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What You Need to Know About Dealing With 'Emotional Hangovers'

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a hangover says:

“A severe headache or other after-effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol.”

I imagine quite a few of you can relate to what is meant by an alcohol hangover. After reading a few medical websites, and obviously this does not qualify me as a doctor (or make me specialist in this subject), I can conclude that a hangover is the physical sensation we feel when our body is telling us it’s not quite “right” While trying to help us recover or return to its “normal.”

While there is often a lot of guilt and self-blame surrounding an alcohol hangover (“I shouldn’t have drunk so much! It’s my own fault for feeling this way! I did this to myself!”) the hangover itself isn’t a punishment. It’s our body’s physical way of telling us it’s working a little bit harder to get us back to “normal” and reminding us to be kinder to ourselves, to help speed up the process: drink more water, rest, eat something, and so on.

So, what is an emotional hangover?

Last night, I was in crisis. I felt very low, I had no hope, too many outside pressures were mounting up and I wanted to disappear — to not exist anymore. I know my brain lies to me, but last night I was done. I was in pain. I was hopeless. I couldn’t see a future. After crying for a good few hours and feeling more and more desperate, I moved from my bed to the sofa and switched on my favorite TV program and ate chocolate and peanut butter until I was distracted enough that the thoughts started to calm down. It’s not a particularly healthy coping strategy, but it keeps me alive.

So this morning, I have an emotional hangover. I am exhausted. I am physically weak. I ache everywhere. I am dizzy. I have a headache. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. While my brain at this point starts lying to me, telling me it’s my own fault and I am to blame, I have to remind myself these are real, physical side effects from spending the night fighting for my life. A battle that, last night, I won.

While we often read articles of how mentally draining a crisis can be, we have to remember how much our body physically goes through as well. The physical sensations that come from panic, fear and crying, as well as our coping strategies: (both healthy and unhealthy) exercise, binge eating, drinking alcohol or self-harm. Our body goes through the crisis with us.

So, why practice physical self-care while experiencing an emotional hangover?

While being kind to ourselves is often the top choice of the standard “self-care emergency kit,” it’s excruciatingly hard to switch our brains from beating us up to telling ourselves we deserve kindness. So when you can’t trust your thoughts, trust your body! What does your body need to make you feel better in physical health? Everybody is different, and your own body should be your guide, but things that help me:

Headache: drink some water.
Dizziness: check I’ve taken all my medication.
Exhaustion: rest, sleep.
Weakness: eat a proper meal.

An emotional hangover is not a punishment. It’s your body’s way of telling you what it needs to move towards physical health. Hopefully, by nursing your emotional hangover, it’ll help you become a little bit stronger so that you can fight the next battle.

Sending virtual hugs to anyone who needs one right now!

Photo by Hanna Postova on Unsplash

Originally published: November 15, 2018
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