Have you ever woken up after a massive night out and felt that sense of dread and regret in your gut? Are you familiar with the horrible contemplation of whether you did or didn’t do that thing that may be in the hazy background of your mind? You suddenly remember past misdeeds or embarrassing moments and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and anxiety. Well, on top of an already horrendous hangover, this feeling has been named ‘hangxiety’.
‘Hangxiety’ isn’t a formal diagnosis, but psychologists have coined it as the anxious feeling of dread, doom or regret that you feel after a big night of drinking.
You wake up after drinking; you feel nauseous, your head is pounding, and suddenly you grab your phone with the inkling that you may have sent some messages to someone that probably should have been left unsaid. Welcome to ‘hangxiety’.
I know I’ve experienced it, and suddenly every worry or concern you had before you were drinking is amplified by 1000 and your anxiety levels are through the roof. Thankfully, this usually lasts a day or so, but that one day is pretty awful.
Alcohol is a controversial drug, and yes, it is a drug. Often, we use it to relax, release inhibitions, forget about a bad day or week, or just because we can. During the time that you are drinking, alcohol tends to numb all those feelings or thoughts but as soon as the affects wear off you feel anxious, agitated, panicked, flat or moody. These feelings can last a few hours or a few days depending on the person.
Psychologist Briony Leo, who works for the group Hello Sunday Morning which encourages a healthy relationship with alcohol. Briony says she sees a lot of people who suffer from ‘hangxiety’. Apparently, the scientific process of ‘hangxiety’ kicks in well before your hangover does, which means you wake up with this overwhelming feeling.
Briony Leo told Triple J Hack:
“Alcohol stimulates the production of GABA, which is a chemical that kind of calms down our brain, so often you’ll see it people are having maybe one or two drinks, they’ll start to become a bit more cheerful, a bit more relaxed. And after maybe three or four drinks, the brain also starts to block glutamate, which is a chemical that’s responsible for anxiety.”
Ah, so there is more to this feeling than we previously thought. Suddenly all of my hangovers are explained.
Briony Leo goes on to say that “essentially you’ll wake up the next morning in the opposite state of what you were when you were drinking, which is that you’re feeling quite tense and anxious.”
Why on earth are we subjected to this chemical torment after we’ve already tormented ourselves in a reckless night out?
Well, Medibank states that everyone has a delicate balance of chemicals in their brain which affects how we think, feel and make decisions. Alcohol, however, blows this all up and changes the balance. For one, alcohol is a depressant which decreases the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. Alcohol impacts two key neurotransmitters; those that are responsible for exciting the brain are decreased, and the inhibitory neurotransmitters which allow you to relax are increased.
So, your mind, body and soul are hungover and the brain tries to fix the imbalance by overcompensating. This means that your neurotransmitters go into overdrive and excite the brain and body, and the neurotransmitters that let you relax have a nice nap, and pretty much don’t help out.
This explains the chemical imbalance and why ‘hangxiety’ scientifically occurs, however another aspect is when you can’t remember your actions. Not being able to remember the mortifying things you said, did or texted can lead to a high level of anxiety whilst your chemicals are out of whack.
Now that you understand why you feel this horrendous after a night of drinking, there’s some more bad news. There’s very little you can do it avoid ‘hangxiety’, other than the option that none of us learn how to do: drink less.
Now, those of us in our early twenties may be yet to learn the courageous skill of self-control, so here’s some quick tips on how to drink safely and maybe in time you will obtain the ultimate goal of not having a hideous hangover.
Know your limit and plan ahead. By now we’ve all drank our fair share, so we should know how much we should drink. Drinking 10 vodka, lime and sodas probably will not do your brain any good, so many start off with less and see how you feel the next day. Learn about your body, and your limit.
Eat before you drink, don’t go out on an empty stomach. This is like a proverb. It’s never going to end well. It’s not going to save you money as it’s only going to cause you to have more mortifying memories, or lack thereof.
Skip an alcoholic drink now and then, have a glass of water instead. Alcohol dehydrates you, so giving your body some water is what it will be begging you for. Listen to your body, give it what it deserves.
Finally, never leave a drink alone or accept a drink from someone else or a stranger. This is for safety and to know how much you’ve been drinking. You never know what someone else may buy you and it can make it awfully difficult to monitor your drinks. Also, you don’t want to get spiked – an unfortunate reality of this world – so look after yourself and your own safety.
Perhaps next time you plan that big, raging night out, you’ll think about how much you drink because none of us enjoy the dreaded ‘hangxiety’ of the next day.