Property Minds Matter | Dry January – does it help?

Anyone who knows me will know that I enjoy a pint of Guinness from time to time. In common with many others in the property industry, I am happy to celebrate, commiserate or simply socialise with the best of them – or at least I was, writes Alan Burke.

On the face of it alcohol is a great relaxant, perfect for smoothing the edges of a bad day, erasing the memory of a bad week. It is a great leveller allowing colleagues to cement professional relationships and it provides the stimulus for many a team building session. It fuels a good celebratory party and is a very effective way of making us feel good – for a matter of hours that is.

I like alcohol for all of these reasons.

I have also, over recent years, come to learn a lot more about the relationship between alcohol and anxiety/depression.

There are many published studies that prove this link. It seems that we can either drink too much, which makes us prone to feeling anxious and/or depressed. Or, we drink in an attempt to relieve anxiety and/or depression. Either way we lose.

Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression. Excessive alcohol intake often makes us feel anxious, jittery and guilty as well as physically awful. This starts a spiral of decline in our mental health as we become very self-critical and over-emotional. That is certainly my experience, particularly as I get older and seemingly less able to shake off the detrimental impacts of a good night out.

I used to believe that I was immune to many of alcohol’s side effects and could “hold my drink”. Indeed, I prided myself on being first to the bar, and often last to leave it. People tell me it’s hard to determine whether I am drunk or sober.

However, since I started to seriously address and improve my own mental health I have come to terms with the part excessive alcohol intake has to play in triggering depressive episodes.

While it is perfectly possible to find any number of seasoned drinkers apparently unaffected by the depressive side effects of excessive drinking, it is much more common, in my experience, to come across those who are constantly battling in a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with alcohol and its potential impacts on the mind as well as the body.

I can only give my personal perspective based on a mental health diary that I have kept now for over two years on the advice of my GP, psychologist and others in the mental health profession. The pattern is startlingly clear.

If I am stressed, anxious or worried and choose to try and self-medicate by excessive alcohol consumption things only get worse for me. Likewise, if I “over-do” social or professional occasions, particularly at a time when I might have underlying stress or worry, things only get worse.

It has taken me many years but I have finally realised that moderating and managing my alcohol intake much more stringently is a key “self help” measure that I can take to alleviate potential depressive episodes in my life. I now understand that if there are any aspects of my illness that can be addressed by measures which are within my control (and there are plenty that aren’t), then I am duty-bound to take the appropriate remedial measures. For me avoiding excessive alcohol consumption wherever possible is an easy win.

I do not have the willpower to cut out alcohol all together. Neither, if I am honest, do I want to do that. But I do take part in “Dry January” every year.  As well as allowing me to avoid one self-inflicted potential trigger for my depression during a dark winter month it has numerous added benefits: a) keeping my GP a little happier, b) proving to myself that I am able to abstain at times of my choosing, c) helping my battle with weight so that I might be able to more successfully cycle with my friends, rather than half a mile behind the peloton.

Perhaps most importantly, applying this discipline makes me feel better about myself, and at the end of the day, that feeling is worth at least a few pints of Guinness.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain only increases the burden” – C.S. Lewis

Property Minds Matter is a series of articles in which Alan Burke explores mental health in the property sector and how it can be improved, based on his own experience and struggles during 30 years in the industry.

Alan is a surveyor and former development director who has specialised in the identification and delivery of major projects and urban regeneration initiatives over a 30-year period. He’s worked for PwC, the Homes & Communities Agency, Langtree, Bruntwood, and Ask Real Estate. He now runs his own consulting business which offers property, regeneration, development and funding advice to clients in both the public and private sectors, and is also a mental health ambassador for Lionheart, the charity for RICS professionals.

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