Neuro expert reveals how to reduce hangover anxiety
Following reports that 27% of drinkers in Britain admit to binge drinking on their heaviest drinking days,1 it is unsurprising that searches for “how to cure hangxiety” have risen by 150% in the past month, suggesting many of us are left feeling anxious the morning after.
To delve deeper into this phenomenon, the experts at Brainworks Neurotherapy have explained what “hangxiety” does to the brain, and have provided seven key tips on how to deal with “beer fear”.
James Roy from Brainworks Neurotherapy comments on what “hangxiety” does to the brain: “Alcohol is hard on the brain and body. Dehydration is certainly a factor, but there are less well known effects at play as well. On average it takes about a day to fully metabolise the alcohol after a drinking.
While alcohol is still in the system new neural nets don't form properly, and learning is compromised. Rather than making solid new connections while learning, the dendrites (the little neuron arms) tend to miss their targets and connect where they shouldn't. It is the same effect as seen in foetal alcohol syndrome, when there is alcohol in the system new neural nets struggle to form. Even in an adult this can cause shrinkage to the brain and damage the nervous system.
Alcohol also compromises our ability to hold back emotions - a brain factor called "gating". Combined with other weakening factors such as fatigue from staying up late and poor quality of sleep that alcohol gives us, emotions can be unusually close to the surface the following day.
As a result a hangover gives us a glimpse as to what lies under the surface of our conscious mind. If anger is the underlying propensity, after a night out "hangry-ness" will be the result. If anxiety is your underlying habit (as it is for so many), "hangxiety" will be at the forefront. For others, low mood or depression can come to the fore.”
Seven expert tips to help with “hangxiety”
1. Prevent the dehydration
The dehydration caused by alcohol is usually to blame for the inevitable next day headache. While you’re drinking, remember to keep yourself hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water in between the alcoholic drinks throughout the day. Although it may not prevent the headache, the added hydration will certainly help alleviate some of the anxiety.
2. Line your stomach
Before you start drinking, make sure to eat something. Drinking on an empty stomach can be dangerous. Not only will people become drunk quicker, but there is also an increased risk of experiencing sickness the next day. The lack of food will make the alcohol harder for the body to process, which then prolongs the “hangxiety” symptoms.
3. Sleep it off
Alcohol can have a negative impact on the quality of sleep. According to research, sleep deprivation amplifies reactions in the amygdala and anterior insula which are parts of the brain associated with anxiety2. By getting enough sleep and rest your body will calm down and alleviate some of the feelings of anxiety. Sleeping will also allow the reactions in amygdala and anterior insula time to regulate.
4. Rehydrate yourself
Consuming alcohol causes dehydration and also inhibits the production of electrolytes. Electrolytes are essential for the brain to function, maintain balance, carry electrical charges and regulate hydration. After you’ve been drinking, opt for a sports drink to rehydrate quickly. These are packed with electrolytes which will increase the body’s depleted levels, rehydrate and improve brain function.
5. Eat to regulate blood sugars
Alcohol can disrupt the body’s blood sugar levels3, leading to nausea, which contributes to the symptoms of “hangxiety”. To help with this, opt for a lighter meal that contains complex carbs to increase blood sugars. This will help the body in regulating blood sugar levels and alleviate any feelings of nausea.
6. Speak to your friends for reassurance
To ease your mind, talk to the people you were drinking with for some reassurance about the previous night's events. Expressing your thoughts and worries will help ease the feelings of “hangxiety” and your friends can offer reassurance and hopefully put your mind at rest.
7. Set yourself a limit for next time
Even after the hangover symptoms have subsided, you may still experience lingering “hangxiety”. Ahead of the next day drinks or night out, think about how to prevent the “hangxiety”. Set yourself a limit, this could be deciding on a specific number of drinks or imposing a time limit for each drink to avoid drinking too quickly.