As the body recovers from a night of drinking, a hangover creates a state of physiological stress. Generally speaking, physiological stress occurs when the body is under pressure, for example as a result of illness or injury. A kind of hangover works the same way. Not only does this cause changes in our immune system, but it also increases levels of cortisol (often called the “stress hormone”), blood pressure and heart rate – changes that also occur with anxiety.
But when we asked participants to actually regulate their emotions in a computer task, they were able to regulate them to the same extent that they could when they weren’t hungover, but with increased effort. We did this by showing participants images that evoked various emotions (including positive or negative emotions) but asking them to experience their emotions without outwardly expressing them. Having more difficulty regulating emotions during a hangover could also explain why some people experience anxiety.
We found that people with hangovers performed worse in key aspects of executive function. Executive functions help people cope with anxiety and inhibit anxious thoughts. If these mental abilities are lower during a hangover, it may help explain why some people struggle with anxiety.
But why do some people get hangxie while others don’t?
Of course, the best way to avoid suffering from hangxie is to avoid drinking altogether – or at least drink in moderation.