5 science-backed ways to quell anxiety and rebuild your mental energy after drinking

POV: The gang is finally back together, and before you know it, you’re one margarita, two margaritas, and three margaritas deep. When the good times flow, so can the booze – which could mean the morning-after breathlessness is about to begin. You know, that dreaded anxious and depressed feeling the next morning mentally bender? Anxiety is all too real, and health experts agree.

But why does something that makes you feel so good (at least for a while) make you feel that way so bad soon after? Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of a forthcoming book, says, Calm your mind with food, it’s simple: alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, which can have both long-term and short-term effects. Ahead Dr. Naidoo learns about the short-term effects of anxiety and ways to alleviate its symptoms in the morning after a long night.

Experts in this article

  • Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist

What is anxiety?

According to Dr. Naidoo, heartburn is a phenomenon where anxiety increases after heavy drinking, often accompanied by other hangover symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and irritability. “Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant in the brain. In other words, it works by slowing down our brain function, which is why it’s common for some people to reach for alcohol when they’re anxious or need help falling asleep,” he says. On the other hand, when the calming effect wears off, so do these feelings of calmness and relaxation, which can also increase feelings of anxiety.

In addition to the mental effect, diarrhea can also be accompanied by nervousness, palpitations, excessive sweating and dehydration, which are physiological reactions to alcohol consumption. Remember that the more alcohol consumed, the more intense the anxiety and associated side effects are likely to be.

“Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant in the brain. So it slows down our brain function, which is why it’s common for some people to reach for alcohol when they’re anxious or need help falling asleep.
-Uma Naidoo, MD, nutritional psychiatrist

5 ways to relieve anxiety before it fully creeps in

While the only real foolproof way to prevent anxiety is to avoid drinking alcohol, Dr Naidoo says there are ways to reduce symptoms free going cold turkey. “It’s comforting to keep in mind that the anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal is temporary [in most cases]but there are tools you can use to alleviate the symptoms,” he says.

1. Hydration as soon as possible

First, Dr. Naidoo notes that because alcohol is very dehydrating—and dehydration is one of the key factors in feelings of anxiety—it’s important to rehydrate as soon as possible after a drinking event. “It’s very important to make sure you hydrate with plenty of water, electrolytes, and hydrating fruits and vegetables the day after drinking alcohol to help clear anxious thoughts,” she says.

Find something calming and moisturizing? Dr. Naidoo recommends relaxing herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender or passionflower. Or coffee – if you can stomach it after drinking it – full of polyphenols that act as antioxidants.

2. Sip drinks with L-theanine

In addition to adequate hydration, Dr. Naidoo says there are several foods and drinks that can help relieve heartburn symptoms. From a beverage perspective, her favorites include green or black tea because they contain L-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, he says, the caffeine content of these teas can also lend a helping hand in maintaining energy levels the day after drinking alcohol.

3. Eat gut-friendly, fermented foods and high-fiber foods

From a food perspective, Dr. Naidoo says fermented foods like plain, unsweetened whole-milk Greek yogurt (with berries and a touch of cinnamon for sweetness and an extra antioxidant boost) are a good choice.

While late-night meal delivery may sound like a good idea at the time, fried or overly sugary foods may not be as helpful in relieving heartburn. “These foods may seem satisfying at first, but they cause inflammation in the gut and brain, which can further worsen symptoms,” says the nutritional psychiatrist. Better hangover brain food from Dr. Naidoo’s industry includes: a batch of air fryer zucchini fries or a homemade burger (beef, turkey, salmon, tofu or veggie).

In addition to fermented foods, Dr. Naidoo suggests fiber-rich plant foods that help reduce inflammation with vitamins and minerals. “B vitamins in particular are important in clearing a hangover, because alcohol use has been linked to vitamin B deficiency and increased stress and low mood, and certain B vitamins help metabolize alcohol faster,” says Dr. Naidoo. Foods rich in B vitamins include eggs, nuts and seeds, whole grains, leafy vegetables and dairy products.

Pro tip: Dr. Naidoo recommends making your “drinks” ahead of time and leaving them in the fridge so they’re ready to go, saving you expensive takeout orders and potentially less healthy choices. Or “foreplay” with a meal full of high-fiber vegetables and protein that can potentially reduce the effects of alcohol (and subsequent anxiety). “Studies have shown that fiber and protein also help keep the stomach full and reduce the body’s ability to absorb alcohol,” says Dr Naidoo.

4. Get at least 10 minutes of sunlight

Breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness and spending at least 10 minutes in daylight are three easy ways Dr. Naidoo says can help manage your anxiety symptoms. “All of these habits help reduce stress in your body and brain and calm your mind,” she says.

5. Sleep it off

When in doubt, Dr. Naidoo says to sleep it off. “If you can rest, it can be helpful to just sleep it off. After a night of drinking, this can help your mind return to a healthier state most effectively and help reduce anxiety-causing inflammation.”

RD settles the wine vs champagne debate:

Well+Good articles refer to scientific, reliable, recent and robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us on your wellness journey.

  1. Williams, Jackson L et al. Effects of consumption of the green tea amino acid L-theanine on the ability to manage stress and anxiety: a systematic review.Vegetable foods for human consumption (Dordrecht, The Netherlands)vol. 75,1 (2020): 12-23. doi:10.1007/s11130-019-00771-5

  2. Paton, Alex. Alcohol in the body.BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.)vol. 330 7482 (2005): 85-7. doi: 10.1136/bmj.330.7482.85

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