It’s Saturday night. You’re downing vodka sodas with your friends, scream-singing Kelly Clarkson songs and heaping praise on strangers in the women’s bathroom. Now it’s Sunday morning. Your head is pounding, and you feel vaguely nauseous, but those physical symptoms don’t hold a candle to the mental ones—the overwhelming and unceasing thoughts of: Are my friends mad at me? Why the hell did I text my ex? I really shouldn’t have insisted everyone take that last tequila shot. This is called hangxiety, folks, and it’s basically the feelings of anxiety many people get after a night of drinking.
What Is Hangxiety (& Please, God, Is There a Way to Get Rid of It)?
What Is Hangxiety?
Unlike regular anxiety, hangover anxiety, or hangxiety, isn’t found in the DSM-5, meaning it’s not an actual medical condition. But if you’ve ever experienced it, you know it’s absolutely a real thing—more so for some people than others. While anyone can feel anxious after a night of overindulging, folks who deal with anxiety on a day-to-day basis are at an even higher risk. According to a 2019 study in Personality and Individual Differences, hangxiety is most prevalent in highly shy people and those who deal with social anxiety.
As for why it happens, experts have a few hypotheses: If you’re a generally anxious person, a few drinks can lower your inhibitions and lessen those anxious feelings temporarily. When they return once the alcohol is out of your system, however, you might feel like all that anxiety comes rushing back and remembering how you acted when you let your guard down can conjure feelings of regret or embarrassment.
You might also be going through a type of withdrawal. As Cyndi Turner, LSATP, MAC, LCSW, explains to Healthline that drinking alcohol triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones. After these endorphins are released, their levels naturally decrease, which could trigger the feeling of an emotional comedown.
Your anxiety might be heightened after a night of drinking because you’re dehydrated as well. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you go to the bathroom more than you normally would. Add to that the fact that many of us are guilty of not drinking enough water in between glasses of wine and it’s very likely you don’t have enough water in your system. Dehydration, according to a 2014 study in PLoS One, can contribute to anxiety and other negative changes in your mood.
How to Deal with Hangxiety
As we just mentioned, dehydration can be a major factor in bringing about or worsening hangxiety. It’s crucial, then, to make sure you’re getting enough water the morning after to combat this dehydration. While regular old water is just fine, we like to add an electrolyte enhancer like the ones from Liquid I.V. or Nuun. These dissolvable powders or tablets are meant to deliver hydration to the bloodstream faster and more efficiently than water alone.
2. Focus on Your Breath
Especially if your hangover anxiety turns into a panic attack, focusing on your breath is hugely helpful. “I recommend sitting quietly, upright and focusing on your breath to feel present in the moment,” says Irina Firstein, LCSW, a licensed individual and couple’s therapist. “As soon as thoughts come in, focus on the breath again,” she says. This is a form of mindfulness meditation, and Firstein recommends doing it for at least ten minutes to truly feel the benefits. Science also supports this approach; researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that mindful meditation can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Not super keen on sitting in silence? You can also use a guided meditation app like Headspace or search YouTube for guided meditation tracks to get started.
3. Distract Yourself
Start a new show on Netflix, listen to some music, try that new recipe you’ve had flagged for weeks—whatever sounds appealing that will take your mind off of the negative thoughts you’re having. Self-care—whatever that may look like for you (chilling on the couch, going for a long walk, ordering your favorite Thai takeout)—is often a helpful antidote to anxiety. Anything to get your mind off all the things you think you did and said wrong last night, you know?
4. Put Things into Perspective
Ask your friends if they’ve ever felt anxious after a night out. Even if they don’t know the term hangxiety, we’re pretty sure they’ve felt it at least a little bit. When you’re stuck in an anxious loop, it can be hard to see things from an outsider’s perspective. Chances are you’re blowing whatever you think you did or said out of proportion. Beyond that, even if you did say or do something cringey, it probably didn’t even register as cringey to the people you were with at the time. Remember that no one is thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about you, and it’s very likely your embarrassment or regrets are unfounded.
How to Prevent Hangxiety
1. Alternate Alcoholic Drinks with Water
We know, we know: You’ve been hearing this advice since freshman orientation in college. Reason being, it works. Try to have a glass of water in between every drink you have. This will help prevent the dehydration that’s sometimes the culprit behind hangxiety. Also be sure not to drink on an empty stomach and even consider setting a limit for the number of drinks you want to have throughout the night (even better if you can rope a friend into your plan, you can each serve as the other’s accountability buddy).
2. Choose Your Drinks Wisely
You’ve probably noticed that different types of alcohol make you feel differently. For example, maybe wine makes you sleepy while vodka makes you want to cry about your relationship with your mom. If you’re prone to hangxiety (or bad hangovers in general) be cognizant of what types of drinks your body responds best to and try to stick to those. That might mean giving up your beloved cosmo, but we’re willing to bet your anxiety-free self (or at least less anxious self) will thank you for the sacrifice.
3. Weigh the Benefits
This probably isn’t what you want to hear, but if you’re riddled with anxiety after every time you drink—even in moderation—it might be worth reexamining your relationship with alcohol, maybe even with a mental health professional. In a perfect world we’d be able to drink responsibly and have fun without feeling the crushing weight of anxiety the next morning. In reality, though, some people are better off—and, more importantly, happier—without alcohol in their lives.