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What is Hangxiety (Hangover Anxiety)?
While drinking alcohol can cause physical side effects, the reality is that it can also cause mental and emotional side effects. Hangxiety, also known as hangover anxiety, is a type of anxiety that occurs after consuming a lot of alcohol.
A hangover refers to the physical and mental consequences of too much alcohol use. When you consume alcohol, your body metabolizes it and releases a toxic compound called acetaldehyde. This compound causes inflammation in various parts of your body, including your liver, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and brain. The combination of inflammation and dehydration can cause you to feel sick.
As your body and brain start to rebalance after excessive alcohol consumption, you may experience a mini-withdrawal from alcohol, which can temporarily affect your nervous system and, therefore, your mood. Hence: Hangxiety.
How much alcohol you consume, how much water you drink and food you eat after consuming alcohol, and how much sleep you get afterward can immensely impact your hangover. Generally speaking, however, symptoms of a hangover include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Gastrointestinal irritation, including diarrhea
- Disrupted Sleep
- Acetaldehyde exposure
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Increased blood pressure
The symptoms of a hangover can last for 24 hours, and they may sometimes last longer if they’re severe enough. Hangover symptoms like the above will peak when the blood alcohol concentration in your body falls back down to about zero.
One of the worst symptoms of a hangover is anxiety. While anxiety is the least-reported symptom of hangovers, 22.6 percent of people report experiencing hangxiety.
Because alcohol disrupts your neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, it can give you euphoria. But when these chemicals recede, it can also give you anxiety and depression. Alcohol also stimulates the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter that slows down your brain—a neurotransmitter that many anxiety medications are made to increase.
With a lot of alcohol, your brain starts to block the glutamate neurotransmitter that’s been linked to anxiety, as well, which can feel good until your brain starts to rebalance its chemicals again. When it begins blocking GABA and releasing glutamate, you can go from feeling blissful to depressed.
Here are some other non-brain related reasons as to why you may feel anxious after drinking alcohol:
- Your blood sugar will likely drop after coming down from drinking a lot because alcoholic drinks tend to include a lot of sugar. A drop in blood sugar can make you feel dizzy, confused, numb, shaky, and, ultimately, nervous.
- Alcohol dehydrates you. The feelings of nausea, fatigue, lightheadedness, and weakness that can come with dehydration can fuel anxiety surrounding health fears.
- Your body is fighting off the sedative effects of alcohol by going into a hyperactive state. This can give you symptoms of anxiety like shaking and sensitivity to light and sound. It can also keep you from sleeping.
- Alcohol may speed up your heart rate, which can give you heart palpitations. Heart palpitations are both a symptom and a source of anxiety for many people.
- Alcohol can inhibit your ability to focus, make you feel disoriented, and affect your memory. Because you may have trouble remembering events, conversations, and actions when you were under the influence, paranoia and regret can also be a source of anxiety for you.
Symptoms of Hangover Anxiety
The symptoms of hangover anxiety are not unlike the symptoms of typical anxiety. The key difference is that, while generalized anxiety may occur due to day-to-day triggers, hangover anxiety happens because of alcohol consumption.
Here are some of the symptoms of hangover anxiety of which you should be aware:
- Feeling on edge
- Experiencing a sense of impending doom
- Feeling panicky
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal problems
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Why Does Hangover Anxiety Occur?
Hangxiety affects everyone differently. Studies show that hangover anxiety adversely affects shy people. While social anxiety may fuel their drinking habits, hangxiety is linked to an increased risk of alcoholism for shy people, which means that it’s a dangerous cycle.
However, whether you’re shy or not, hangover anxiety can affect you. The severity of your other hangover symptoms may impact how much anxiety you experience. Hangover anxiety may last for all or some of your hangover. If you take steps to manage your hangxiety symptoms, you can get it under control faster.
How to Manage Symptoms of Hangxiety
There are several ways to manage your symptoms of hangxiety that are similar to the ways you would manage generalized anxiety. Here are a few steps you can take to help ease the anxiety.
- If physical pain is triggering your anxiety, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers to mitigate the pain. Just be careful of some medications like Aspirin and Ibuprofen that can increase acid release and irritation of your stomach lining.
- Essential oils help some people relax and have also been known to help relieve sore muscles, aches, and pain.
- Research shows that dehydration plays a role in anxiety and mood swings, so drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Of course, the more water, the better. Beverages rich in electrolytes are also helpful.
- Sleep. Resting so that your body can work to restore itself is one of the best things you can do.
- Take a shower. A wealth of research suggests that there are both physical and mental health benefits to bathing.
- Practice self-care activities like meditation or breathing exercises, for example. Both meditating and conscious breathing can lower your heart rate, steady your breathing, and ease other anxiety symptoms.
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How Long Does Hangover Anxiety Last?
Again, hangover anxiety lasts differently for everyone. The length and severity of your hangover, as well as how quickly you manage your symptoms, will affect how long your hangover anxiety will last. Your physical and mental health can also play a role in how long your hangover symptoms like anxiety persist. This could take an entire day or even longer for some people.
Home Remedies for Hangover Anxiety
Home remedies for hangover anxiety do not exist. Unfortunately, you will have to give it time. Your body must clear the toxic byproducts from alcohol, rehydrate, and restore your immune system and brain activity.
While you cannot speed up this process, you can take the above steps to help manage your symptoms and make you feel better along the way.
Professional Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Generalized anxiety may be more common than you think, and it’s important to manage it so that it doesn’t control your life.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. That’s 18.1 percent of the entire United States population every year. And while anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9 percent of those who suffer from anxiety actually receive treatment.
If you are experiencing anxiety more often than just after consuming a lot of alcohol, it may be time to seek professional treatment. Talk to your healthcare professional about treatment options for you.