top of page

Anxiety After Alcohol: How to “Cure” Hangxiety After Drinking Too Much

Anxiety after drinking has earned a name: Hangxiety. Here's how to deal with it.


Hangxiety Meaning and Cures
TL;DR: Hangxiety (hangover + anxiety) refers to the feeling of anxiety after drinking alcohol, typically the morning after. Hangxiety often includes both physical and emotional symptoms: the classic head-and-stomach-ache hangover alongside worry, regret, guilt, and self-criticism. How long hangxiety lasts depends on different factors, but in general, it’s commonly felt for up to 24 hours, sometimes more. “Curing” hangxiety right away might not be possible, but through a combination of physical soothing and self-compassion, the experience can be made less miserable. Read on to learn more.

Jump to Section:



You stir in bed after a night of drinking and the dread is immediate, as if it’d been there all night and you’re now just waking up next to it. Anxiety. Upset stomach. Headache. Replaying scenes from the night before with a sick feeling of regret. We’re talking about “hangxiety,” the anxiety-charged hangover that is commonly experienced but rarely talked about.

 

So let’s talk about it—what “hangxiety” is, what it feels like, and how to work through the experience, especially if you’re someone who struggles with both alcohol and anxiety regularly.

 

What Is "Hangxiety"?


Hangxiety is a hangover + anxiety. It describes the feeling of waking up after a night of heavy drinking with both physical and emotional symptoms like sour stomach, head and body aches, worry, rumination, guilt, embarrassment, regret, and self-criticism.


"But what goes up must come down. When we stop drinking, our brain attempts to restore balance in the system, which can feel like the inverse of what we felt when intoxicated."

 

Between inflammation and dehydration, the physical side-effects of drinking make sense. But why does anxiety skyrocket after heavy alcohol use?

 

First, there’s the fact that your brain chemistry gets thrown out-of-whack. Alcohol affects two key neurotransmitter systems—GABA and glutamate. These two work together to create some of alcohol’s more broadly appealing sensations: Relaxation, confidence, and reduced feelings of anxiety.

 

But what goes up must come down. When we stop drinking, our brain attempts to restore balance in the system, which can feel like the inverse of what we felt when intoxicated. Instead of relaxed, we feel on-edge. Instead of confident, we feel self-critical. Instead of worry-free, we feel a downpour of anxiety. The terrible night of sleep (thank you for that, too, alcohol) is just another ingredient in the morning-after misery soup.


hangziety meaning

 Beyond the biochemistry, the nature of this contrast is particularly harsh for our emotions and self-concept. When drinking, we might say or do things that are “out-of-character” because our natural inhibitions regulate those kinds of things. We look back and cringe, and in pours the self-flagellation and embarrassment. The feeling of “I don’t know who that person was, but it sure wasn’t me.”

 

Reconciling “drunk-me” and “sober-me” can lead to agonizing internal tension that often leaves our last-night self feeling bruised and beaten down, and it can feel like an excruciating waiting game while our brain re-balances itself. (We’ll talk about this more below.)


Hangxiety Symptoms


The classic hangover symptoms (i.e., nausea, headache, body aches) are likely to be present, but hangxiety specifically includes intense worry and rumination.

 

Some of the most common symptoms of hangxiety include:

 

  • Feeling anxious and on-edge

  • Worry, often about the day before or its aftermath

  • Regret, guilt, remorse, shame, or embarrassment

  • Mentally reviewing the night before

  • Difficulty stopping anxious thoughts

  • Self-criticism or berating self

  • Feeling the urge to apologize to others

  • “Catastrophizing,” or thinking about worst-case-scenarios

 

Note: If you are experiencing tremors, shakiness, sweating, disorientation, elevated heart rate, agitation, or seizures, contact 911/emergency assistance right away. Alcohol withdrawals, which occur after stopping heavy and prolonged use, can be life-threatening.


Hangxiety Symptoms


Typically, the physical and emotional symptoms of hangxiety largely resolve in the first 24 hours. It often takes a day of rehydration and rest, followed by a good night’s sleep, but it can sometimes linger for longer.

 

But the recovery time for hangxiety can depend on many different factors:

 

  1. Individual biology: Everyone’s body and brain chemistry is different, which could impact the intensity or duration of anxiety.

  2. Susceptibility to anxiety: Do you already struggle with anxiety, self-criticism, or obsessive rumination? That could make it a bit tougher to shake off some of the emotional symptoms of hangxiety.

  3. Strategies and resources: Conversely, do you already have some strategies for working with self-criticism, anxiety, or negative thoughts? Do you have loved ones in your life that help you connect with self-acceptance and self-worth? Do you have hobbies, activities, and interests that keep you centered and grounded? These can help ward off some negative and sticky symptoms of hangxiety.


How to get rid of hangxiety

Hangxiety "Cures"


If you’re wondering how to get rid of hangixety, I hate to say that there’s no instant cure. Your brain most simply and essentially needs time to rebalance its chemistry. However, there are things you can do in the meantime to soothe emotional discomfort and build a more helpful relationship to the anxiety.

