Highly Sensitive Refuge

Yes, There Is Such a Thing as an ‘Emotional Hangover’

An emotional hangover happens when you’ve reached your limit on processing and responding to emotions.

Every direction I looked, people were making pizzas — only, this wasn’t a pizzeria, it was my then-boyfriend’s backyard. Every few months, we’d host a themed pizza party, from “wear your favorite hat” to wear red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July.

As I made my way around the yard from one group of friends to another — navigating my way through people rolling out dough or adding toppings — I’d catch up on all the latest news with them. I’d find out about the dream job one friend got (I couldn’t be happier for her!) and how another just lost his, which would cause me to get tears in my eyes.

You see, as both an empath and highly sensitive person (HSP), I’m more aware of people’s emotions than non-HSPs and absorb them as if they’re my own — as though I just got my dream job, as though I just lost my job. 

And, as I spoke to each friend, I continued absorbing their emotions (for better or worse) and having empathy for their situations. Plus, since HSPs tend to overanalyze things and pick up on things others miss, even if a friend wouldn’t tell me that something’s bothering them, I’d sense it anyway, as though I were a fortune teller and had secret powers.

But the next day, it would all catch up with me. As much fun as the pizza parties were, when I woke up, I was exhausted as though I had a hangover — all I’d want to do was sleep. Meanwhile, every little noise (even the melodic birds outside) bothered me, and the last thing I wanted to do was see pizza-making remnants, which were usually scattered all over the kitchen the next morning.

I may have felt like I had a hangover; only, the night before, I hadn’t even drank. This was different: This was an emotional hangover.

What Is an Emotional Hangover?

An emotional hangover happens when you’ve reached your limit on overwhelm, overstimulation, and processing and responding to emotions — experiences that may make you mentally and emotionally flooded. As a result, you feel drained the next morning to the point of being completely depleted, in both body and in mind. And if someone asks us “What’s wrong?” with the best of intentions, you may be tempted to shut down or snap at them.

This experience can be likened to a “residue” left over from an interaction, Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, explains in Psychology Today. She says toxic emotions can linger, making you feel exhausted, ill, or that you have brain fog, wherein you cannot focus or concentrate.

Speaking of which…

This Is How Your Cure an Emotional Hangover

And what is the magical cure for an emotional hangover? Simply put:

There is no substitute for time and space.

Even though we may not seem recognizable as the social beings we were last night — the event which contributed to us having an emotional hangover today — we need this time to ourselves to get out of our current funk. And believe us when we say how we’re feeling now has nothing to do with you. We loved catching up with you, being happy for you, empathizing with you… but, now? We’re just tired. Very tired.

One thing that most empaths and HSPs need is time to ourselves to recharge, which can mean different things to different people, from hiding out in your bedroom all day (and night) to taking a walk in a peaceful environment (the less stimuli, the better). It also helps if you have an HSP sanctuary — your own private place where you can go to retreat when the world becomes too much.

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If you have an HSP sanctuary, use it. If you don’t, it’s time to make one. 

My HSP sanctuary contains a lot of my favorite things. I have a dedicated corner of my bedroom where I have a bud vase with my favorite flowers (red daisies), a bunch of colorful throw pillows, scented, soothing candles (with calming aromas like lavender and peppermint), and essential oils (also lavender and peppermint), which have been proven to help reduce anxiety.

When I’m suffering from an emotional hangover — or even feeling overwhelmed — I’ll go sit in my HSP sanctuary, sometimes turning on some peaceful music, too (I find that music without words works best). I’ll then either do a mindfulness meditation (I’ve recently fallen in love with Insight Timer; feel free to find me on there!) or I’ll journal about how I’m feeling, or even just sit in silence (which definitely takes some practice, but is a great exercise to try).

And if you’re among others, fear snapping at them, and can’t get to your HSP sanctuary or a place to be alone for a few minutes? 

There is always somewhere to “get away” — even just briefly. 

Either take a break and step outside — research shows that being in nature has a therapeutic effect and is my go-to — or find a place inside to retreat, even if you have to hide in a bathroom stall for a while. You can also be honest with your boss (or those around you) that you need to go home and have a mental health day.

Otherwise, if I’m around others, I’ll shut down. Usually, friends and loved ones will know I’m feeling off — I’ll withdraw and won’t communicate as much; I just really want to be alone. Most know I’m an HSP, so I’ll tell them I’m having an emotional hangover, need some alone time, and will reconnect in a few days. 

With one exception…

Have a “code” with your most trusted friends. 

With inner-circle friends — some of whom are also HSPs and experience emotional hangovers — we’ll simply text a specific emoji (like a person covering their face) to each other if we’re feeling overwhelmed and need some space. (And we’ll text another emoji, like a sunflower, once we’re feeling like ourselves again.)

Although experiencing any type of hangover is not fun, recognizing what’s happening is half the battle. Having some “emotional hangover tools” at your disposal for such days helps, too, like noise-cancelling headphones and a playlist of your favorite calming music or meditations on your phone. You can even create an entire “emotional hangover toolkit” (just in case). Finding like-minded people who are experiencing the same emotional hangover feelings can also help (one place to start connecting with them is here).

These days, even though I’m no longer hosting pizza parties, I still make sure to have my emotional hangover toolkit at my disposal in case I need it. After all, we HSPs never know when we’ll experience overstimulation, and having go-to coping strategies has been a great way to minimize “hangovers” while maximizing self-care.

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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