But why does something that can make you feel so good (at least for a little while), make you feel so bad shortly thereafter? According to Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and the author of the upcoming book, Calm Your Mind With Food, it’s simple: alcohol functions as a depressant of the central nervous system that can have both long- and short-term effects. Ahead Dr. Naidoo delves into the short-term effects of hangxiety, and ways to mitigate its symptoms the morning after a long night out.
- Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist
What is hangxiety?
According to Dr. Naidoo, hangxiety is the phenomenon of feeling an increase in anxiety after a bout of heavy drinking, often accompanied by other symptoms of a hangover such as fatigue, nausea, and irritability. “Alcohol functions in the brain as a depressant of the central nervous system. That is, it works by slowing our brain activity down, which is why it’s common for some people to reach for alcohol when feeling anxious or needing help falling asleep,” she says. On the flip side, however, once the sedative effect wears off, so do these feelings of calmness and relaxation, which can also ramp up feelings of anxiety.
In addition to the psychological impact, hangxiety can also come with feelings of jitteriness, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, and dehydration, which are physiological reactions to alcohol consumption. Keep in mind, the more alcohol consumed, the more intense the hangxiety and accompanying side effects will likely be.
“Alcohol functions in the brain as a depressant of the central nervous system. That is, it works by slowing our brain activity down, which is why it’s common for some people to reach for alcohol when feeling anxious or needing help falling asleep,”
—Uma Naidoo, MD, nutritional psychiatrist
5 ways to alleviate hangxiety before it fully creeps in
Although the only true foolproof method for preventing hangxiety is abstaining from drinking alcohol, Dr. Naidoo says there are ways to help reduce the symptoms without going cold turkey. “It’s comforting to keep in mind that the anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal is temporary [in most cases], but there are tools you can utilize to ease the symptoms,” she says.
1. Rehydrate ASAP
First and foremost, Dr. Naidoo notes that since alcohol is extremely dehydrating—and dehydration is one of the key players in feelings of anxiety—it’s critical to rehydrate as soon as possible after a drinking event. “It’s very important to make sure you are hydrating with plenty of water, electrolytes, and hydrating fruits and veggies the day after consuming alcohol to help clear any anxious thoughts,” she says.
Looking for something soothing and hydrating? Dr. Naidoo recommends relaxing herbal teas, like chamomile, lavender, or passionflower. Or, coffee—if you can stomach it after drinking—packed with polyphenols, which act as antioxidants.
2. Sip on L-theanine-rich drinks
In addition to adequately hydrating, Dr. Naidoo says there are several foods and drinks that can help alleviate hangxiety symptoms. From a beverage standpoint, her go-tos include green or black teas due to their L-theanine content, an amino acid that’s been shown to help reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Additionally, she says the caffeine content in these teas can also lend a helping hand in maintaining energy levels the day after consuming alcohol.
3. Eat gut-friendly, fermented foods and fiber-rich foods
From a food standpoint, Dr. Naidoo says fermented foods such as plain, unsweetened whole-milk Greek yogurt (topped with berries and a sprinkle of cinnamon for some sweetness and an extra antioxidant boost) is a great choice.
Although a late-night meal delivery service may sound like a good idea at the time, fried or overly-sugary foods might not be as beneficial for alleviating hangxiety. “These foods may initially feel satisfying but are drivers of inflammation in the gut and brain which can further exacerbate symptoms,” the nutritional psychiatrist says. Better hangover brain food from Dr. Naidoo’s purview includes: a batch of air fryer zucchini fries or a homemade burger (beef, turkey, salmon, tofu, or vegetable).
In addition to fermented foods, Dr. Naidoo suggests fiber-rich plant foods that help reduce inflammation loaded with vitamins and minerals. “B vitamins, specifically, are important for making it through a hangover because alcohol consumption has been associated with B vitamin deficiency as well as increased stress and low mood, and certain B vitamins help to metabolize alcohol quicker,” Dr. Naidoo says. Foods rich in vitamin B include eggs, nuts and seeds, whole grains, leafy greens, and dairy products.
Pro tip: Dr. Naidoo suggests prepping your “drunchies” ahead of time and leaving them in your fridge, so they’re ready to go, sparing you the pricey take out order and potentially less healthy choice. Or “pregaming” with a meal filled with plenty of fiber-rich veggies and protein that can potentially reduce the effects of alcohol (and subsequent hangxiety). “Research has found that fiber and protein also help to keep the belly full and reduce the body’s ability to absorb alcohol,” Dr. Naidoo says.
4. Get at least 10 minutes of sunlight
Having a breathwork exercise, practicing some mindfulness, and spending at least 10 minutes in daylight are three easy ways Dr. Naidoo says can help manage your hangxiety symptoms. “All of these habits help to lower the stress in your body and brain and help calm the mind,” she says.
5. Sleep it off
When in doubt, Dr. Naidoo says sleep it off. “If you are able to rest, it can be beneficial to simply sleep it off. After a night of drinking, this can allow your mind to get back to its healthier state most efficiently and help reduce anxiety-inducing inflammation.”
An RD settles the wine vs. champagne debate:
- Williams, Jackson L et al. “The Effects of Green Tea Amino Acid L-Theanine Consumption on the Ability to Manage Stress and Anxiety Levels: a Systematic Review.” Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands) vol. 75,1 (2020): 12-23. doi:10.1007/s11130-019-00771-5
- Paton, Alex. “Alcohol in the body.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 330,7482 (2005): 85-7. doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7482.85
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