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Hangxiety Explained: Coping with Alcohol-Induced Anxiety

Updated: May 11

And Understanding the Science Behind Waking Up at 3 AM After a Night of Drinking


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Have you ever experienced that dreaded 3 am wake-up call after a night of indulging in a few too many drinks? You know, the one where you're suddenly jolted awake, heart pounding, mind racing with questions like, "Did I say anything I need to apologize for? What did I do? Where's my purse?" If this scenario sounds all too familiar, you're not alone. Welcome to the world of hangxiety – a term coined to describe the unholy union of hangover and anxiety.

 

Hangxiety Defined

 

Hangxiety is more than just a clever portmanteau (look at us using big, fancy words!). Hangxiety encapsulates the cocktail of emotions and physical symptoms that often accompany a night of heavy drinking. It's that overwhelming sense of dread and self-doubt that creeps in during the wee hours of the morning, leaving you questioning your every action and decision from the previous night.


But what exactly causes this phenomenon, and why does it seem to strike with such precision around 3 am? To unravel the mysteries of hangxiety, we need to delve into the intricate workings of the human body and brain.

 

The Neurochemistry of Hangxiety

 

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At the heart of hangxiety lies the complex interplay of neurotransmitters in the brain. Think of neurotransmitters like messengers running around delivering important messages to different parts of your body. When you consume alcohol, it disrupts the delicate balance of these chemical messengers causing chaos and confusion in your brain, leading to widespread effects on mood, cognition, and behavior.


One of the primary neurotransmitters affected by alcohol is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which plays a crucial role in promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Alcohol enhances the activity of GABA, resulting in feelings of calm and euphoria – at least initially. However, as the effects of alcohol wear off, GABA activity plummets. Without enough GABA, your brain starts freaking out and fills the void with anxiety and restlessness.


Additionally, alcohol inhibits the release of glutamate, another neurotransmitter which helps you think clearly and remember experiences. When alcohol slows down glutamate, it contributes to the sedative effects of alcohol, but it also disrupts cognition and memory, basically hitting the pause button on forming memories – YIKES! That’s why you might wake up with those nagging doubts about what you might have said or done while under the influence.


But perhaps the most significant factor in the development of hangxiety is the impact of alcohol on the brain's reward system. Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, often referred to as the brain's "feel-good" chemical. This surge in dopamine reinforces the pleasurable effects of drinking, making it way too easy to overindulge. (We’ve all been there, right?) However, as the alcohol wears off, dopamine levels plummet. Your brain is looking for more dopamine, but it can’t find any. This leaves behind a profound sense of unease and dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria – who wants that?) – the hallmark of a hangover.

 

The Witching Hour: Why 3 AM?

 

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So why does hangxiety seem to peak around 3 am? The answer lies in the circadian rhythm – the internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. During a typical night's sleep, our bodies undergo various stages of restorative rest, including periods of deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.


Around 3 am, most people experience a natural transition from deep sleep to lighter stages of sleep, and our bodies start to wake up a little bit, even if we don’t realize it. This time period is when the mind is more susceptible to intrusive thoughts and worries. It's like your brain wakes up at 3 am and decides it's the perfect time to have a little worry session. You might start trying to remember everything that happened the night before. That's when the anxiety kicks in, and you start worrying about things like, "Did I say something embarrassing? Where's my stuff? What did I even do last night?"


Instead of getting the deep, restful sleep your body needs, alcohol disrupts your normal pattern of sleep. This leads to fragmented and shallow sleep throughout the night. As the sedative effects of alcohol wear off, the brain becomes more alert and responsive, increasing the likelihood of waking up during these vulnerable periods. Your brain literally doesn’t know if it should be sleeping or waking up. That's why you might find yourself tossing and turning, feeling jittery and restless at 3 am. It's your brain playing detective, trying to piece together what went down.

 

Taking Control: Tips for Relieving Hangxiety

 

Hangxiety might feel like an unavoidable part of a wild night out, but you've got more power than you think. Here are some moves you can make to ease the pain and steer clear of the next-day blues while also considering the bigger picture of creating your best life without booze in the mix.

 

1. Stay Hydrated: Alcohol is dehydrating, which can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and discomfort. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after drinking to help replenish lost fluids and alleviate symptoms of dehydration.

 

2. Practice Mindfulness: Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to calm the mind and reduce anxiety.

 

3.  Get Moving: Physical activity can help stimulate the release of endorphins – the body's natural mood lifters. Take a brisk walk, hit the gym, or engage in your favorite form of exercise to boost your mood and energy levels.

 

4.  Eat Nutritious Foods: Fuel your body with nourishing foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support recovery and replenish depleted nutrients.

 

5.  Limit Caffeine: While it may be tempting to reach for a strong cup of coffee to combat fatigue, excessive caffeine consumption can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and disrupt sleep. Opt for caffeine-free beverages or herbal teas instead.

 

6.  Consider Quitting Alcohol: If hangxiety has become a frequent companion after nights of drinking, it might be worth considering the benefits of sobriety. Quitting alcohol altogether can eliminate the cycle of hangovers and anxiety, leading to improved mental clarity, emotional stability, and overall well-being.

 

7.  Embrace Sobriety Curiosity: Instead of viewing sobriety as an all-or-nothing proposition, embrace the concept of being "sober curious." This approach involves exploring the effects of abstaining from alcohol on your physical and mental health, without committing to a permanent lifestyle change. By experimenting with periods of sobriety, you can gain valuable insights into how alcohol impacts your body and mind, empowering you to make informed choices about your drinking habits.

 

 

Conclusion

 

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As we've explored the intricate interplay between alcohol consumption and hangxiety, it's clear that managing the morning-after blues goes beyond simply treating the symptoms. While tips for mitigating hangxiety can provide temporary relief, true liberation from its grip lies in reevaluating our relationship with alcohol and embracing sober curiosity.


By considering the benefits of quitting drinking altogether or adopting a sober curious mindset, you can reclaim your edge and rediscover a sense of balance and fulfillment in your life. Whether it's breaking free from the cycle of hangovers and anxiety, improving overall well-being, or fostering deeper connections with others, sobriety offers a pathway to a brighter, more vibrant future.


If you're ready to explore your relationship with booze and take control, join us in the The 25 Days program at Put It Down Lifestyle. This transformative journey empowers you to examine your habits, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding alcohol, guiding you toward a healthier, more intentional way of living. With the support of a community of women committed to growth and self-discovery without judgment or shame, you can reclaim your power, find your balance, and live life on your own terms.


So why wait? It's time to put down the glass, pick up the pieces, and embark on a journey of self-discovery and renewal. Together, let's get it right where you want it – one sober step at a time.

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