Anyone who has had a few too many drinks on a night out will know the physical effects you can feel when you wake up the next morning. Throbbing headache, dry mouth, nausea and a desire to never again leave the sanctuary of your doona. But hangovers can take on a more sinister form when the physical effects are coupled with anxiety.

Did you know that in Norway they actually have a distinct word for the anxiety that comes with a hangover? Fylleangst refers to the regret, or fear, over what you may have done the night before whilst intoxicated. And despite the fact no other language lays claim to having a word for this specific state, it’s one that many people can certainly relate to. 

It involves feeling a deep sense of uneasiness and concern about one's behaviour the day/night before. The entire next morning is spent in a panic, trying to review things you might have said or done, and what others who were present will think of you. Throw smartphones and social media into the equation and the dread only gets worse. The morning after often begins with a frantic scramble to see if any embarrassing texts were sent or if any photos/videos were posted to social media. It’s not a fun time.

Here are some comments from Beyond Blue forum users:

  • “Anytime I drink, whether it’s a few or a lot, the next day I feel the need to call everyone I know was present and make sure I was not an idiot. It’s like I make up my own scenarios of things I may or may not have said.”
  • “After I drink it’s like I have a crash and feel embarrassed even if I didn’t do anything embarrassing. I just feel so guilty and feel the need to apologise to people.”

There is a science behind post-drinking anxiety. When you consume alcohol the chemical balance in your brain is disrupted. Everyone is different, but most people feel more relaxed and less inhibited after a few drinks. The ‘feel-good’ chemical called dopamine is released in greater supply into your brain – resulting in a greater sense of satisfaction than you had before drinking. Alcohol is effectively tricking your brain. You pay little regard to the age-old fact that what comes up, must come down. The next day, your brain is trying feverishly to correct the chemical imbalances from the night before and what do you know – anxiety arises..

So what can you do if you wake up and post-drinking anxiety is taking a hold?

The first thing to know is you’re not alone in this feeling. Far from it. The battling the booze thread in the Beyond Blue forums is well worth a read; you’ll find many personal stories from people dealing with the negative effects of alcohol.

There are also some helpful techniques you can employ to ease feelings of anxiety:

  • Slow down your breathing. Count to three as you breathe in slowly – then count to three as you breathe out slowly. Feel your heartbeat slow down and try to relax.
  • Stay in the present moment. Just as thinking of what’s five steps ahead of you isn’t healthy, neither is dwelling on things in the past. After you’ve slowed down your breathing, work on acknowledging the here and now. A meditation app like Smiling Mind can help with this.
  • Challenge your self-talk. Anxiety can make you overestimate the negative aspects of a situation and underestimate your ability to handle it. Take a step back and think rationally about the negative thoughts you’re experiencing. Give yourself a break!
  • Eat well. The temptation may be to indulge in greasy fast-food. Resisting this and opting for wholesome food low in GI will help your body recover faster. Hydration is also crucial and will help to ease your headache.
  • Learn. Last but not least, learn from past experiences. You know yourself better than anyone, so if you know having more than a few drinks will have you feeling horrible the next day, set limits and stick to them. If any form of drinking is leading to anxiety then take a break full stop! Your mind and body will thank you for it.

If you find your anxiety post-drinking is regularly lasting longer than 24 hours, or increasing in intensity, go and see your GP. You can learn more about anxiety and take the anxiety checklist here.

Related reading: Five booze-free activities

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