflix or other recorded shows, and all the many other addictions our 24/7 lifestyles offer us. Consider also that anxiety issues and alcohol abuse seem to go hand in hand; if you have one, you are more likely to find yourself in trouble with the other.

While anxiety is more likely to happen among women, the results that work best for you depend on your unique mental, emotional, and physical makeup and also what your lifestyle is like and many other factors. You can find out more about your distinctive needs in my book Super Woman Rx, as well as tons of stress- and anxiety-relieving strategies.

A better strategy for busting anxiety in the evening:

Here are some of my favorite alcohol-free evening relaxation techniques. You can pick and choose what seems doable, or do the whole list in order for the perfect evening relaxation routine!

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1. Shut off screens.

I’ll get the hardest one out of the way first…I highly recommend having a time in the evening when you shut off anything that has a screen. I try to do this! This includes any beeping, vibrating, or buzzing that goes along with said gadget. I recommend a solid hour at minimum, and three hours before bed being ideal.

2. Power up a diffuser.

Soothing scents such as lavender, vanilla, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, bergamot, and chamomile are known for their relaxing and calming effects. You can also dab some of these essential oils on your wrists to take the scent with you wherever you go.

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3. Have a healthy nightcap.

My whole family loves to have this warming golden milk that is full of natural anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral components from turmeric, ginger, cloves, and honey. You can make it dairy-free with almond or coconut milk. This is not only relaxing to your digestive system, it also strengthens your immune system.

4. Don't forget to breathe.

It sounds so simple, but most of us don’t partake of this powerful, and always available, stress-relieving tool. Instead, the majority of people I meet tend to breathe shallowly. When you take slow and full inhalations and exhalations, it increases blood circulation, and better transports the nutrients and chemicals to all the many important areas of your body and brain, which maintains overall balance. I love to use Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath technique. I like to do this either in a chair or seated on the floor. Simply inhale for a count of 4, hold the breath for 7 counts, and then exhale for a count of 8. Do this cycle 3 or 4 times.

5. Be thankful on paper.

A gratitude list never fails to take me down a few notches. You may have had a rotten day, but I bet you can still find at least 10 things every day that you are thankful for—a working fridge, a soft blanket, the smile someone shared, those deep breaths you just got done taking, your pulse. We don’t need science to tell us that gratitude goes a long way for a positive, less-anxious state-of-mind!

If you want to wind down with a soothing cup of tea, try one of these tried and tested versions.

Taz Bhatia, M.D.
Taz Bhatia, M.D.

Dr. Taz Bhatia is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She attended Emory University, the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia, and was a recipient of the Emily Gardner Award for Best Pediatric Resident in 2000. She is the author of the Superwoman RX and The 21-Day Belly Fix. Personal health challenges in her twenties combined with a broken health care system motivated Bhatia to pursue an alternative definition of health and healthy living. As a young resident, she was sick and without answers, and began searching for help to heal her health issues. Studying various systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda, she found a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. It led her to opening her now nationally-recognized practice, CentreSpring MD (formerly Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine). Today, Bhatia and her team work relentlessly to find a patient’s core health problems, their centre, in order to spring them forth in health, pulling from multiple systems of medicine, including integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine.

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