How To Avoid 'Hangxiety'—The Worst Kind Of Hangover There Is

After a wild night out, 'hangxiety' can make an already grueling hangover even worse. Here's how to avoid it—or how to stop it, if it's already too late.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 10, 2024

The morning after a night out can be rough—grappling with a pounding headache, nausea and a tidal wave of anxiety. The euphoria of alcohol returns with a vengeance, exacting its toll as you sift through last night's memories, cringing at potential missteps and feeling an overwhelming sense of dread and regret over the things you said. The accompanying sense of doom makes you want to disappear into oblivion, though the way you feel right now might make it seem like you're already halfway there.

This combination of a hangover and anxiety, popularly known as "hangxiety," can be an all-too-familiar scenario for many. If that's you, then you're not alone, and understanding the underlying causes can help you manage it better.

What's Hangxiety?

Hangxiety refers to the anxious feelings that often accompany a hangover. While a hangover's physical symptoms—such as headache, nausea and dehydration—are well-known, hangxiety adds a layer of psychological distress, including feelings of guilt, regret and nervousness about one's actions while intoxicated.

While hangovers are a common consequence of heavy alcohol consumption, only a small percentage of individuals experience anxiety as part of their hangover symptoms. A 2017 study suggests that about 22% of participants experienced anxiety during their hangovers.

However, hangxiety is reported with greater severity among individuals who already experience significant anxiety, particularly those who are naturally more anxious or introverted.

Another 2019 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that individuals who are highly shy or have a social anxiety disorder (SAD) are more vulnerable to hangxiety. While alcohol consumption may provide temporary relief from anxiety in highly shy individuals, it leads to a significant increase in anxiety the following day. It also increases the risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Individuals may drink in social situations to reduce anxiety, only to feel more anxious the next day. This can lead them to turn to alcohol again to calm down, creating a vicious cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to break.

What Does Hangxiety Look Like?

People experiencing hangxiety often describe feeling an exaggerated sense of fear and discomfort, with some describing it as a minor panic attack. These symptoms can make the hangover significantly more distressing.

Common symptoms of hangxiety can be both physical and psychological, including:

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Dehydration and sweating
  • Confusion and problems with concentrating
  • Headache and nausea
  • Regret
  • Anxiety and depression, hopelessness mixed with dread
  • A general sense of impending doom
  • Sleepiness and a racing heart

Throughout the day following heavy drinking, you may find it hard to stay awake, but anxiety can also make falling asleep difficult, creating a hellish tug-of-war.

"I'm so sleepy, in a way I've never experienced after a night of drinking. I'm laying down and I'm having the hardest time trying to keep my eyes open and stop going cross eyed," explains a Reddit user, " I keep involuntarily closing my eyes and because my breathing is shallow right now, I keep getting scared? Not sure how to describe it but the feeling of being so sleepy and actually falling asleep is making me incredibly anxious about doing it."

Getting Rid Of Hangxiety

The most straightforward way to prevent hangxiety is to reduce alcohol consumption. Moderation is vital—research suggests that limiting alcohol intake and duration can significantly reduce the risk of hangover-related anxiety.

If you struggle with social anxiety and find it hard to avoid the "liquid courage" at parties, preparing beforehand and giving yourself a pep talk can help. Here are some strategies to manage your drinking and anxiety:

  • Recognizing personal triggers. Identify what prompts you to drink excessively. Is it social pressure, stress or a desire to fit in? Or is it that you might want to avoid overthinking and enjoy yourself among people? If so, drinking yourself into a stupor isn't helpful at all.
  • Setting limits. Before succumbing to your desire to drink more than necessary, remind yourself of the last time you had a blast and how you felt the consequent morning. This might help deter you from overstepping your capacity. Decide how many drinks you will have before the event and stick to it. If you feel drunk at two glasses, it's best to stop there.
  • Accountability partner. Attend the party with a supportive friend who understands your goals. They can help you stay on track and gently remind you why reaching for that extra drink is not a good idea. They might also help you feel grounded and relaxed when you start getting anxious and overwhelmed.

If you find yourself experiencing hangxiety after a night of heavy drinking, try these steps to manage your symptoms. Alleviating the physical symptoms of a hangover can also help reduce the psychological ones:

  • Hydrate and eat nutritious food. Drink plenty of water to combat dehydration. It can help reduce headaches and fatigue, which ultimately alleviates anxiety. Consuming a balanced meal can stabilize blood sugar levels, which helps improve mood and cognitive function.
  • Rest and relax. Ensure you get enough sleep to allow your body to recover. In case you can't fall asleep or your thoughts are racing like your heart, engage in mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises to calm your mind and reduce anxiety.
  • Stay active and avoid more alcohol. Light exercise, such as a walk or a short run, can help boost your mood and energy levels. Resist the temptation to drink more alcohol to feel better, as it can prolong and worsen hangover symptoms.
  • Talk to a friend. If you find yourself worrying about last night's events, talk to a friend instead of spiraling alone. Friends can offer a different perspective, helping you realize that what you see as a huge deal might actually be nothing significant.

Hangxiety consuming your post-drunk days? Take the Anxiety Sensitivity Scale to know if you need support.

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