Have you ever woken up feeling anxious the morning after having a few drinks? If you have, you're not alone – hangover anxiety or "hangxiety" is a real thing, and it's more common than you might imagine.

So, where do those anxious feelings come from? There are a few potential explanations.

Those beers and mixed drinks disrupt the balance of chemicals and affect the function of individual transmitters and receptors in the brain.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a chemical messenger in the brain which decreases activity in the nervous system – in other words, it reduces energy and calms down brain activity. Alcohol activates GABA, which is why your first couple drinks typically result in a chilled-out mental state.

Glutamate is the main excitatory transmitter in the brain, and it is essential for learning and memory. After a few drinks, glutamate transmission slows down, moving you further into a state of bliss. After several more drinks, the alcohol suppresses the glutamate system, which is why you stop remembering things.

When your brain senses high levels of GABA and low levels of glutamate, it looks to balance things out. In turn, you're left with low GABA function and a glutamate spike once you stop drinking – bringing on an abundance of anxiety. The memory loss associated with drinking (brought on by the inhibition of glutamate) is another significant source of morning-after anxiety.

After several more drinks, the alcohol suppresses the glutamate system, which is why you stop remembering things.

On top of explanations involving fancy brain words, there are some more simple explanations for why you may experience anxiety with a hangover.

  • Drinking alcohol often comes hand-in-hand with dehydration (no matter how hard you try to balance out the alcohol with water), and dehydration has been known to cause changes in mood.
  • Alcohol can interact with certain medications – specifically medications for anxiety and depression – and make them less effective.
  • Folic acid levels typically drop when you drink alcohol, and researchers have found a link between low levels of folic acid and depression and anxiety.
  • It can take up to eight hours for your body to process the alcohol out of its systems. That detoxification period can feel like a mild form of withdrawal.
  • Going to bed later than usual or not reaching REM sleep, drinking can disrupt your sleep pattern, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.

A 2019 study found that, while hangxiety is not an isolated phenomenon, its intensity varies. Shyer people felt higher levels of anxiety the day after drinking than people who had lower baseline levels of shyness. It's believed that the rebound effects are felt more intensely by shy people because their amygdala (a part of the brain that processes emotion) is more active to begin with, and they are more likely to ruminate on the previous night's actions.

A 2019 study found that, while hangxiety is not an isolated phenomenon, its intensity varies.

Outside of not drinking altogether, there isn't much you can do to prevent feelings of anxiety in the aftermath of a night out. That said, here are a few coping methods to try to help remedy the symptoms.

  • Get your body right by tackling the physical symptoms that you're dealing with. The mind-body connection is likely a significant factor in the anxiety you're feeling, and taking care of your physical needs should help ease your mind. Rehydrate by drinking plenty of water and eat some mild foods that put your stomach at ease.
  • Practice mindfulness with meditation or guided breathing. Deep, slow breathing can help slow down your racing heart, while meditation can help you get a handle on your thoughts and clear your mind.
  • Catch up on sleep, your body and mind will thank you for it. Even if you slept for a regular amount of time, the quality of that sleep will have suffered due to alcohol. If you’re having a hard time catching some Z’s, do your best to get comfortable and spend some time just resting.
  • Don’t attempt to sweat it out. It’s a popular myth that you can ‘sweat out’ alcohol with an intense workout when you’re hungover. In reality, you’re only making things worse by causing further dehydration. If you want to get moving, try a light walk around the block or some yoga (paired with a lot of water).

The only foolproof way to avoid hangxiety is by cutting off alcohol consumption entirely. You can, however, reduce the adverse effects of alcohol by drinking more water (try alternating one glass of water with one alcoholic drink), drinking slower or consuming fewer drinks overall.