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Make It Stop: The Science Of Hangxiety

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

It’s the combination of hangover and anxiety. And it’s not just you. It’s SCIENCE.

The simple bits:

  • Hangxiety is an unofficial name for the anxious feeling you get after drinking
  • As alcohol wears off, you can become anxious, agitated, panicked, flat, unmotivated and moody
  • A hangover can cause overactivity of the neurotransmitters that excite the brain and body
  • Hangxiety is different for everyone, and can change from hangover to hangover

Your eyes slowly creak open and the room is impossibly bright. Your mouth is as dry as a Weet Bix. You can’t move without your pain receptors jangling like an alarm clock. Yet your heart is racing and your mind won’t stop. “What did I SAY last night?” “How did I get home?” “Why is there a kebab wrapper stuck to my forehead?” You reach for your phone to forensically reconstruct your evening. Dread washes over you like a…ok enough metaphors. 

My friend, you have hangxiety.

I have what?

You heard me. Hangxiety. It’s the feeling of dread, anxiety, agitation and even panic that is caused or heightened by a hangover. 

It’s not an official medical term, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And there’s some science to it.

The science bit.

Everyone has a delicate balance of chemicals in their old noggin’. These chemicals have an effect on how you think, feel, and make decisions.

Alcohol can throw this balance clear out of whack. As a depressant, it increases your levels of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which decreases the effects of neurotransmitters that are responsible for exciting the brain and body. Alcohol also increases the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters that have a sedative or calming effect, slowing down reaction times and decreasing coordination. This is why many people report feeling relaxed after a drink or two. And why you’re suddenly awesome at pool. 

When you’re hungover, as well as being dehydrated and needing to wee more, your brain is trying to fix this imbalance by overcompensating, which results in overactivity of the neurotransmitters that excite the brain and body, and under-activity of the neurotransmitters that help you relax. 

You used all of your relaxing, calming chemicals last night my friend. Now you get all of the anxiety and heart palpitations. You’re welcome.

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What you can do about it

File this under ‘duh’, but the best way to manage hangxiety is to avoid hangovers, and drink responsibly.There are heaps of ways to do that, but Drinkwise probably know more about it than us. Go check out their tips.

And if you’re past the point of no return, and you wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed beyondblue recommend smart things like deep breathing and exercise to get you back on the level.

If you find your hangxiety lasts longer than a day on a regular basis, or it’s increasing in intensity, go and see a GP. 

And probably most importantly, put the phone away before you start texting apologies. It might just be your brain chemistry making it all seem this bad.