I had an emotional hangover today. Much like the more familiar hangover, it’s caused by excess. Only in this case, the hangover is brought about by too much of the feels than by too much of the booze.
But it sucks just about as much.
An emotional hangover is characterized partially by physical symptoms. The eyes are swollen and bloodshot from tears and lack of sleep. The belly is also swollen from swallowing too much air and perhaps even from the diversion of blood flow if the flight or fight system was activated. Its bloat is accompanied by a queasiness that either demands unhealthy food or rejects any thought of sustenance. The senses feel dulled at the same time the emotions are still in spasm.
And the emotions. While suffering from an emotional hangover, you feel raw. Residuals of the emotional flood bob to the surface yet you’re too tired to process them, letting out their air so that they can again sink to the bottom. Tears may be near the surface and can erupt even at the slightest provocation. You feel bruised from the strength of the released feelings. Sore.
Working memory is compromised, both because of a lack of sleep and because it’s busy trying to make sense of all that arose the night before. You may say or do things that are out of character as you simply try to make it through the day.
So what’s the key for surviving an emotional hangover?
First, recognize that everything feels distorted when you’re short on sleep. And when you’re processing heavy emotions, you need even more sleep than usual. If you can, sleep in or snag a nap. If you can’t, make an early bedtime a priority. Work with your brain here. If you try to force sleep while you’re still worked up, it won’t work. Instead, find a way to comfort yourself, distract from the intensity or bleed some of the emotion until you feel like you can rest.
Yeah, I know. This sounds like a tip for the other type of hangover. But it’s important here too. If you’ve been crying, you’ve lost fluids. Even if you’ve just been operating at an aroused emotional state, you’ve stressed your system. And even just a little dehydration can make you feel even more awful.
Eat Nourishing Food
Not crap. You feel what you eat. Much like with sleep, a good meal can provide perspective and optimism. Make an effort to nourish yourself. Your mind will take notice.
When you’re in an emotional storm, your breath becomes short, fast and irregular. As soon as you can, work to calm it and deepen it. It’s using the body to tell the brain it’s okay.
Limit the Social Demands
Reschedule some stuff. Call in sick if you need to or at least take a break when you can. You’re not operating at 100%. Don’t try to pretend that you are. Oh, and be ready to explain away the red eyes and sluggish demeanor with an excuse of allergies or an oncoming cold. Even if you have things you want to talk about, they’re usually best tabled until your hangover has lifted and you can think again.
You’re wrung out. This isn’t the time to tackle the interval training or hit the squat rack. Take a walk or do a little yoga. It helps to unstick some of the emotional residue.
Escape Into a Story
Much of surviving an emotional hangover is just being patient while the body and brain start to relax. This is a great time to through yourself into an engaging book or movie (I don’t suggest binge-watching a series here; that is an escape which will keep you from the sleep you need).
Be Kind to Youself
Don’t try to force any difficult conversations or decisions. Don’t beat up on yourself for your current (and temporary) state. You’re human. You feel. And sometimes those feelings can leave you feeling pretty wasted the next day. It’s okay. And you’ll believe that once you’ve had the opportunity to sleep and the time to let the residue fade.
And as to what caused my emotional hangover today? Let’s just say gaslighting is the gift that keeps on giving. Ugh. And now I’m off to a hot bath and a welcoming bed. I’m ready for this hangover to be over.