Ben Claassen III (For Express)
Express Advice Columnist

Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.

Q. How do you know when frequent drinking is too much? My girlfriend is never sloppy drunk, but she NEEDS her wine at the end of each day. In the past, I viewed it as just part of a ritual with dinner, trying to be all European-mindset about it. But lately she’s antsy without it, and it’s the first thing she goes to after work. I don’t want to raise any needless alarm bells by talking to her until I know it’s a real issue.

I think you can talk about this to her without sounding a full-scale Substance Abuse Alarm, and your opening is the antsiness. Why not bring that up for its own sake? After all, if she is feeling tense and uneasy after work, that’s a problem regardless. If it’s about alcohol, it most definitely needs to be brought up — worry about alarms be darned. But it could also be about anxiety, work stress, physical health issues or any number of things, in which case it’s worth bringing up as well. Some version of “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed on edge lately. Are you doing all right? I want to listen” can get the conversation going. And then you can gradually make the connection that whatever the problem is, there are likely more helpful ways of addressing it than with a glass of cabernet.

I’d talk to them ... if I could speak

Q. I am very intimidated by certain people, like one co-worker and someone in a group of people I often have lunch with. I get it in my head that they are so much smarter, more skilled or more interesting than me, and I have a hard time relating to them even though I like them very much. I end up putting these people on a pedestal and lose my confidence around them. Although I would be interested in talking to them the most, I talk to them the least because of how intimidated I am.

This is a particular flavor of social anxiety, with a side of platonic crush. It can be eased just like social anxiety in general can — by nudging yourself through reasonable exposures that eventually help you relax through interactions. Think of it as Systematic Desensitization Lite, Workplace Idol Version. Make a goal each day or each lunch hour: to ask one question of Mr./Ms. Intimidating, share one story with the whole group that particularly applies to that person, make a bit more eye contact, take some grounding breaths, or connect more deeply with the group as a whole. As long as you push yourself gradually and steadily, your brain will indeed grow more comfortable with the interactions. You can also work cognitively to knock these people off their pedestals (not cruelly, of course) and just let them be real humans. Stop comparing your real self to their idealized one: No doubt they get stomach viruses, say occasional stupid things and lose their car keys just like the rest of us do.

Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at baggage@wpost.com. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.

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