6 Tips for Navigating Hangxiety

If you or a friend experience hangxiety on the reg, bookmark this article or share it with a friend for simple tips to make your drinking experience way less painful and more fun.

Ohhhh, hangxiety. You know when you were in college and you could go out, drink, stay up late, and wake up the next day ready to power through? Maybe now, as you’ve gotten a little bit older, things have changed a bit, yes? We long for the days where drinking was easy and carefree. We long for the times when we didn’t regret it every Sunday morning (or more).

Alcohol is a huge part of our social culture right now. It’s a social norm for a lot of people in many, many different settings. And lots of people truly enjoy it without hangxiety or struggling to manage their consumption, so if that’s you, feel free to bypass this article! But for many, when we start experiencing hangxiety, we may feel a bit lost or like something is “wrong with us” because suddenly, drinking isn’t nearly as enjoyable as we once thought.

Rest assured, there’s nothing “wrong with you” and a lot of people have this experience. Let’s figure out how to manage it in a way that brings us life instead of taking away from it.

What is hangxiety?

Essentially, Hangxiety = hangover + anxiety. It’s a real thing that so many young adults experience after a night of drinking. And it’s something a lot of us don’t talk about or acknowledge. Hangxiety can look different for everyone but it often encompasses these factors:

  1. Waking up early the morning after a night out unable to fall back asleep 
  2. Ruminating on things you may/may not have done or said the previous night
  3. Feeling shaky and jittery 
  4. Feeling an overwhelming amount of anxiety

Now, after doing some research I’ve learned that there are both biological (think: Gaba hormones) and psychological (think: uninhibited choices/behaviors) factors at play here that are contributing to why we have this experience. 

According to David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, alcohol calms the brain by making fewer neurons fire off, which helps to calm us in the moment (aka why we all feel more relaxed when drinking). For the first 1-2 drinks this is okay, but as we consume more and more alcohol, we start blocking glutamate which contributes to our anxiety. When we’re super drunk, this means we experience little to no anxiety, and the constant voice in our brain quiets for a bit – which feels nice. The long term trouble is that our brain eventually registers this whole outcome as a chemical imbalance and tries to make up for it ASAP by shooting us lots and lots more anxiety via brain chemicals. 

Then, we layer the fact that when we have less anxiety or mental chatter going on, we’re more likely to do things and say things we probably wouldn’t as a sober sally!! And then, we regret it or question it or are embarrassed by our choices …more fuel to the angst. 

Hence, the morning madness and messy anxiety. The process of leveling back out can take up to 48 hours. 

This becomes problematic when your social life consists only of drinking activities or when you find all your friends want to do is get black out wasted, or meet at the same bar, or maybe get ADVENTUROUS and try a new bar. 

It’s a recipe for feeling really anxious, really often and leaves so many feeling discouraged, depleted and entirely self conscious – which I might add, is not normal, and is not a way to live a full life.

So, what can we do about hangxiety? How can we avoid hangxiety or at least bring it to a manageable level?

