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5 Facts About 'Hangxiety,' or Hangover-Induced Anxiety

Hangovers are bad enough. Mustering the willpower to get a glass of water, let alone make an egg sandwich, can take multiple hours. But now there’s a new symptom in the news: hangxiety, which is exactly what it sounds like—feeling anxious while hungover.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #227

Fact #3: Hangxiety is worse in people who are naturally shy or socially anxious.

A study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that hangxiety is worse in people who are shy. 

The researchers asked participants, some of whom were shy and some who weren’t, to hang out in their own house, invite over their friends, and either drink as they normally would or stay sober all night. The next morning, their level of hangxiety was measured.

What happened? Obviously, the sober participants had zero hangxiety, regardless of whether they were shy or not shy. But among the drinkers, hangxiety was greater in those who were highly shy, despite imbibing roughly the same amounts of alcohol.  

This makes sense. In addition to the brain chemistry rebound, shy people very often replay in their heads the lowlight reel 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 “Why is there a chicken in my hotel room?”

Fact #4: 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, getting injured, or having unwanted sexual experiences.

Why? It makes sense when you think about it: 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.

Keeping your attention on the people around you rather than your own perceived foibles and shortcomings magically lowers anxiety.

To clinch the matter, let’s check the stats: turns out folks with Social Anxiety Disorder have a four-fold risk of developing a diagnosable problem with alcohol.

Fact #5: The best strategy is prevention.

For the shy among us, don’t chug your Chardonnay because you think your sober self is inadequate or incapable. Instead, try other methods to cope.

Facing a social event sober may sound like a radical idea, but let’s revisit the hangxiety study. Of all the groups, the shy group that was asked to stay sober entered the party with the highest anxiety. They knew they had to face down an evening of socializing without the benefit of liquid courage. But something interesting happened: their anxiety declined over the course of the evening, perhaps because the horror stories their anxious brains were predicting—people would think they’re stupid, no one wants you here—didn’t come to pass. They got through the evening just fine, and best of all, didn’t pay the price in the morning.

So if you’re up for the challenge of a party without awesome juice, here are some tools to replace the desperate grip on your highball glass.

  • In a counter-intuitive method, try hosting your own event. This gives you two wins: first, you control the guest list and can be in a room full of people you know and like. Second, hosting gives you a role to play, which adds structure and certainty, thereby shrinking anxiety.
  • Another tactic is to forgo events you truly hate and instead focus on connecting in setting where you feel less compelled to drink, whether that’s a smaller get-together or a setting not associated with booze, like a performance rather than a pub crawl.
  • Enter events focused on people other than yourself. Wonder about them. Be curious. Ask questions. Keeping your attention on the people around you rather than your own perceived foibles and shortcomings magically lowers anxiety.
  • Finally, go in with an agenda. Decide you’ll initiate conversations with three people you don’t know, and then give yourself permission to go home and put on sweatpants. 

All in all, raise a glass because you want to, not because you feel you have to. Your anxiety, not to mention Mike Tyson’s tiger, will thank you in the morning.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.