We’ve all been there. At a bar with friends, feeling great, and relaxing, only to wake up with a physical — and mental — hangover. In this Yahoo! Sports article, Taish Malone, LPC, PhD, explains why drinking gives us ‘hangxiety’ and how to prevent and cope with it.
Here’s a scenario you may know all too well. You’re at a bar with friends, the music is pumping, and you’re feeling great. The cocktails also happen to be particularly delicious, and they’re going down easy. Then tomorrow morning comes. Not only are you experiencing a physical hangover, but you seem to have a mental one as well, in the form of heart-racing, palms-sweating, thought-looping anxiety.
You may not know it, but you’re dealing with something that many have come to refer to as “hangxiety.”
While alcohol can certainly act as a social lubricant and festive treat, the truth is, it can equally bring out or worsen mental health conditions. In fact, according to a 2019 study, around 12% of people experience anxiety while hungover.
A steep rise in mental health conditions has certainly incited a growing awareness of anxiety and its many triggers and forms—and this includes the anxiety that can often follow a bout of heavy drinking.
The silver lining to the rising anxiety, rising alcohol consumption, and rising anxiety due to alcohol consumption, is that there’s also been a recent increase in people considering “complete wellness,” says Taish Malone, PhD, licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health.
What Causes Hangxiety?
First, Malone notes that alcohol reaches the brain in only five minutes. Even if you don’t notice, the first impacted areas of the brain include motor and cognitive functioning. Next, that feel-good hormone, dopamine, releases giving you a false sense of relaxation. If you continue to drink heavily, slower reactions, distorted thinking, and impaired walking can follow.
Then comes the next morning. There are several biological factors that come together if you’re experiencing post-drinking anxiety, and Dr. Marks says the most prominent effect on the body is dehydration.
How to Prevent and Ease Hangxiety
Address your anxiety before drinking.
Don’t make alcohol a coping tool for anxiety. Enjoy it moderately for its positives, and meanwhile have other effective tools on hand to manage your anxiety.
If you’re someone who relies on alcohol to feel more comfortable in social situations—in other words, to ease some social anxiety—instead, find better ways to confront and address social fears outside of drinking. Is someone who makes you annoyed, nervous, or self-conscious joining the dinner reservation? Your fallback solution might be ordering five martinis to get through it. Instead, practice a little deep breathing before you go; prep some cordial conversation starters to use; challenge yourself to react with patience; schedule a quick therapy session for guidance. Then enjoy your martini slowly and mindfully.
Drink in moderation.
This should come as no surprise, but to skip the hangover—and accompanying anxiety—the next morning, drink in moderation. This, Malone emphasizes, really is the most responsible way to enjoy alcohol, the event itself, and those around you.
Surround yourself with people you can trust to help make sure you don’t exceed a reasonable amount of alcohol. Hold yourself accountable and be mindful of pacing. Malone recommends pacing your drinking with 30- to 60-minute intervals in between drinks. If you feel like you need a drink just to have something to do with your hands, grab water or seltzer!
Eat food and drink water.
Eating combats the alcohol dominating the intestines. The water helps keep you hydrated, Malone says. Drinking alcohol might make you feel like you’re quenching your thirst in the moment, but most alcohol is a diuretic (a substance that makes you lose water) and contains a lot of sugar.
Practice relaxation techniques.
If you tried your best to follow all of the above tips and still wake up feeling incredibly anxious, it’s time to break out the relaxation techniques.
Dr. Marks suggests grounding exercises, which can be an effective way to calm yourself and focus on your environment. One simple exercise she shares is choosing a color and naming all the objects in the room with that color, which can help bring you back to the present moment.
You can also stimulate your vagus nerve, the superhighway between the brain and gut that controls several bodily functions. Dr. Marks recommends “vagal maneuvers” such as splashing cold water on your face or chest or humming with the “ohm” sound, which will each stimulate the nerve.
Read the full Yahoo! Sports article with sources.