  1. Think proactively about how much you want to drink that night and how you’ll feel the next day – 
    • Some of you may be rolling your eyes at me for this one but I’m okay with it. The truth of the matter is that this can actually be really challenging to put into practice in social situations. Most of the time, we’re really excited to spend time with friends, to get away from work life and to “let loose” for a while that we don’t even pay attention to what we’re consuming. We get wrapped up in the excitement of it all. We also get so used to having a drink in our hands the whole night or if you don’t, you’re questioned by peers or handed a drink by someone around you. We’re not super intentional about what we’re consuming.
    • Going in with a plan in mind about how much you want to drink that night can really, truly help set you up for much more success come the next day. Knowing your intentions for the night out, and what you do/don’t want to be dealing with in the morning can be step numero uno in confronting hangxiety proactively. 
  2. Implement drinking monitoring techniques: Space your drinks out over time, drink less by substituting a non alcoholic bev inbetween drinks or substitute something non-alcoholic completely.
    • Once you’ve decided what your intentions are for the occasion – be it happy hour, a night out or a wedding, you can then use the techniques to help you stick to your goal. If you’re someone who just really enjoys having a drink in your hand and not having to explain to other’s why you’re not drinking, cool grab yourself a soda or a seltzer inbetween drinks so you still feel like part of the group. Truly, sometimes having something in your hand makes all the difference. If your goal is to not drink at all, more power to ya!! Try finding a mocktail that you really, really love and practice ahead of time what you might say if friends start grilling you or deeming you “not fun.” Another option, space your drinks out. As in, don’t go mindlessly from one to the next to the next to the next without even noticing. This is where we can really get lost in the sauce.
    • It doesn’t take all that much time to implement any of these practices, it simply takes a bit of effort and intention. You can do this, I promise. 
  3. Manage your expectations for the day after
    • Maybe you’re someone who recognizes you feel anxious the day after drinking even when you don’t drink very much. We all experience different levels of hangxiety because the chemical levels in our bodies aren’t all the exact same. Managing your expectations of yourself for the day after might help you feel a bit less anxiety when you wake up feeling lethargic and unsettled. Find something you love to do to move through that energy. Maybe a walk outside, a calming cup of tea, disconnecting from your phone, Netflixing for a few hours on the couch or just deeming it a lazy day entirely. Managing your expectations post night out might help you function with lower energy – sans guilt and anxiety.
  4. Take a good hard look at your social circle and your values
    • I think this tip is a big, big, big one that you might be inclined to overlook but it’s probably the most important one. There are TONS of people out there who don’t drink alcohol, or at least not in excess every fricken weekend. There are TONS of people who LOVE doing other activities to socialize. Part of what perpetuates hangxiety and the drinking epidemic, is that we keep going along with it even when it’s truly making you miserable. Is this a good time to sit down and really think about the friends you’re surrounding yourself with? Maybe taking a good hard look at your strongest values and your long terms goals for your life, how does drinking fit into that picture? Does it align with the person you really are or really want to be? Are you using the alcohol as a substitute for something else (like self worth, confidence or connection)?These can be some tough, but really, really important questions.
  5. Brainstorm other ideas for how to spend your time and what you’d LIKE to do with friends 
    • Sometimes I think we can also be a little bit lazy. As we know, we humans are creatures of habit and if your habits aren’t working for you, it’s time to mix it up. Can you make a list of 5-10 things you’d love to do with your time that doesn’t include alcohol? Can you think of ways you used to have fun as a kid, new skills you want to learn or adventures you want to go on with your friends? A good way to do this a good ole journal session… ask yourself, “If alcohol didn’t exist, what would I like to do with my friends to connect, to hang, to relax?” See what ya come up with!
  6. Put more effort into sober fun and get comfortable saying no
    • There is no doubt that shifting this part of your life may be a super big challenge. You may cause a big ripple in your life. You may see relationships and friendships shift. You may be challenged to stand your ground and say no for the sake of staying true to you and have to work on pushing FOMO to the curb. You may have to practice letting go of the expectations other people put on you. But these are all great practices for SO many areas of life. It takes intentionality, consistency and effort to create changes, but if you want to live bigger and you want to feel more joy in your life and you want to experience hangxiety less, it’s worth the energy, wouldn’t you say? 

Alcohol isn’t the enemy here. We’re not demonizing drinking all together, but I do wonder why so many of our social lives revolve around something that leaves us feeling depleted, lethargic, anxiety ridden and wallowing in self pity, ya know? Let’s shift the culture. Let’s make waves. 

I want to chat with you! Have you experienced hangxiety before? How does it show up for you and what feels hardest about implementing change in your social life? Comment below so I can help ya through it! Have related topics that you want to explore more? Comment those below so I can get on them as well! 

If implementing any of these tips feels really scary, I hear you! If you know you’re needing some change in your life and could use some support around making those shifts happen, whether it’s with your relationship with alcohol or other facets of your mental health, sign up for a free connection call to learn more about working together! Let’s get you unstuck and living in a way that actually FEELS good.

P.S. Check out this blog on practicing courage. Or, if you’re feeling stuck knowing that you’re ready to meet some new friends but have no clue how to do that, read through my tips for making new friends here!!

Picture of Chelsea Connors

Chelsea Connors