We’ve all been there – reaching for the glass of wine after a long stressful day. Or maybe a beer, or a shot, or something similar.

But how did we get here?

The “mommy wine” culture has been on a big tear for the last decade or so. All of those memes online about the size of mom’s wine glass, or the fact that the countdown is on to 5 PM when mom can FINALLY get her glass of wine.

I have to be honest – I hate this culture.

I am not completely anti-alcohol. I will share a drink with a friend once in a while. But I’m pretty close to anti-alcohol. And that has come from years of watching people use alcohol, understanding what alcohol does to us metabolically, and recognizing why people are using alcohol.

Let’s be real honest up front – alcohol does not have a lot of health benefits. I will get people who argue me on this (“wine has a ton of antioxidants!!”), and maybe? But not really. You can get those antioxidants from good quality food. Consuming wine for the benefit of the antioxidants is like going swimming to increase your water intake. Will you expose yourself to more water? Yep. Are there better ways to increase your water intake? Yep.

My other argument about wine from a nutritional angle. Let’s say you’re lost in the desert for 4 days without any food (but somehow you’ve packed water…?). You come stumbling out and right away there is a McDonald’s and a bar in front of you. Your options are either go grab a Big Mac, or go grab a glass of wine/beer/alcohol. Which do you choose?

I am not a fan of McDonald’s by any stretch of the imagination. But in this scenario – you need to go for the Big Mac. It has protein, fat, and carbs that your body badly needs. Not the healthiest form of any of them, let’s be honest, but there is some nutritional benefits in the Big Mac that your desperately exhausted, malnourished body will benefit from.

If you choose the wine, you’re actually further behind than you are ahead. You’ll have a few extra calories to your name, but they’re gone pretty quickly.

I realize how unlikely this scenario is, but I think it makes a point for the nutritional benefits of alcohol. There aren’t any.

So, why do people drink?

This brings me back to the “mommy wine” culture. People drink to reduce stress. Raising tiny humans is very stressful. Raising tiny humans in a pandemic is even more stressful. Virtual schooling tiny humans while you try to either work from home or leave the house to go to your essential job is very high on the list of regular stressful activities that people have to do. And people immediately think – “at least I get to destress at the end of the day with my glass of wine.”

Wine doesn’t “actually” reduce your stress levels. Wine numbs your brain. So you don’t notice the stress as much, and you don’t perceive the stress as much. But I promise you, it’s still there. Stress hormones impact your entire body – your muscles, heart, lungs, and your brain. By drinking alcohol, your brain doesn’t notice these, but I can assure you, they are still there.

As a society, we are not properly taught how to deal with stress. And many of us use thing like alcohol as a coping mechanism. We feel like we’re helping our stress levels go down, so we feel like we’re having an impact. Part of this is the experience of emotion. We are terrified of showing emotion, watching people show emotion, or having to deal with emotions. So we numb out. Alcohol, television, social media – all of these things help us numb away from our stress and not have to deal with it.

But the stress and the stress hormones are still there, doing their thing in your body. Just because you aren’t noticing it, doesn’t mean it’s gone.

So – what do we do about it? It’s a complicated answer because it means more than just “not drinking alcohol to relieve stress.” We actually have to learn how to recognize our stress. How to face our stress. And how to relieve our stress.

The best way to do that is through movement. Physically moving your body. This helps your body get rid of stress hormones. That doesn’t mean you need to do a crazy workout. It might mean that you scream into a pillow. Or go throw some things around outside. Move, jump, run, walk. Even a really great cry can help you relieve a TON of stress.

We also need to recognize our emotions and experience them. It’s OK (and totally normal) to be sad or mad or frustrated right now. And if you take the time to experience it, I promise – it will pass. We obviously don’t want to direct our negative emotions at people, but it’s perfectly healthy for your kids to see you cry. Or run or jump or scream. It’s actually great for them, because it lets them see that you have emotions, and sometimes you need to let those emotions out. Bring your whole family outside and everyone see how loud they can yell. Not at each other, just outside in general. I guarantee it’ll turn into laughter and fun. And you’ll have moved through whatever the negative emotion was.

Oh, and THE BIGGEST ways to keep stress at a healthy level in your body is a) a good night’s sleep, b) moving every day, c) eating healthy food, and d) finding connection with people you love. Alcohol impacts 3 of 4 of those (maybe all 4 if you consume too much). If you can skip the alcohol, you’ll have a better sleep at night, which is going to be so much better for your health (mental and physical) in the long run.

If you enjoy a glass of wine – the taste, the feeling, etc., that’s perfectly OK. You’re allowed to enjoy a glass of wine or a drink (although definitely in moderation). To consume alcohol in the best possible way, recognize why you are reaching for a drink. Is it because you’re stressed out? Or is it because you’re getting together with a friend and want to share something with them. Or because you’re on a date night with your partner and want to enjoy something you like. If you’re reaching for it because you’re stressed, try something physical first – exercise, moving, hitting a pillow, really anything. And then see how you feel. By the time you do that, you might not need the alcohol anymore.

So, enjoy that glass of wine! But make sure it’s in the right way. And deal with that stress, because I know those levels are higher than they should be. For those of us who are continuously taking care of people, they always are.

Elizabeth Brothers Health