Why Drinking Can Make You Feel Extra Anxious Over the Holidays
By Julia Ries
- Alcohol activates the GABA system causing us to feel less anxious and relaxed. If you stop drinking, your GABA system is still overcompensating and gets mixed up, leading to a spike in anxiety.
- Drinking can also impact your ability to get REM sleep, which can affect mood.
- Alcohol can help trigger a chemical that impacts the "flight or flight" response leading to anxiety
For many people, drinking and the holidays go hand in hand.
Between the work parties, festive get-togethers, and influx of family members, there are plenty of opportunities to get caught up in a whirlwind of drinking.
And all the alcohol-infused cheer going around often comes with a painful aftershock.
Yes, there are the standard hangover symptoms — pounding headaches, bouts of nausea, and an uncompromisable need for total silence — but many people also experience heightened levels of anxiety, a term the internet has dubbed "hangxiety."
So, in light of the upcoming holidays — and, therefore, all the champagne and spiked eggnog you're about to serve up — we wanted to get to the bottom of why drinking can give us more anxiety in the days that follow.
It Messes With Our GABA System
The mood fluctuations we feel after a couple of days or even a night of excessive drinking can be traced back to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.
Alcohol activates the GABA system (which, remember, is inhibitory), causing us to feel less anxious and relaxed (if you drink, you know the feeling).
"By activating an inhibitory neuron, [alcohol] makes you uncoordinated, it makes you disinhibited — so you're a little more talkative — and that happens immediately," said Dr. Stephen Holt, a Yale Medicine addiction medicine doctor.
However, if you drink multiple days in a row, and therefore activate the GABA system for an extended period of time, the GABA system starts to cool itself down.
"Your brain starts to say, 'Oh! There's this whole new thing in our brain now, we should make some changes,'" Holt said.
When you eventually stop drinking, your GABA system is still overcompensating and gets mixed up, leading to a spike in anxiety.
"When you take alcohol out of the system — it's four days of binge drinking and now you're not drinking alcohol — that [GABA] system is now revved up in such a way that you start to feel anxious if you don't have alcohol in your system," Holt said.
On top of that, alcohol releases a surge of endorphins — our bodies' natural opiate — which gives us a feel-good buzz.
When we drink for days in a row, our brain starts to expect this pleasurable substance all the time. And, without it, we can start to feel a bit blue.
"We use the term dysphoria, which is kind of the opposite of euphoria," said Holt. "It's just this feeling of emptiness and feeling a little hollow — there's just something missing — because that alcohol was providing this pleasurable, reinforcing effect."
Alcohol Can Also Be Stimulating
Alcohol can also be stimulating, according to Dr. John Krystal, the chair of the department of psychiatry at Yale Medicine.
Some people may find that a glass of wine or beer will cause them to feel more stimulated. Krystal says this may be due to alcohol's ability to increase norepinephrine levels in the body, which is a chemical involved in our body's "fight or flight" response to fear or stress.
This rush of norepinephrine can play out in a couple of ways.
"While some people may find the effects of norepinephrine to be pleasurable, others — particularly people with symptoms associated with panic disorder or PTSD — may be very sensitive to the ability of norepinephrine to trigger anxiety," Krystal said.
It Interferes With Our Sleep
Alcohol also disrupts the quality of our sleep and can completely deregulate our sleep-wake cycle.
"People may find that drinking alcohol helps them to relax and to fall asleep. However, alcohol reduces the restful quality of sleep and when their blood alcohol levels drop, they may experience more difficulty getting back to sleep or maintaining sleep," Krystal said.
And when we don't get the sleep we need, our mood can take a hit.
When we drink alcohol, our rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, is reduced. This matters because it's the most important, restorative part of our sleep.
Research shows that poor REM sleep has been linked to a higher risk of depression and anxiety. On the flip side, a deep, restorative sleep may actually calm an overactive brain and mitigate feelings of anxiety.
"Sleep is important in mood regulation and being thrown off suddenly can increase feelings of anxiety," said Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, a senior psychologist at Northwell Health.
Here’s How Long It’ll Last and What to Do About It
According to Holt, whereas a hangover will usually stick with you for a few hours, that post-drinking anxiety may linger for a couple of days.
However, if you struggle with anxiety or have an anxiety disorder, that anxiety may last longer and end up being more severe than it was before drinking alcohol.
If you start to feel more anxious after drinking, it's probably worth taking a break from it. Give your GABA system a rest and find a healthier way to soak up those endorphins.
"There are natural ways of reducing anxious feelings. Exercise is a great one. Even if you're feeling sluggish, going for a brisk walk can naturally uplift your mood," Warner-Cohen said.
Sleep is another big one: Take a nap if you can or aim for an earlier bedtime.
"Getting an actual full night's sleep that includes REM sleep is very important to help people feel restored the next day, less anxious, less depressed, and more capable of getting done what needs to be done," Holt said.
Deep breathing exercises can also help soothe your nerves. There's plenty of evidence pointing to deep breathing's ability to boost feelings of comfort and downplay symptoms of anxiety, arousal, and confusion.
Many health experts recommend the 4-7-8 method, in which you slowly inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and gradually exhale for 8 seconds.
Listen to your body — you know it better than anyone else.
If you feel the anxiety building, or strong, persistent urges to drink, reach out for help. There are a lot of treatments available for both anxiety and alcohol use disorders that are worth looking into if you sense an issue unfolding.
The Bottom Line
With the holidays upon us, you may notice that all that spiked eggnog and champagne toasts may not only give you a painful hangover, but severe symptoms of anxiety as well.
This is because alcohol can have a very powerful effect on the systems that regulate our mood and mental health.
Though the anxiety may linger for a few days, sleep, exercise, and deep breathing exercises can help you overcome the anxious aftershock that follows a few days of heavy drinking.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›
- California Makes Face Masks Mandatory to Fight Pandemic ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.