Hello dear readers of my blog. Today is almost the very last day of 2019 and we are ready (or not) to jump into a new decade. 2020. First of all I wish you all the very best for the New Year and of course a lot of blogging fun!
Secondly, on a more serious note, some of us are going to party tomorrow evening. Possibly with some glasses of champagne or other drinks that contain alcohol. All is fun and games until you drink that one (?) glass too many. In order not to meet the New Decade with hangxiety, I’ll leave you with some insights on the matter.
What is hangxiety?
It is how it sounds; the phenomenon of feeling anxious while hungover. When you try to open your eyes after a long but suspicious night filled with some glasses of wine or beer or maybe stronger liquor, some vague memories are sliding into your brain. Your brain though is not really functional. What did you do? Where are you? Where are your shoes and what pictures are there on your phone? That kind of questions play in your mind while you’re feeling hungry and thirsty. Not being able to jump freshly out of bed or sofa or I don’t know, and to go for a run or walk, you are stuck with your existence. Sounds fun?
Hangxiety is driven by brain chemistry.
Alcohol can make you feel calmer and make you lose up a little. At least you think or feel so. The calming part comes from alcohol’s effect on GABA and glutamate, neurotransmitters that, respectively, slow things down and amp things up. Alcohol increases the effects of GABA, suppresses the effects of glutamate, and, long story short, inhibits our inhibitions, which is why we can feel free at last to dance on the table while impersonating a cancan girl.
The good mood comes from an increase of dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, the neurotransmitters of the reward system. But the morning after, all needs to balance out and that comes with a vengeance.
Specific to hangxiety, the morning after the calming effects of suppressing glutamate and increasing GABA, the opposite effect occurs. Anxiety-like symptoms such as an elevated heart rate, sweating, feeling shaky, and nausea, not to mention simply feeling restless and worried, all hit like the wrecking ball that is now inside your skull.
This is not exclusive to humans, mice experience it too. Mice were injected with or alcohol or a non-alcoholic solution. A few hours later, compared to their sober friends, the hungover mice spent more time hiding in dark corners of a maze and less time exploring a new box, both behavioral indicators of increased anxiety and fear.
Hangxiety is also psychological.
First of all our brain interprets symptoms of a hangover as anxiety. Trembling, pounding heartbeat and a headache can occur with anxiety but these are here the consequence of too much alcohol consumption. The brain is misled to think that when symptoms of a thread occur, there must be something to worry about.
Some things we do remember, bring us shame, like flirting with the waiter or losing our keys. When we experience black-out due to drinking too much, that can drive our anxiety through the roof. Because then our questions become more vague and our possible answers even more catastrophic. We don’t have a set of events and a timeline to hold on too.
Hangxiety is worse for people who are more shy or more socially anxious.
In addition to the brain chemistry rebound, shy people very often replay in their heads the events from the night before and ruminate on things they might have said or done that they perceive to be embarrassing. Psychologists call this post-event processing, and it’s what’s happening when we say things like “Why did I say that? That was so stupid,” “I made a total fool of myself,” or “Who is this?”
Hangxiety can be linked to problems with alcohol.
In an interesting twist, people who are shy or socially anxious generally consume less alcohol than people who are more outgoing, but have higher levels of hazardous drinking and related negative consequences, like missing work or getting injured.
People who are shy may enjoy social events less and avoid them more. Therefore, they may have less practice pacing themselves or knowing their limits when they self-medicate at a party, wedding reception, or night out. They overdo it because the situation at hand is more stressful to them.
The best strategy is prevention.
People with social anxiety were asked to attend an event without drinking and to report on their anxiety levels. It showed that people entered the event with the most high levels of anxiety but that those levels decreased when the event unfolded.
The trick would be to focus on the people around you and not on your thoughts in the moment.
All in all, raise a glass on the New Year because you want to, not because you feel you have to. Your anxiety will thank you in the morning.
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