Many of us (unfortunately) have experienced and fought to cure a hell of a hangover before (lots of water, rest and maybe a bit of hair of the dog!). After a long night of drinking, we wake up feeling sluggish, dizzy and nauseated and have a sensitivity to light or sound. But it’s not just alcohol that can make you feel absolutely awful the next day — expending a lot of emotional energy can have the same effect. And that can explain why after a huge fight or an exhausting evening of crying or talking through feelings, you want nothing more than to lay face down and groan for a few more hours. So what is an emotional hangover?
Well, as someone who has experience numerous emotional hangovers, let me explain: An emotional hangover occurs after a serious or traumatic event. It can also occur after an argument, a difficult day at work or a breakup from your partner/friend. However, my emotional hangovers usually occur after a long day of “peopling,” or socializing.
Let me back up a bit. As someone who struggles with severe social anxiety, leaving my house is often a chore. And so, when I get home, I often crash. My thoughts are clouded, my feelings are nonexistent and I am — literally and figuratively — burned out. Oh, and the next morning? I feel drained and exhausted. I am in pain. (Literally. My bones throb and my joints ache.) And I am moody and, well, off.
On paper, the reason for this is simple. As Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, wrote in Psychology Today, emotional hangovers are the “energetic residue left over from the interaction,” and without an outlet, this energy affects your physical well-being. They can make you feel tired, foggy or ill.
But just being aware of the issue doesn’t make it any better. It doesn’t make it any easier, and the “aftermath” is still hard. But there are a few strategies I have found helpful when dealing with my own emotional hangovers.
Treat your symptoms
Do you have a headache? A queasy stomach? Are you exhausted? If the former are your complaints, take medication. Pain relievers go a long way, and both Tums and Pepto-Bismol can do wonders for that unsettled feeling. As for exhaustion, if you can sleep, do. If you can’t (because of work, family or other obligations), try to take it as easy as you can and remove unnecessary tasks from your plate. Then, when you get home — or get a break — savor it. Take a nap or do something that reinvigorates you.
Eat a well-balanced meal
While eating a well-balanced meal may seem like a given, in the midst of an emotional hangover, this simple task is often overlooked. (I mean, you’ve got bigger things on your plate, right?) But according to research out of Tufts University, proper nutrition is essential. It increases your energy level and improves your well-being. So eat a good, comforting meal and avoid anxiety-inducing foods, like candy, coffee, alcohol and/or caffeine.
The mental health benefits of exercise are well-known. According to a 2006 study published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, physical activity is a proven way to reduce anxiety and depression. It has the potential to improve any mood. So dance, walk, run, hike or ride. Whatever you do, just get moving.
Read or meditate
It is imperative that after enduring an emotionally draining experience you get outside yourself and your own mind, because let’s be honest: You are probably still reeling from and replaying the event(s) in question over and over again. And while healthy escapism looks different for everyone, reading and meditation are two great methods.
Know when to seek additional help
Since the symptoms of an emotional hangover can mirror those of depression and/or other mental illnesses, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference — are you in a funk or experiencing something more? Of course, the general rule of thumb is that if said symptoms last more than two weeks, you should seek additional help, as depression is a persistent, lingering sense of sadness and/or loss, but there is no shame seeking help sooner. Sometimes you simply need to talk through your situation with a trusted loved one or friend. So trust yourself and your gut and remember that if something feels “off,” it probably is.
The good news is that with time, patience and some serious self-care you will feel better. The physical and emotional exhaustion will pass, but in the meantime, be good to yourself. Be kind to yourself, and treat yourself as you would a sick friend.
If you are in crisis or in need of support, text “START” to 741-741 to speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.
This story was originally published January 2019.