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What It Means to Have an 'Emotional Hangover'

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From exhaustion and headaches to dizziness, sluggishness, anxiousness, and nauseousness, most of us know what it feels like to have a hangover. After all, it is our body’s way of reacting to one too many drinks. But what happens when you wake up feeling drained without drinking? Well, you may be experiencing an emotional hangover.

“Emotional hangovers [are] an energetic residue left over from the interaction,” Dr. Judith Orloff of Psychology Today explained. They can occur after an argument, a breakup, or a difficult day. They can be the result of too much socialization or forced interaction. However, most emotional hangovers are precipitated by prolonged stressful periods and/or traumatic events. They can also linger for several days, or in some cases weeks — a phenomena I know all too well.

You see, my emotional hangover began in the summer. On June 23, I found my mother — face down and barely conscious — in her apartment due to alcohol. She died due to a combination of mental illness and booze. In July, I told my husband I was struggling with my sexuality, a difficult conversation for any person in any sort of relationship, and since then I’ve been on edge.

I’ve been steeped in trauma.

I don’t know how to breathe. To be. To relax.

The good news is I’ve managed to keep my mental illness at bay. Most days I am good. I am doing OK. I am well; however, I still wake up feeling burnt out. Sluggish. My mind is like a bowl of half-digested alphabet soup.

I am nauseous. My stomach is in knots. I feel like I will heave with the slightest movement. I can taste bile. A thick coating lines my throat, and my head pounds constantly. It’s been zero days since I’ve been headache-free, and that is because my heart is overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed.

My emotions are too much to bear.

But I am not alone. Emotional hangovers are a relatively normal response. “It’s common for us to experience ‘emotional hangovers,’” Orloff said — and on a regular basis. What’s more, the reason for this phenomena is simple.

According to Lila Davachi, an associate professor at New York University, “How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states — and these internal states can persist and color future experiences. These findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that emotional brain states can persist for long periods of time.”

In short, our experiences can and do impact our physical, mental and emotional state.

That said, basic self-care practices can improve your response and your mood. These include but are not limited to:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Writing in a journal
  • Spending time with friends or loved ones
  • Getting some exercise
  • Practicing yoga or meditation
  • Reading
  • Resting
  • Getting emotional support

So if you are feeling sluggish, anxious, overwhelmed or nauseous, know this: This feeling — like a regular hangover — will pass. In the interim, take care for yourself. Be kind and patient with yourself and love yourself. Things will get better. The residual energy will fade and burn off.

Header image via digitalskillet/Getty Images

Originally published: November 11, 2020
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