Using alcohol to relax may help you in the short term, but there are alternatives for relaxation that may be more long lasting.

Alcohol consumption is widely marketed by our culture as a way to unwind from a long day at work and calm your nerves. Alcohol consumption remains a socially acceptable outlet for you to relax.

Still, one should be careful about common myths and misconceptions on alcohol use.

Alcohol doesn’t have to be your only option for stress relief. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism can have short- and long-term negative impacts in many areas of your life. It may help to explore some alternative options for stress relief.

Alcohol may help you relax in the short term. It is a depressant that sedates your central nervous system and slows your brain’s ability to process information.

It alters the neurotransmitters in your brain, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which signals your body that you’re relaxed. It also reduces energy levels and slows down your motor functions, speech, and executive functioning.

Alcohol affects the pleasure and reward system within your brain by increasing dopamine levels, making you believe you feel great. However, this feeling of elation only lasts a few hours.

Many people report negative physical and emotional side effects after drinking alcohol. Routinely drinking large amounts of alcohol may be a sign of alcohol use disorder — which can come with a host of side effects.

Alcohol use disorder may impact your productivity at work, increase tension in relationships, or disrupt your emotional life. It may increase blood pressure and increase your risk of developing cancer, liver disease, and stroke.

If you find yourself drinking high quantities of alcohol often, you may feel the following symptoms:

  • trouble sleeping
  • shakiness
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • restlessness
  • nausea
  • sweating

To avoid these feelings, you may feel the need to keep drinking more to delay the unpleasant side effects. While drinking can increase your feelings of relaxation, these consistent side effects can have serious implications for your mental and physical well-being.

Alcohol’s use as a relaxant boasts a long history, but other outlets prove healthier and more relaxing in the long term. People have turned to alcohol to relax because it’s been a conditioned response to stress for thousands of years. Some research suggests that the earliest existence of alcohol was from 7000 to 6600 B.C. China.

Simply, alcohol helps you relax in the short term, but long-term use comes with many risks and potentially negative outcomes. There are better ways to relax than drinking alcohol.

We all handle stress differently. Luckily, there are many ways to relax without incorporating alcohol into your routine.

1. Spend time in nature

It’s no surprise that fresh air and sunshine can boost your mood.

Research from 2020 suggests that taking a walk outdoors can reduce your stress levels and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Wandering in the wilderness and taking in the scenery are great ways to decompress and find energy during a draining time.

If you’re stuck at work or can’t get away to take advantage of a clear sky or calm breeze, consider streaming nature sounds. You could try listening to sound recordings of nature including:

  • running water
  • chirping birds
  • rain showers
  • gentle breezes
  • rainforest sounds
  • ocean tides

You can find these recordings on platforms like YouTube, Pandora, or Spotify. You can find channels with hours of content to help you unwind or even sleep.

These immersive soundscapes can make your walk around your neighborhood more immersive, giving you more mental space to connect with yourself and reduce your stress.

2. Meditation and breathing techniques

Meditation is also a great strategy for managing stress. During meditation, you can use chants, mantras, or breathing techniques to focus your mind and reduce the feeling of stress in your everyday life.

Breathing techniques, specifically focusing on deep breaths, can help calm your nerves and bring you a sense of emotional balance.

At first, it may seem difficult to let go and be in the moment. Don’t be discouraged — meditation takes time and patience to get used to.

You can find information on mindfulness meditation all over the internet. You may have local meditation centers in your area. Also, the apps Calm and Headspace can be conveniently downloaded onto your phone and give you access to guided meditation any time you need.

3. Yoga

Yoga has been around for centuries. First developed by monks in India over 5,000 years ago as a spiritual exercise to connect your mind and body, yoga has been adopted all over the world as an exercise to help you relax and relieve anxiety.

Yoga incorporates breathing with gentle movements in a ”flow” that works your body yet quiets your mind.

There are many styles of yoga including Ashtanga, Bikram, Kundalini, and restorative yoga. Additional benefits of yoga include increased muscle strength and tone, improved sleep, and increased flexibility.

4. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the ancient practice of using natural plant extracts — mostly oils — to improve your health and well-being. When you inhale plant oils like lavender or chamomile, you may find a sense of calmness and relaxation.

Popular methods of inhalation include through diffusers, inhalers, bathing salts, topical creams, and lotions. To use bathing salts, place them into bath water and gently inhale the scents that are emitted from the water.

If you would like to explore aromatherapy, it’s important to first check with a doctor. If misused, essential oils may produce side effects or worsen some health conditions.

5. Creative hobbies

Taking time to enjoy hobbies remains a great way to relax and unwind. Hobbies can be anything from reading a book and gardening to painting and shaping pottery.

Hobbies can take your mind off your daily stressors, allowing you to enjoy the small things in life. If you need some inspiration or are looking to add to your list of hobbies, consider knitting, reading, writing, or whittling.

Anything that sounds appealing to you can be a relaxing hobby.

Alcohol doesn’t have to be your stress cure. In fact, it may make your life more stressful in time. There are many other options, so it can pay to be patient when finding what works best for you.

And you may just find a new hobby or passion that you never thought you’d love.

If you or your partner or friend feels stuck using alcohol to relieve stress, talking about it is the first step.

If you’re struggling to incorporate different relaxation techniques into your routine instead of alcohol, consider joining a support group. Groups are a great way to find support and can offer additional information and advice from personal experience.

You can reach out to a qualified therapist if you’re having trouble transitioning out of alcohol use. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you reshape your response to stressful events and thoughts — reducing your need to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

If you feel your drinking has become more than a habit and has started to impact your family, job, or health, SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides free, confidential, and immediate support. They can help you find a local treatment center or provider to get the care you need.

Finally, Alcoholics Anonymous has meetings daily throughout the country. They also provide online meetings where you can work with a sponsor.

While alcohol can relax you on occasion, you’ll likely find more lasting peace and relaxation in other hobbies, exercises, or therapeutic practices.