“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti. He's nervous…”
Sound familiar? And no, we’re not talking about Eminem’s Lose Yourself, the soundtrack to the 2002 film, 8 Mile. We’re referring to hangover anxiety. You know, the psychological symptoms experienced after a night on the booze.
Anxiety is a common hangover symptom, so common that it has even been awarded its very own word in modern dictionaries: hangxiety.
What is hangover anxiety?
Hangover anxiety is a symptom of drinking too much alcohol. One where the victim suffers from feelings of worry, nervousness, shame, and/or unease, and sometimes even panic attacks. Depending on the person, hangover anxiety can range from fleeting doubts about the night before to crippling fear and overwhelm. However, whilst the manifestation is largely psychological, hangxiety can stem from both physiological and psychological triggers.
Why does hangxiety happen?
The problem with hangover anxiety is that it can be caused by numerous factors. Nevertheless, as you will discover, the majority of these factors can be attributed to alcohol.
1. Alcohol withdrawal: brain chemical imbalance and emotional comedown
Whilst drinking, the GABA receptor (responsible for calming the brain) is stimulated and glutamate (the main excitatory neurotransmitter) is suppressed. In other words, alcohol helps to induce a state of chill. But eventually, your body responds to these chemical imbalances and, once alcohol withdrawal kicks in, you wake up with significantly lower GABA function and a spike in glutamate, ultimately leading to hangover anxiety - what fun!
In addition, alcohol triggers the release of endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ chemicals that are produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. Hangover anxiety can be caused by the inevitable comedown.
According to Dr George F. Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): “I think of a hangover as, more or less, a mini-withdrawal from alcohol, and anxiety is one of the components.”
As if the pounding hangover headache wasn’t bad enough, alcohol-related dehydration has also been linked to anxiety and mood changes.
3. Alcohol intolerance
Many of the physical manifestations of hangover anxiety can be attributed to alcohol intolerance, occasionally referred to as an alcohol allergy. For example, the racing heart, nausea, flushed skin, and even the psychological feeling of anxiety itself can all be symptoms of an intolerance to booze.
4. Social anxiety and regret
Thanks to reduced inhibitions, we can all end up saying and doing things we wouldn’t usually do whilst sober. This means that we can look back at what happened last night and feel embarrassed, experience harsh stings of regret, or even not remember what we did at all! What’s more, if you already suffer from social anxiety, this can be exacerbated by the hangover.
5. Lack of sleep
Anxiety has long been associated with a lack of sleep. Not only can worry and unreasonable fear make it more difficult to fall asleep in the first place, but the subsequent sleep deprivation can also worsen the anxiety. It’s a perpetual cycle. If you’ve read our blog on Why Should You Try Alcohol-Free (11 Benefits), then you’ll know that the metabolism of alcohol can lead to impaired sleep homeostasis and thus heighten feelings of hangxiety.
How do I get rid of hangxiety?
Whilst it can be tempting to pull out your yoga mat and downward dog your way out of anxiety, the reality is that your other hangover symptoms will probably prevent you from doing so, or make things worse! Therefore, you may wish to try some lighter breathing exercises or gentle meditation.
We’d also recommend eating healthily and rehydrating to replenish your body with its missing nutrients and precious H20. Resting and taking it easy will also help to reduce hangxiety. Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s easy to get carried away and focus on the awful things we did last night but the probability is that no one else remembers it anyway!
How do I stop hangover anxiety from happening again?
We know it can be tempting to never drink again but it’s not always necessary to cut out the booze completely. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of experiencing hangover anxiety:
1. Alcohol moderation
It’s possible to manage hangxiety by drinking in moderation. Of course, this can be easier said than done, which is why we’ve put together some useful tips on How to Moderate Your Drinking. *Spoiler alert* drinking low and non-alcoholic drinks is a fantastic approach to cutting down on the booze and thus mitigating hangover anxiety.
2. Look after your mental health
The number one priority? You.
That’s why it’s important to look after your mental health and make sure you get the support you need. If you find yourself frequently experiencing anxiety after drinking, it might be time to seek medical help. Breaking the cycle can be challenging, which is why there are organisations such as Alcohol Change UK to provide us with support and resources.
Challenge Yourself to Dry January
Does stopping drinking improve mental health? Well, according to this Canadian study, it can. Good mental health can come from the confidence you build up each time you make it through an uncomfortable situation without ‘coping mechanisms’ such as booze. So why not give Dry January a go in 2022 and push yourself outside your comfort zone?