How To Cure an Emotional Hangover

Published on: 15 Nov 2017
woman with headache on couch

We all know (and hate) hangovers. A crazy night out drinking too much alcohol can lead to a slew of unpleasant symptoms the next morning. But did you know there’s another type of hangover that has absolutely nothing to do with drinking? You might wake up feeling drained, exhausted, moody, or a bit off…except, the night before wasn’t fun at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite! Welcome to the emotional hangover.

The idea is that the effects of an emotional event can linger for a while after the event actually happens — the same way nausea lingers long after you’ve consumed one too many tequila shots (whoops). This event can be anything from an argument with your best friend to a break up with your partner. While the event is over, your head is still reeling and messing with your current emotions.

“Emotional hangover” isn’t just a silly term. NYU researchers have actually proved that the phenomenon exists with recent studies. The occurrence has to do with the way our brains process information to create and hold on to memories. The researchers had cold hard data — they measured participants’ skin conductance and watched brain activity via functional MRI.

After the study, associate professor Lila Davachi concluded, “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.” She adds, “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.”

Recovering from an emotional hangover is all about self care. You should be practicing self care everyday, but now’s definitely the time to kick it into high gear. Here are some tips for getting out of your funk and back into the swing of things.

1. Eat a Good Meal

Avoid food and drink that may trigger anxiety, like candy, coffee and alcohol. While you might think turning to booze and having a drink would help ease your mind and get you to relax, you don’t want to mess with your brain chemicals when your mind is in this vulnerable state. Instead, load up on healthy foods that’ll nourish your body and your mind, like those leafy greens your mom was always trying to get you to eat when you were younger.

2. Get Some Exercise

Sweat out all that negativity! There’s so much evidence out there about how great exercise is for mental health, so it’s time to get off our lazy bums. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise can actually improve mood only five minutes into a moderate workout. Finding the motivation to work out is half the battle, so use this proof to motivate you to get active and get your brain back to a better place. Whether your exercise of choice is yoga or running, get moving!

3. Write in a Journal

Put your thoughts down in a notebook…or even in the app on your phone if you’re on the go. If your mind is still reeling and replaying the event over and over, it helps to write it down and see it all on paper. Getting everything out on paper will help you distance yourself from it. Also, journaling can help you make sense of feelings you’re having when it’s too difficult to keep track of spiraling thoughts. If you go to therapy, it can be super beneficial to have a written record to reference so you don’t forget what to bring up to your therapist! And online therapy makes it even easier.

4. Spend Time With Loved Ones

It doesn’t help to keep your feelings bottled up! It can feel absolutely amazing to get something you’ve been holding in off your chest. Vent to friends and family members you can trust about what’s going on. Preferably, you’ll be able to talk to someone who will be supportive and not judgmental. Expressing your emotions and verbalizing them to somebody else can allow you to gain new perspective and get advice. Plus, spending quality time with loved ones is a mood booster, in general.

5. Channel Your Creativity

Put your emotions to good use. Instead of just hating on the event you’re reliving, use your memory for good to create something — anything. You don’t have to be Picasso! Paint, draw, write a poem, strum a guitar, whatever you feel like! Do what feels good for you. Focus on letting it be an outlet for your energy, rather than a challenge to create something perfect. You can even just color in a coloring book.

Unlike an alcohol hangover, it’s kind of impossible to avoid these bad boys — unless you plan on completely avoiding life (and let’s be real, that’s not possible). But now, next time you’re feeling emotionally hungover, you’ll know exactly what’s happening and how to cope. It’s normal, it’s science, and it’s just your brain doing its job! Bring it on, life.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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