 

Basic Physical Care

Get back to the basics: Water. Electrolytes. Food. Sleep. Rest. These are the obvious but essential strategies to support your body in its recovery process.

 

Relax Your Nervous System

We can try soothing anxiety in the body through relaxation techniques and strategies such as paced breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or a hot shower. For some ideas and resources, check out this article on coping strategies.

 

Sometimes having another trusted person around can calm our nervous systems, too. If you have a partner, best friend, or family member who usually helps you feel less alone and anxious, maybe this is the time for that Netflix binge day together.

 

“Shelf” the Worry

Right now, there’s a part of you that desperately wants to “fix” the situation. You may be mentally reviewing fragmented memories, drafting apology texts, and arguing internally with yourself.

 

Sometimes immediate apologies and plans-of-action are warranted when harm has been done to others or to yourself. Other times, we can see that anxiety might be blowing things out of proportion.

 

Engaging these overly critical thoughts with a brain chemistry prone to anxiety can be hellish. So instead, try this:

Close your eyes and visualize a shelf, box, or container. Every time one of these thoughts arise, imagine placing it on the shelf or inside the box. Take a big inhale and exhale, and remind yourself, “Now isn’t the most productive time for that worry. I’ll come back to it later when I’m feeling more stable and grounded.” Repeat this as often as you need.

 Often, we’ll come back to those worries later and realize they weren’t as devastating as they once felt.

 

One Minute of Guilt

Guilt, anxiety, and remorse are unpleasant emotions, but to an extent, they have an important job. When in balance, they’re important signals that tell us something isn’t right and help us devise solutions. So instead of repressing the feeling or letting it swallow you up, try this:

Set a timer for one minute. When the timer starts, allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up. Tune into them and ask, “What is this feeling trying to tell me or get me to do?” It’s often a good intention: Be mindful of what you say and do. Take care of yourself. And so on. Note it, maybe even thank the feeling and assure it that you’ll do your best to heed the advice going forward.

 After one minute, see if you can let it go knowing the emotion did its job, and further rumination is no longer helpful.

 

(This meditation idea is adapted from Headspace)

 

Boundary Balancing

Why is it so easy to beat yourself up during hangxiety? Besides your brain chemicals being in disarray, there may also be a part of you that truly does want to be held accountable for overdrinking.

 

And that’s an important instinct to tune into. We want to show ourselves compassion after drinking—and we want to set helpful boundaries around our behavior to protect ourselves and others. As Britt Frank writes in The Science of Stuck, “Compassion without boundaries is self-betrayal at best and self-harm at worst.”

 

Try this exercise to see if you can strike a helpful balance between compassion and self-growth:

I’ll show myself compassion by:

I’ll hold myself accountable by:

E.g. Forgiving myself for last night

E.g. Starting to track my drinks

E.g. Resting my body today

E.g. Setting a drink budget





Alcohol and Anxiety: How to Live With Both


Alcohol and anxiety go hand-in-hand, swinging each other around in a dizzying circle that can be hard to step out of. For many people, anxiety is the reason why we drink in the first place. It calms nerves in social settings, takes the edge off of a long day, and dampens troubling thoughts for a brief time.

 

But hangxiety is the compensatory price we pay. A night of relieved anxiety results in a day of heightened anxiety. And for some, the drinking-and-hangxiety cycle puts us in a state of constant flight from our own feelings. We mute the annoying inhibitions with alcohol, and then desperately push away the regret the next day.

"The drinking-and-hangxiety cycle puts us in a state of constant flight from our own feelings."

 

Emotions are impossible to outrun because they’re our bodies biological responses to distress. Ignoring them is kind of like bypassing sleep when we’re tired or food when we’re hungry. The long-term solution to anxiety involves slowing down, understanding the signal it’s trying to send, and addressing it effectively.

 

These feelings are important. Inhibitions are important. In balance, they tell us to be mindful and considerate in our words and actions. Out of balance, inhibitions can be overbearing and critical of our insecurities—but with practice and new skills, we can ease the intensity of anxiety and learn to work with it rather than against it.

 

So, how do you break the anxiety-alcohol cycle? The first step to understanding and resolving anxiety is to talk about it. Confide in a trusted loved one—maybe someone who knows what it’s like to live with anxiety (a LOT people do). Find an anxiety or alcohol support group. Connect with a therapist who is trained to help you identify and solve anxiety. Building a healthy and adaptive relationship to anxiety takes time, commitment, practice, and acceptance. But befriending anxiety—especially on those tough hangxiety-filled mornings—can sure spare us a lot of suffering.

 

If you’re struggling with substance use, help is available. For immediate support and local resources, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.


 

This article is written for the sole purpose of providing information on mental health topics. It is not medical or legal advice, nor a substitute for medical intervention or professional mental health counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not replace or alter any treatment or care you are receiving without direct consultation from your mental health or medical providers. Any questions regarding your treatment should be brought directly to your professional and medical practitioners.

 

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page