It’s the evening after a highly anxious day - you smashed that big work presentation, you had an interview, you went on a date with a hottie - you think to yourself ‘Boy, I’m glad that’s all over with, I’m going to feel so much better tomorrow’.
Flash forward to the morning and your heart is racing, your body is stiff with tension and your mind is going on a mad one - welcome to the ‘anxiety hangover’.
I’ve sat down to write this particular blog around three times now. Yet, I’ve never managed it. I think that’s because I normally try to write it in the midst of an ‘anxiety hangover’ and that is no easy feat.
So I’m writing this now after coming out of a nasty anxiety hangover, like a real shit show. It’s weirdly not a subject talked about - Google ‘anxiety hangover’ and you’re met with a bunch of articles on how to deal with the ‘booze blues’, the anxiety/depression felt after a night on the razz.
There is however this great article from the Metro. Alongside that piece, I hope this blog provides you either with relief that you're not the only one who faces this or a better understanding of those around you who experience it.
WHAT IS AN ANXIETY HANGOVER?
First up, let’s look into what is really happening to your body/mind the day(s) after a lot of anxiety.
Metro spoke to Hope Bastine, a psychologist on the topic, who can explain it all in a far more coherent/science-y way than I:
"The basic rule of thumb for any science is with every high, there is a low. And, the higher the high, the lower the low."
"In the case of an anxiety attack, the sympathetic nervous system has become hyper-active... In science, we call this hyper-arousal. But when a stress response has been triggered, there is a feedback loop, that actives the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest-and-digest state. This allows us the time and space to recover and heal from a bout of exhaustion."
"So, the anxiety hangover we all experience is recovery period; it protects us from straining our immune system and subsequent illness."
Right, so your brain flushes your body with all the fight or flight hormones to tackle the threat in front of you but these days it's rare you actually utilise the hormones in the way they're intended.
For example when faced with leading a presentation at work, the adrenaline and cortisol released into your body wants you to either smash up the projector or run like the wind out of the office. Although tempting, neither of these options are usually taken, so instead all that energy has no way out.
Let's take a look at some of the symptoms people experience during an anxiety hangover:
Inability to see the positives
Loss of appetite and general stomach discomfort
Feeling over 'emotional' - just thinking about Marley and Me could set me off
Everyone is impacted differently so that list is not exhaustive.
For me, you'll find me tensed up trying to stomach some breakfast whilst ensuring I don't see any sad cats or dogs on Instagram.
Last year we put out a tweet asking if anyone else experiences anxiety hangovers, here's some of the responses:
HOW LONG DOES AN ANXIETY HANGOVER LAST?
This will depend on various factors and will likely be unique to you. As Hope Bastine said "the higher the high, the lower the low", so the intensity of the anxiety/panic tends to correlate with the length and severity of the hangover.
Personally for me, my anxiety hangovers tend to last in phases. Typically I'll have one or two days where it's all very heightened with side effects like lack of appetite, heavy fatigue/muscle tension and feeling very low. This then subsides to improved appetite but stomach discomfort, general tiredness and foggy brain which can last for another four or so days.
The more you experience them, the more you'll learn in which ways your body reacts to them. Which leads us nicely on to...
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOURSELF RECOVER?
When I'm in the midst of a nasty anxiety hangover, I desperately want it to bugger off. I've yet to find anything that eliminates it immediately but there are plenty of things you can do to gently help both your mind and body recover.
Be kind to yourself
I can't overstate this one enough and it's still something I struggle with. One of the hardest aspects of an anxiety hangover for me is the negative, berating self-talk I find myself falling into - "You're weak", "You're a coward for feeling like this", "Why can't you just be normal like everyone else?"
In any scenario this narrative won't be helpful, let alone when you're already feeling swamped with anxiety.
Remember, being kind to yourself is not a sign of weakness or self-indulgence. Here's a few simple ideas to get you started:
Clear your schedule so you can dedicate time to recover, being 'selfish' is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Follow a guided meditation from Kristen Neff, author of Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.
Write out a list of reasons why you are proud of yourself. Can be as small as 'feeding the cat this morning' to 'starting a new job in a new city'. This helps put perspective on your life as a whole and quieten the 'inner critic'.
Once the hangover is gone, I'd highly recommend writing a letter to your 'future' self telling them it's going to be okay, this too shall pass and some general advice. This might sound odd but it helps to hear these things from yourself!
Calm your sympathetic nervous system
Due to the anxiety-inducing event(s) the previous day, your sympathetic nervous system will be hyper-active, flushing your body with hormones ready to fight or flight. We want to activate the parasympathetic system, known as the 'rest and digest' state to help calm and relax both your mind and body.
Here's some ways to help get your parasympathetic system going:
Get outside in nature.
Have a warm bath or shower.
Hang out with some animals (this really does work).
Get a massage or do some self massaging - this YouTube channel has some great follow along routines.
If you see a therapist or counsellor, book a session.
Try to reduce caffeine and sugar intake, where possible.
This one ties in with the previous points but it's so important.
The symptoms you're experiencing during an anxiety hangover are your body and brain's way of telling you to slow down. It can be tempting to just 'power through' and believe by pushing yourself harder, you'll recover quicker. But that's not the case, in fact, you'll be leading yourself to burnout if you do.
Where you can, reschedule any events coming up that you know will drain you further. Speak to your boss and explain that over the next few days you won't be able to work as hard as you normally do. Ask your partner for a bit more support around the flat.
As briefly mentioned before, now is the time to be as 'selfish' as you can and not to feel guilty for doing so. Do what you can, if you do have to go to some stressful event or work late, put aside non-negotiable time for one or two of the parasympathetic system activating activities immediately after.
Your wellbeing should be your #1 focus.
So there you have it, the anxiety hangover summarised as best I can.
I hope this has either helped you realise this is way more common than you think or maybe shed some light on a topic that you weren't even aware of!
If you're currently in the midst of an anxiety hangover, I know it sucks but you're going to be okay, I promise. Try some of the above tips and give yourself a break, you deserve it.
Is this something you experience? Got any tips or advice to handle it? Feel free to add a comment or get in touch via social media!
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