Almost as bad as the physical symptoms of a hangover (headache, nausea, you know the drill) are the mental side effects. If you’re one to feel anxious after one too many drinks, you’re not alone. The phenomenon of hangover anxiety or “hangxiety” can be triggered by a couple of factors. Here’s how to deal with it, prevent it, and determine whether it’s becoming a problem, according to psychologists.
Why does hangxiety happen?
There are several reasons hangovers can cause people to feel anxious—some of them influenced by chemical factors, and others by social factors.
“Alcohol causes a high level of endorphins to be released, so we’re temporarily depleted of that feel-good neurotransmitter,” clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, explains. “Meaning the ‘come-down’ feeling can make us uncomfortable and anxious.”
On the social side, since alcohol can lower your inhibitions, you may feel guilty about how you behaved while inebriated, says clinical psychologist Ayanna Abrams, Psy.D. On the other hand, you might not remember your actions, which can bring its own level of anxiety.
How long does it usually last?
For most people, the biological effects of the hangover will last for up to one day. “Emotionally, if you are feeling guilt, distress, and now judging yourself for your behavior, you may feel out of sorts a while longer,” Abrams says. “Thoughts and feelings about yourself—particularly if negative—can persist for weeks or months if you don’t work to gain an understanding or address how your behaviors may be impacting others.”
How to deal with hangxiety.
If you wake up feeling anxious after a night of drinking, don’t suppress those feelings: Tend to them.
The first step may be relieving yourself of the physical and physiological symptoms of a hangover. “When our body isn’t feeling its best, it’s harder to manage or contain unpleasant emotions,” Abrams says. “Water, rest, nourishing yourself with healthy foods…and taking medication for a headache can also help manage anxiety, even if it doesn’t eliminate it.”
Deep belly breaths can work wonders, too. “[Breathwork] actually resets your brain, making sure your higher brain (the part that makes you human!) comes back online after being hijacked by your primitive fear center,” Neo says.
Though it may be tempting, try not to replay the events of the previous night. “They may make you feel worse about yourself, as well as helpless because you can’t change what has already happened,” Abrams tells us. Instead, she suggests seeking emotional support from a friend or finding healthy distraction in the form of a book, a TV show you like, a nature walk, or a creative outlet like coloring.
“No matter how you want to soothe yourself, do not pick up another drink as a salve,” Neo emphasizes.
How to prevent hangxiety.
Believe it or not, there are ways to prevent hangxiety without giving up alcohol altogether.
First and foremost: Make sure your body is well-fed and well-hydrated before drinking, Neo says. Research shows that food, particularly carbohydrates, can slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. “You might also institute a limit that someone can hold you accountable to,” she suggests.
It’s important to check in with yourself as you’re drinking, as well. When you start feeling tipsy, switch to water, Abrams says. (A good rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume.)
What to do if you’re worried about your drinking habits.
Here at mbg, we believe alcohol can be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. However, if your drinking habits are consistently affecting your life and other people’s lives, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship to it. “A telltale sign is when you can’t function well without it, and you have to hide it from others,” Neo says. If this sounds like you, she suggests examining why you’re drinking: Is it a form of avoidance, escapism, a salve for social anxiety, or something else?
“Hangxiety is common and may not be a signal to eliminate drinking altogether, but if you continue having negative experiences during and after drinking, it may be helpful to talk to someone you trust or reach out to a professional,” Abrams says. “You do not have to have a ‘problem’ in order to seek understanding about yourself and your behaviors.”
While “hangxiety” might be a common experience, there are ways to help mitigate or prevent it altogether. Before a night of drinking, make sure you’re properly fed and hydrated, continue to check in with yourself, and try to honor your limits while drinking. The next day, prioritize nourishing yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally—and do your best not to lament the things you can’t change.