What is 'hangxiety?' Why a night of drinking alcohol can lead to anxiety symptoms the following day
No in the New Year is Yahoo Life's series about the power of saying no, establishing boundaries and prioritizing your own physical and mental health.
Curious why the day after a night out drinking you feel more sped up and anxious than usual? You're not alone. The term "hangxiety" is growing in popularity and just may be replacing the physical symptoms of a hangover as the most dreaded post-bender consequence there is.
According to Dr. Jiseung Yoon, an addiction-medicine specialist who works with the online alcohol treatment program Monument, late-night revelers often experience symptoms of anxiety like an increased heart rate and difficulty breathing the day after they overindulge in alcohol.
What causes hangxiety?
"The anxiety symptoms are from the alcohol leaving your body," Yoon tells Yahoo Life, explaining that the process is a withdrawal cycle. When an individual drinks alcohol, their brain becomes excited and produces pleasurable feelings. Once the alcohol wears off, your brain goes into overdrive, seeking more of the substance.
"For many people it lasts until they start drinking again, and it's a negative cycle," says Yoon. "For binge-drinkers, it's a little bit worse because their brain gets sensitized to alcohol: When they drink, their brain is happy, but when they stop drinking for a period of time, the brain reacts [with anxiety symptoms] until they start drinking again."
For Patricia Frierson, who will celebrate two years of sobriety later this month, the feeling of hangxiety is all-too-familiar.
"When I was drinking, I experienced hangxiety daily," she says. "There were times it would become so brutal that I would find myself standing over a bathroom sink splashing my fully make-upped face with ice cold water while shaking. I would drink so much at night that when I woke up in the morning I would wake up in a hyper-anxious state and refused to correlate the two, selfishly."
Among her hangxiety symptoms, Frierson lists headaches, an upset stomach, shaking, feelings of fear and overwhelm and shortness of breath.
"I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder as well as situational anxiety before I started drinking," Frierson adds, "but drinking made it so much worse: I would have a great day at work, because I was sober, start drinking immediately when I got home and would find myself in a bad situations."
A hangxiety cure?
Yoon says for those who have an anxiety diagnosis, hangxiety can be more severe. But are there precautions you can take before a night of drinking to minimize the next day's anxiety? Yoon says it's unlikely.
"The only way to prevent it is to not drink alcohol," he says. "If you do drink, the following day you can drink plenty of water and eat, because that will make you physically better, and then try things people usually do for normal anxiety like deep breathing exercises or relaxation exercises could also be very helpful. But, there isn't much you can do besides not drinking to prevent those feelings of anxiety."
Whenever I'm dealing with a difficult situation or I'm emotionally dysregulated in some way, I absolutely 100 percent do not drink."Tara Schuster
Tara Schuster, an entertainment executive and author of Buy Yourself the F***ing Lilies, who speaks candidly about her own relationship with alcohol in her best-selling book, says putting an end to drinking alcohol once and for all may be the best way to cope with hangxiety.
"When I drink, what I've noticed is the very next day, even if I'm in a good place, I am more anxious," says Schuster. "Alcohol is a depressant and when s***'s going wrong, that's not the time to take the edge off. The edge just might be keeping you from the abyss, so whenever I'm dealing with a difficult situation or I’m emotionally dysregulated in some way, I absolutely 100 percent do not drink."
The benefits of sobriety
In addition to feelings of anxiety, Schuster says drinking alcohol often messes with her sleep patterns and makes her feel physically unwell. In her book, she shares that one of her personal rules about consuming alcohol is that she doesn't drink alone, so Schuster says she's barely drank at all during the pandemic.
Click and scroll in the window below to explore the body after 30 days without alcohol.
"I haven't been drinking this year and I feel the healthiest I've ever felt," she says. "Why am I in this s***storm dumpster fire madness of the world and also the most mentally healthy? I would be very surprised if there wasn't some kind of correlation between me not making a choice that I know makes me feel bad and feeling the best I've ever felt."
Schuster says when we feel like we "need a drink," it's time to pause for a beat and ask which feelings we're hoping to turn off or self-medicate with alcohol.
"People use alcohol as a numbing mechanism," she explains. "We say, 'I had a really hard day at work, let me have a glass of Pinot Noir.' Or we get in a fight with our partner so we have a cocktail or as an anecdote to a stressful job, we're like, 'Rosé all day, bitches,' on the weekends and that is so f***ed up. Basically what you're doing is putting lighter fluid on an already difficult situation."
"[Sobriety] has been the hardest-fought battle of my life," says the South Carolina mom of two. "But outside of being a mom, it's been the most rewarding."
"I started going to therapy and practicing a myriad of techniques that help me make it through the moments where I feel some of the symptoms are used to when I was drinking," she continues. "[My anxiety] doesn't always go away completely, but it grounds me enough that I find myself again and don't look for alcohol to make me whole."
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