Along with making your head hurt, your stomach queasy and your resolution about not drinking ever again more memorable, hangovers can also cause you anxiety. If you are a naturally anxious person, and/or someone who has been clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a hangover may trigger unwelcome feelings of stress that are hard to control.
Read on to find out how a hangover can make you extra anxious, as well as what you can do when you do feel anxious from a hangover.
What is Your Anxiety Score?
Hangovers can cause anxiety, but anxiety is more common in those that have anxiety already. Make sure you take my free 7-minute anxiety test to score your anxiety, compare it to others, and learn more about your symptoms.
Hangovers Are the Worst
Anxiety causes several issues that relate to hangovers. Some of them are caused by hangovers. Some of them are caused by your own natural anxiety and the way that anxiety affects how you feel. No matter what, make sure you take my free 7-minute anxiety test to get a better idea of how your anxiety works and how to treat it.
Depression and Mental Health After Drinking
Not everything related to the development of anxiety is going to be easy to understand. One of the things we know about the brain after alcohol use is that it's not uncommon to feel chemical-level depression and anxiety, simply because of the way that your mind has become stressed after drinking. From the use of nutrients to the dehydration to the hormonal and neurochemical changes, depression and anxiety after drinking are very common, and the only thing that will help that type of anxiety go away is time.
Hangover Pains and Paranoia
One of the most significant issues with anxiety after hangovers is this feeling of paranoia – a belief that something must have happened because of the way you feel, like bad food, too much to drink, etc. These feelings are natural, but they can also be relatively damaging and are the direct result of anxiety.
Hangovers cause all kinds of pain. The different types of pain you may feel when hung over can be distressing enough by themselves, but may also become objects of fixation, causing you to obsess about what they might mean.
A headache, which can range anywhere from a mild twinge to a painful pounding sensation, is probably a familiar sensation to someone with anxiety. Stress headaches are common among highly anxious people and, as with any headache, including those caused by hangovers, they can make you worry that something is wrong with your head. If you can’t clearly remember prior events, the stress from this pain may be even worse, causing you to wonder if you physically injured yourself.
Nausea can cause similar paranoia. In addition, if your nausea is severe enough to cause vomiting, you may start to worry that you ate something bad or that you have some kind of virus. Vomiting can also contribute to dehydration and make it hard for you to keep food down, which are conditions that make you even more prone to stress due to physical strain.
Another problem may be injuries that may have been sustained while drinking that are not noticeable until the hangover and sobriety hit. These injuries can be frightening and disturbing, especially if you do not remember how you got them, and may cause paranoia about being attacked or harmed by other people. They can also cause anxiety due to the fact that it is hard to know the severity of a physical injury from feel alone. Severe pain in your toe, for example, might only be a sprain but it might also mean a broken bone.
If you find yourself with this worry, it's okay to see a doctor. But make sure you're drinking water, examining yourself in a mirror, and talking to your friends about the likelihood of injury.
Drinking alcoholic beverages, as well as vomiting caused by nausea, can result in dehydration. Typically when you are dehydrated, your body usually produces an “anti-diuretic” hormone that causes you to stop urinating as much to retain as much water as possible. Alcohol decreases the amount of anti-diuretic hormone in your body, meaning that you urinate more frequently, which rapidly reduces the amount of water in your body.
The symptoms of dehydration can include headaches, decreased blood pressure, and dizziness or fainting. Not knowing why you are dizzy can be a scary experience and lead you to suspect that something has gone wrong with your brain. Fainting can also be highly disorienting and alarming if you don’t realize why it is happening. If this occurs:
- Drink plenty of water (and do NOT drink anything that will dehydrate you further, such as more alcohol or sugary drinks such as soda).
- Lie down to prevent injuring yourself during episodes of dizziness or fainting.
- Consider contacting a doctor if you do not see any improvement.
The Anxiety of Confusion and Memory Lapses
Both confusion and memory lapses are common for people with hangovers. The confusion may initially result from feeling terrible and not immediately understanding why, which can result in a panic about what terrible thing may have happened to you, such as being in an accident of some sort. After the initial confusion, you may find yourself unable to think clearly, either due to physical pain or dehydration. This inability to think clearly may cause you to make unreasonable leaps in your thinking that can lead to anxiety attacks (for example, “My head hurts: What if I have a brain tumor?”).
Confusion can also be caused by lapses in your memory. Not being able to recall what happened prior to waking up with a hangover and all its accompanying symptoms can cause a great deal of stress, causing you to speculate about every bad thing that might have happened to you. The list is essentially endless because when you don’t remember a space of time, almost anything could have happened during it. More reasonable concerns include saying things you didn’t mean, while more intense fears can come from imagining that you were attacked or abused by someone.
Anxiety From Regretting Bad Decisions
If you do remember your actions and behavior before the hangover, chances are they were slightly uncharacteristic and often regrettable. When you lose impulse control due to the consumption of alcohol, just about anything you can think of saying or doing has a chance of getting said or done.
Unfortunately, drinking with people you are close to can lead to saying and doing things that you will be forced to confront the results of the next time you see them, the prospect of which can make you feel anxious and even panicked.
If you don’t remember your actions or behavior, evidence of them may be present in your surrounding area that may cause you regret and stress, especially if any destruction of property is in evidence and the property was left there by someone else, or was being held for or borrowed from a friend or loved one. If you're suffering from regret, make sure you do the following:
- Take care of yourself. Until you are feeling more normal, it is a bad idea to initiate any confrontations, on the chance that your mood or physical state causes you to say or do more things you will regret later.
- Once you feel up to it, apologize. This can be a good preventative measure even if you don’t think you said or did anything hurtful, because though what you said or did may not have seemed hurtful at the time, your judgment was probably a little bit off. Being safe by apologizing just in case may help you avoid tension and anger from people you care about later on, which would otherwise add to your stress.
- Give yourself an action plan too. One of the problems with making mistakes when drinking is that it's almost too easy on yourself to just apologize, have those regrets, and move on. Ideally you want to stop making those mistakes in the future, which means it's not a bad idea to make a plan for yourself of how you're going to occupy your time for the next month so that you don't drink again and give yourself a chance to recover.
The reality surrounding you during your hangover is usually less of a cause for stress than it seems. Though you may initially perceive your surroundings as unfamiliar, confusing and even dangerous, your first step should be to confront the reality of your physical condition. After that, your stress levels will be lower, and you will be able to address external concerns in a calmer and more organized fashion.
Make sure you take my anxiety test as well. This free 7-minute test will give you more information on your own anxiety, as well as tips on what you can do to treat it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jul 09, 2018.