How to Cure a Hangover – The Emotional Kind
I drank a lot during my first year of University.
Compared to my peers, I was relatively tame. But I loved the buzz of confidence drinking gave me.
What I didn’t love was the crash after the high. The morning after, I’d wake up with a throbbing headache, a burning throat, and a longing for greasy pizza and chips. After going through this cycle a few times, I knew the prescription for recovery was to pop some Panadol, stay in bed, and watch trashy TV. Soon, I learned how to prevent hangovers completely: gulp down a glass of water in between drinks and stay within my limits.
Now that I’m out of uni, my heavy drinking days are over. But I’m still plagued by hangovers — the emotional kind.
Whether you’re a heavy drinker or someone who’s sworn off alcohol, I’m willing to bet that all of you have experienced a raging emotional hangover. It happens when you crack your eyes in the morning and instantly know something’s wrong. You’ve barely started the day — your feet haven’t even touched the ground yet — but already, you feel pinned down by the weight of your emotions.
The symptoms of an emotional hangover vary from one experience to another. Sometimes you wake up on the verge of tears and with a dull ache in your chest. Other times, you feel growing anxiety over something you can’t pinpoint or explain. Occasionally, you’re agitated and ready to bite the head off the first person who speaks to you.
While normal hangovers are a result of dehydration from alcohol, the causes of emotional hangovers are difficult to predict.
Often, we experience what Dr Brene Brown calls the “vulnerability hangover.” It’s the mix of fear, uncertainty, and regret you feel after sharing a really personal and intimate detail about your life with someone else — like, telling the person you like how you feel about them or revealing a part of your story you’re not proud of.
I normally feel this hangover after publishing a blog post about my past struggles with depression or when I open up about the times I’ve been rejected from jobs and love. When it comes to my writing, I know that once I’ve released it out into the world, it’s no longer mine to protect and control. It’s at the mercy of people who may want to poke and prod at my words with their own opinions, beliefs, and preconceptions.
Other times, the hangover occurs after we’ve experienced a wave of intense emotions in a short period of time.
Just the other week, I heard some unexpected news about an old friend that left me spiralling. I fluctuated between intense devastation, hurt, rage, joy, and grief, all in the span of 30 minutes. The morning after, I woke up feeling utterly exhausted and depleted of energy. I was like an empty shell of a human; I’d cried and raged all of my thoughts and emotions out, leaving nothing behind.
Irrespective of what triggered it, there’s no denying that emotional hangovers can feel painful and neverending. There’s no magic pill or rescue remedy you can take to make the ache disappear.
As someone who spends way too much time in her feelings, I’ve experienced my fair share of emotional hangovers and lived to tell the tale. So, put aside your Panadol and bottles of Gatorade, here’s how you really cure an emotional hangover.
Read words of affirmation
When you’re in the depths of an emotional hangover, your thoughts aren’t your best friend. You’re likely replaying the events that triggered your emotional binge, berating yourself for past mistakes, or catastrophising the future. Try as you might, you can’t escape the vicious and self-deprecating thoughts of failure and worthlessness.
When I’m wallowing in self-doubt and misery, I open up a folder on my phone labelled ‘For a Cloudy Day.’ Inside are screenshots of words that encourage and uplift me. They remind me of the unique value I add to the world and that I’m not alone in feeling like a mess. These words are from writers I admire who are able to articulate my feelings better than I can. They’re sweet texts from my boyfriend and messages from friends explaining the impact I’ve had on their lives. They’re short, pithy quotes from Instagram that are incredibly cliche, but somehow give me the kick I need to keep moving forward.
Reading encouragement — especially out loud — is like a balm that soothes your aching wounds. It convinces your mind that everything is going to be okay and is a reminder that this too shall pass.
Whenever you come across words and quotes that resonate with you, screenshot and save them for a cloudy day.
Call a friend and vent
Sometimes, the way to feel better is to feel heard. Even though you know rationally that you’re not worthless and you’re going to move past this, you need to hear someone else speak words of encouragement over you. Calling someone to vent could be the outlet you need for all the emotions bubbling up inside of you.
In my experience, the fastest way to dissipate my emotional turmoil is to have my feelings validated. To hear someone else say, “I know how you feel” or “Me too.” At the end of the day, we’re all looking to feel seen and understood.
When the hangover hits, speak to the right people who know how to listen to you and what to say when you’re ‘spiralling.’ The last thing you want to do is speak to someone who trivialises your feelings and makes you feel like you have to justify or defend your emotions.
That being said, do not call and vent to the person who triggered your hangover. If your emotional spiral has been set off by your partner’s insensitivity, your colleague’s ineptitude, or a fight with a friend, resist the urge to call and rant to them in your emotional state — no matter how angry they’ve made you.
It’s tempting to want to unleash our buildup of emotions on the person who’s caused us pain. It’s human nature to want to lash out and hurt people the way they’ve hurt us. We want to be petty. We want to send passive-aggressive texts to irk them, write angry emails, or straight up call them to yell.
But in your angry, hyped-up state, you’ll inevitably say things you regret just to provoke the other person. When the tension dies down and the feelings pass, the only one who’ll look bad in this situation is you — the 5-year old who threw a temper tantrum.
No matter how angry or justified you are in your feelings, resist the urge to call your ‘trigger.’ Vent to your friends. Talk to your therapist. Write (but don’t send) an angry letter. Once you’ve collected your thoughts and are in a better headspace, then have a constructive, rational conversation with the person. It’ll lead to better outcomes and fewer regrets.
Lie back & rest
Most of the time, our emotional hangover is our body’s way of telling us to rest. Just like we need to let physical wounds heal, we also need to give our heart and mind time to recuperate from the emotional toil we, or other people, have inflicted on ourselves. During this time, be extra kind and compassionate to yourself. Stay in bed for an extra hour. Pamper yourself with a bath and time with your favourite novel. Spend the day in the sun without your phone. Just rest.
In saying that, I know there are days where it’s not possible to write off a whole day because of our feelings. Work needs to get done. Meetings need to be held. Deadlines have to be met.
On days where I absolutely have to get up and work, I set myself minuscule goals I know I can accomplish. Get out of bed. Take a shower. Make a coffee. Write one sentence. Setting the bar low and achieving these tiny goals gives me the momentum I need to keep going. Once I’m up, I’m up.
But on truly bad days, when the weight of my emotions keeps me pinned down and I can barely see through my tears, I turn to YouTube or a podcast for a ‘quick fix’ to take my mind off my problems. Listening to other people talk about a completely different topic is enough to dry my tears and help me focus on something else.
We can’t use media as a distraction from our problems forever — some would argue this is only numbing the pain. But sometimes, we have to do whatever’s necessary to get through the fog.
Emotional hangovers can strike anytime, anywhere. You could fall asleep peacefully tonight, only to wake up with a raging anxiety tomorrow. Or a fight with a friend later today can trigger a whole week of hangovers.
I don’t think we’ll ever get through life without experiencing days where we’re plagued by insecurity, pain, and emotional turmoil. Feelings are what it means to be human.
But, know this — no matter how bad your emotional binge was, the hangover always passes.
Enjoyed this post? Get first dibs on my personal essays, stories, and occasional advice on launching courses delivered straight to your inbox.