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Why you get more anxious when youre hungover
"Hangxiety" is the surge of anxiety you feel after a night of drinking.
- If you've ever woken up after a night of drinking and felt a surge of anxiety, you've experienced "hangxiety."
- Though it has a cute name, hangover anxiety is anythingbutcute, resulting in distressing physical and mental symptoms that can happen to anyone, even those who don't normally struggle with anxiety.
- INSIDER talked to a psychologist who explained why anxiety spikes when we're hungover and how we can minimize these awful feelings.
There are certainly no shortage of ways to deal with a hangover, especially since many of us can relate to the telltale headaches, digestive woes, and fuzzy memories of a night spent enjoying one too many cocktails. But one surprising post-drinking side effect is a phenomenon known as "hangover anxiety," also known as "hangxiety," in which you feel elevated signs of anxiety after consuming alcoholic beverages.
Sure, it's a cute name, but if you've ever experienced it, you know it'snota cute feeling. You wake up with an awful pit in your stomach, frantically checking your phone to scope out the damage. Did you text an ex or upload an embarrassing photo to Instagram? Or worse, call your boss in a drunken fury to let him know how you really feel about the feedback he gave on your last project?
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, and she explained why a fun night out can turn into a mess of nerves, worry, and stress once your buzz wears off and you're fighting those post-drinking blues.
Dr. Henderson said that every person responds to alcohol differently, but hangover anxiety can actually happen in anyone, even those that aren't diagnosed with a clinicalanxietydisorder.
It's pretty common.
It's also surprisingly common, even if it doesn't feel so great in the moment.
She told INSIDER that consuming alcohol can cause a physiological response in our bodies, and it doesn't even need to happen after you've sobered up. She said, "Alcohol can start to impact anxiety as soon as you start consuming it. Alcohol impacts the level of serotonin in our brain, which is the chemical that regulates mood and can cause feelings of anxiety and depression."
Aparna Iyer, M.D., a psychiatrist and assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explained to SELF in 2019 that the buzz of alcohol causes a flood of dopamine to our brains, but it's that dopamine rush (and the eventual comedown as your levels regulate) that affects our moods.
Dr. Iyer told the magazine that, in turn, our feelings "can range from panic to feeling depressed to feeling impulsive to feeling agitated and irritable."
But since many people enjoy the fact that a slight buzz actually helps relax them after a long day, what gives?
Alcohol can make you feel calm ... but it can also make you extra anxious. Universal Pictures
It seems that alcohol binds to the GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptors in our brain, which slows down our energy levels and provides that calming effect. But it's this same effect that can cause anxiety to spike.
Dr. Henderson told INSIDER, "Because alcohol is a sedative the nervous system can be forced to counter the sedative effects by going into a state of hyperarousal, which can lead to shaking, sensitivity to light and sound, and sleep deprivation."
There are a host of other unpleasant physical symptoms you might experience after a few too many.
There are other unpleasant consequences, too. Universal Pictures
Dr. Henderson said alcohol can cause "dehydration and a drop in blood sugar, both of which have distinct physical symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, shaking, numbness, racing heart, and confusion."
If that's not terrible enough, she added, "These physical symptoms can contribute to overall worry and actually overlap with many of the physical symptoms of anxiety/panic itself."
Aside from the physical symptoms we experience, there's also the unsettling emotional component. Dr. Henderson said, "When our inhibitions are lowered, we may act in ways that make us feel concerned, embarrassed, or even shameful the next day. We may worry about what others thought of us or how our actions came across to others. In some cases, we may have made decisions that make us feel remorse, regret, or fear."
She added, "When one considers the fact that the consumption of alcohol has chemical, physiological, and emotional impact, it is not surprising that some individuals experience anxiety surrounding their alcohol use."
And though it might seem obvious, Dr. Henderson says that "the more alcohol is consumed, the more extreme the responses can be," adding, "Typically, light drinking does not necessarily cause these spikes in anxiety responses, and it is important to remember that everyone responds to alcohol differently."
Everyone's body mixes differently with alcohol.
If you went totally overboard and drank way too much, experiencing a blackout, she says, "there may be entire lapses in the night that we have no memory of. All of this can be incredibly anxiety producing, made worse by the guilt and shame fueling our worry."
She added, "If you are already prone to anxiety, you may be more likely to experience an increased anxiety from alcohol consumption. That being said, alcohol can cause anxiety in anyone, not only people who already suffer from it."
Dr. Henderson offered a few helpful tips for handling these post-drinking waves of anxiety.
There are some ways to decrease your hangover anxiety.
"Responsible drinking is the key to minimizing the anxiety that alcohol can have: eat before drinking, alternate drinks with water, and minimize and/or eliminate the amount of alcohol consumed if you find it to be really problematic," she said.
If you're frequently imbibing to ease anxiety or to help calm your nerves, it might be a sign that you've got a disordered relationship to alcohol, and you'll want to reach out to your doctor or a psychologist, who can help you determine if you are drinking responsibly.
Aside from that, Dr. Henderson recommended that you keep yourself "grounded and relaxed." She advised that you "take deep breaths and focus on the here and now instead of the past. Practice mindfulness and, if you can, engage in healthy activities to counter the feelings of worry."
Going about your normal activities helps, and she recommended that you "try exercising or eat a healthy, balanced meal" or "try to build a sense of accomplishment; clean your house, create a meal plan for the week, run errands, do some homework, by "attempting to channel those anxious feelings into motivation for productivity."
Lastly, she suggests, "If nothing else, distract yourself with television or reading until the acute anxiety feelings, and the hangover, subside."
If boozy brunches or happy hours are causing you anxiety on the regular, you'll want to take note of your drinking habits and make sure to prioritize your mentalandphysical health. It's a tough feat given how many of our social gatherings center on enjoying a few cocktails, but it'll be worth it in the end.
Video: If You Struggle With Anxiety, This Mind Trick Will Change Your Life | Mel Robbins
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