How to Cure an Emotional Hangover
Written by: Scott Dinsmore
Have you ever felt on top of the world one minute and moments later felt like you’d fallen off an emotional cliff?
Why is it that some of our favorite and most exciting experiences with others can often lead to us feeling drained or craving attention? Often the answer is that you’re hung over…emotionally that is. Let me explain.
Symptoms of an Emotional Hangover
You’ve just had an amazing set of experiences and you suddenly:
- Feel empty and alone
- Are craving attention
- Feel anxious, hurried and stressed
- Lose your motivation to be healthy (mentally and physically)
- Experience a feeing of excitement quickly replaced by feeling lost
A few weeks back I had a reunion of sorts in Santa Barbara. I got the chance to reconnect with some of the most amazing people from my college and pre college life. Old roommates, friends and a bunch of familiar faces. I was on an absolute high all weekend. We all picked up right where we left off three, five or eight years ago. We didn’t skip a beat. The stories, the laughter, the energy, the excitement–it was all there by the buckets full. As contagious as that type of energy can be, we also made some brand new connections with those around us. It really could not have gone better.
Before I knew it, the weekend was over. Sunday afternoon I said goodbye and drove away, still bubbling with energy. Then within a matter of minutes, that energy converted into one of the heaviest weights I’ve experienced. The excitement turned to sadness bordering on mild depression. I got anxious. My mind started racing. All of a sudden I just felt empty. What on earth had just happened? It wasn’t until later in the day that it actually hit me. The hyper-stimulation from the weekend’s interactions had swung so dramatically from attention to alone time, that my body and emotions hardly knew what to do. I was emotionally hung over.
And this was not the first time. In fact this happens to me to some degree every time I spend focused time with high-energy people (I don’t even have to know them that well). It’s just the result of the pure stimulation.
Think back on the last few emotionally-packed events you’ve experienced. Perhaps a wedding, birthday party or new year’s celebration. Anything that involved a lot of focused human interaction that lasted for a couple days or more. How did you feel once the music stopped? Chances are you had the same emotional hangover I did. It turns out it isn’t that uncommon, at least from the anecdotal research I’ve done since really coming to grips with it. In the past weeks I’ve asked a number of people if they’ve ever had an emotional hangover and their immediate response was “yes!” Then they say, “Wait, what’s an emotional hangover”? Intuitively most people realize they’ve experienced one.
As with anything, the first time something happens, it catches you off guard. The second and third times it happens you recognize the feeling and start to notice a pattern. Then after another experience or two you have enough data to study it, learn from it and modify your actions. An emotional hangover is no different.
So the real question is what can we do about it?
A Word of Warning: The last thing you’ll want to do when feeing unresourceful is try to change your state. Do it anyway. On top of that, it’s not uncommon for an emotional hangover to be paired with a real hangover, which makes dealing with it all the more important. So be proactive and use the following to help get you cured.
Seven Steps to Curing an Emotional Hangover:
1. Recognize it. We tend to overreact when something happens to us that we don’t understand. Once you’ve accepted that you’ll experience these hangovers from time to time, they become much more manageable. It’s never fun to feel sad or anxious, especially when you have no idea why. Knowing and understanding why is always half the battle. Next time you feel this way, assess your symptoms and come to grips with it. Nothing else can be done until this happens.
2. Try to Understand it. Get out your journal and start writing. If you don’t have one, then now’s the time to stop into a bookstore and pick one up. I recommend a Moleskine. I write more when I’m alone after a big event than any other time. Write down what happened over the past few days. What was so exciting, invigorating and memorable about your experiences and interactions? What do you wish you could continue? Who do you want to see again? Maybe there’s even a special girl or guy you connected with–this will make the hangover especially intense and makes understanding it even more important.
3. Get Grateful and Dive into an Emotional Flood. Right along with understanding it comes being massively grateful for your experience. For the people, the stories, the fun and the excitement. What are you proud of from the event? What went right? Who made you feel special and how? Now expand it outside of this event to your life in general. Who are you so thankful to have in your life? What life situations, emotions and interactions could you not live without? Write them down. See them in your mind. Picture the sounds, the voices, colors, pictures, smells. Soak it all in. Flood yourself with positive emotions. Spend at least 5-10 minutes but perhaps an hour or more. The longer the better. When you’re feeling intensely grateful, it’s very difficult to feel negative emotions like fear and stress.
4. Move and Breathe. This is my solution to most challenging things I come up against. Stress and anxiety can be caused by something as simple as taking short quick breaths and focusing on the wrong things. Oxygenate your body and your mind. Take some big deep breaths. Start by walking and breathing. Maybe 5 counts in, hold for 20 counts and 10 counts out. Then really start to move. Go for a run, do some yoga or hop on your mountain bike. You pick. Ideally stay outside where it’s fresh and the scenery is soothing. Just about everything feels better after a workout. Who cares what it is. Just move. This can be an excellent time to get grateful too. There’s nothing wrong with doing them at the same time. This isn’t a bad way to cure a normal hangover either.
5. Eat Foods that Serve You. Most of you know what this means. Do things that support your body and your mind. Eating is one of those things where your actions can be so dramatically different based on whether you’re thinking short term or long term. If you’re stuck in your hangover, you’re likely to treat your body poorly. But if you’ve just gone for a nice run and gotten incredibly grateful, you’ll want to nurture your body properly. Just take Michael Pollan’s advice and eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I would stick to mainly water-rich vegetables. Grab a big salad and a nice glass of water. Easy on the meat, cheese and cream dressing though. If you already feel emotionally heavy, those will feel like adding a 50lb weight to your back. Your body and emotions will thank you.
6. Ease Back Into it. When feeling drained, alone and down and out from one of these hangovers, the immediate thought is to get around more people. You’re craving stimulation so this is natural. Just like an alcoholic will tell you the quickest way to feel better after too many drinks is to drink a little more (you can imagine how slippery that slope can be), that only prolongs the inevitable. If you over stimulated for a few days then take your medicine. Be by yourself and take time to understand your emotions.
My first thought after my emotional hangover was to set up dinner plans with someone, anyone. I racked my brain with whom to meet. Then I stopped myself and decided to enjoy a nice meal out all alone. I had my journal and a book. That was all I needed. You will be craving connection. Resist the urge to start calling, texting, tweeting or facebooking. None of that chatter will help for more than a few seconds. Then you’ll want even more. Be happy being alone for a while. Then reconnect slowly by finding a close friend or significant other.
7. Be Conscious for Next Time. Now that you understand a bit more about your emotions, what happened and how you properly dealt with it, be aware of the fact that it will happen again. As sure as you’ll spend more time with people you care about, you’ll have another emotional hangover. There is nothing wrong with this. Unlike the ones that come from too much booze, I believe an emotional hangover is a perfectly normal and healthy part of the human spirit.
The path to improvement often starts with experiencing, followed by understanding and finishing with action.
We all have experienced emotional hangovers to some extent. Maybe yours are trigged by things different than mine. Take some time to understand what leaves you feeling empty so you can recognize it and take action.
Most people fear and dread what they don’t understand. This can trigger quite the unhealthy emotional cycle. Crush the fear with understanding. Take a few minutes right now to write down what you’ve noticed produces your emotional hangovers. Realize what you’ve done to exacerbate or remedy them. Have a plan for what you’ll do next time.
And do yourself a favor. Don’t be so hard on yourself next time you feel your emotions have overdosed on the one thing we all crave–human stimulation and connection. After all, that’s the best part of life.
What caused your last emotional hangover? Did you realize what was happening? What did you do to deal with it? Please share in the comments section below.