We’ve all been there. Emerging from slumber bleary-eyed, staggering under the weight of three too many gin & tonics, the panic and nerves set in as we mentally cycle through the evening’s alcohol-soaked antics. And now there’s a name for it: Hangxiety.
‘Tis the season of the office Christmas party, and December is hangxiety prime time. Usually we’re worrying over nothing, but in our worn down, hungover state, molehills can easily seem like mountains.
Put simply, hangxiety is a combination of ‘hangover’ and ‘anxiety’. When we drink, we increase the flow of dopamine to our brains, inducing the familiar ‘high’ and reducing our inhibitions. The next morning we come crashing back to earth not just physically, but emotionally too.
For some, a worrisome hangover is simply a fleeting, if still unpleasant irritation, though it can seem like so much more. “After a big night out you can get classic signs of anxiety – you’re isolated, don’t want to see people – which is similar to the real thing,” says Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in health science at the University of York. “Things like tremors and shaking.”
For those with clinical anxiety, a hangover can exacerbate pre-existing problems and cause more severe distress. “A hangover would induce something very familiar to you,” says Hamilton, “sweating, heart palpitations: It creates a muddle for people with anxiety. Is it just a hangover, or is it a hangover exacerbated by anxiety?
“If you’re on medication for anxiety then alcohol also interferes with that. The ‘don’t drink’ label on the side of the pill packet is there for good reason – the alcohol just washes out the anti-anxiety medication.”
Studies have found that hangxiety disproportionately affects certain personality types. A recent study suggests that shy individuals, despite enjoying a mild anxiety reduction while under the influence, can suffer acute episodes of anxiety while coming out the other side.
“Shy people report more intense feelings of anxiety during a hangover,” says Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh, a behavioural change psychologist. “Possibly because they are more likely to ruminate after a social event. The mind has evolved with a negativity bias and alcohol can lead to gaps in the memory, which can create the perfect anxiety storm.”
Shy drinkers have particular reason to pay attention to their hangovers. Research has found a link between shyness and alcohol misuse, partly as a coping strategy for managing social anxiety.
The first step is to vocalise it. “Say out loud, ‘I’m feeling anxious’,” says Campbell-Danesh. “Neuro-imaging studies show that putting your feelings into words actually dampens down the activity of the brain regions responsible for those emotions.”
Second, you should try to own the narrative. “Do you have irrefutable evidence for this or is there another possibility?”, continues Campbell-Danesh. “When you recognise that your current thoughts are not facts, you then have the head space to open yourself to other less negative explanations.”
Hangxiety should not control your drinking habits, but you must make sure that it doesn’t let your drinking habits control you.
- Press Association