5 Ways to Cope When You Suffer from The Social Hangover

Dehydrated, empty, tired, flat, counting down the seconds until I can crawl back under the duvet. I recognise this feeling. I’m hungover.


I didn’t drink anything yesterday. In fact I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol all week. Maybe it’s not a hangover, perhaps I’m just coming down with something. No, it definitely feels like a hangover.

This was me early today. I am feeling extremely hungover. I don’t want to leave the sofa. I don’t want to be sociable and talk to anyone, I just need to sleep it off. All the symptoms are the same, it’s just the source (or sauce) that is different.

I spent yesterday doing creative work with several groups of people I didn’t really know. It was a long day and involved being in the car for five hours too. I left the house at 8.30am and got back at midnight.

Social hangover

The Social Hangover.

When I woke up this morning I felt these banging hangover symptoms. But as the day goes on I have realised that this is a different kind of hangover. It’s caused by prolonged over-stimulation by being creative (or at least trying), surrounded by people (including those I didn’t know), and travelling a pretty sizeable distance.

It’s the same feeling I sometimes get the morning after playing a gig. Exhaustion. Fatigue. Emptiness.

As a highly sensitive introvert I realise I’ve experienced these social hangovers all my life. Until today I hadn’t really thought too much about them.

I suppose I had always assumed that some days are just good and I feel positive; whereas other days are a bit crap and I just feel flat and empty. While this may feel true it is often possible to find explanations, especially if you’re naturally introverted or highly sensitive.

Sensory input and the presence of people can act like alcohol; your body consumes it and your mind is progressively stimulated and moved away from its default state. The longer you are exposed to it (i.e. the more you drink), the longer it will take to recover (the more hungover you get).

When you’re hungover after drinking too much you don’t feel like yourself. You might feel powerless, weak, and internally divided; it’s like your body and mind are punishing you for what you did to them. A social hangover is no different and I’ve realised there are some important things to bear in mind if and when you ever suffer from one:

1. Don’t Make any Rash Impactful Decisions

When you’re feeling out of sorts it’s tempting to make big decisions; maybe you’re going to quit something, join something, or maybe you are ‘never drinking again’.

It’s important to remember when you’re experiencing a Social/Over-Stimulation Hangover that you are in a temporary state and that your body and mind are trying to cope with what you’ve done to them. You are not in a fit state to make any big reactionary decisions. Just leave it until tomorrow.

2. Cut Yourself Some Slack

You body is simply doing what needs to be done. It’s not your choice. Learn to expect it, cut yourself some slack, and roll with it. By resisting the natural response of your mind to over-stimulation you will make it worse.

3. Do What Needs to be Done

How do you recover from over-stimulation? Do it. You need a lie in? Do it. You want to just curl up in the corner and read books, watch films etc? Do it. I am aware it becomes more difficult to find long stretches of recovery time when you have kids, but there are certainly moments to be found if you are ready to search for them.

4. Remember that your Momentum is still There

Over-stimulation from people and situations can lead to an even wider and more immersive mental overwhelm. I can feel that if I’ve lost control of my ability to cope with my stimulation levels then I’ve lost control of everything; and once one domino has fallen the others are bound to topple too.

This is the point at which I’m always close to quitting whatever it is I feel I’ve lost control of. It’s important therefore to remind myself that after some time recovering I will be right back on top of things and wont have lost any of the momentum.


5. Plan Stuff With Full Awareness of How You Cope

The most important and useful thing that we have as humans is the ability to learn. If you ever find yourself suffering from a Social/Over-Stimulation Hangover then notice things like, why you are feeling like that, what caused it, and how you can best recover from it. Learn so that you can help yourself avoid, or at least lessen the effects in the future.

For example I get these effects when I go to music festivals. A day or two in and I am generally really suffering from the bombardment of stimulation and people. Knowing why this is I am able to learn and change how I approach my festival experience. I need somewhere to retreat, a temporary escape to curl up and recover away from noise, crowds and bad smells. Put like that you realise that music festivals are not really a great place for HSPs.

Over to You

So, do you recognise this kind of social hangover? Do you have days when you feel exhausted and empty? Is there a correlation between these days and over-stimulation/lots of people the day(s) before? How do you recover?

  1. This explains one of my mantra’s to myself, ‘be well, then worry’. Otherwise in this hangover state I just worry about all the things I need to do but don’t have energy for. Another practical thing that really helps me is to do something manual and achievable in a familiar environment. Ie not sort out whole garden but dig that one bed. Really helpful post.

  2. Oh yes! Do I recognise this! I think I have that social hangover every day… I am always feeling best when I’m alone and that is how I recover…be alone for a bit every day is so essential, 30 mins of ‘alone-time’ a day most of the time is enough to find myself again 🙂

  3. I didn’t really think that I was a HSP, but I can really identify with this “over-simulation hangovers” and I think it’s more than just introversion. Thanks for these great tips on how to tackle it, really useful 🙂

    1. Thanks, Annie. I’ve found it really interesting to look deeper than simply introversion. I never thought I was an HSP when I read stuff about it, until I properly looked into it. And it makes more sense than introversion, especially my myers-briggs INTJ score. Lots of unanswered questions there!

  4. I only realized I was HSP a few months ago. I always wondered why I was different from everyone else.
    I recall as a child, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning if people were already up and talking because it was more than I could take.
    I liked (and still do) quiet mornings where I can get my bearings for the day slowly. I recognize the same in my 3 1/2 yr old grandson. Trying to get him to dress and eat right away is like world war III. Give him 10 minutes or so and it is fine.

    1. It is quite the eye-opener isn’t it!? That’s really interesting what you say about not wanting to get out of bed when others are already up and talking. I’ve always had a weird thing about wanting to be the first up and to be in place by the time others get up. I guess this is linked to the need to have stimulation drip fed to me, rather than going from nothing to a room full of people, eating, and general sensory bombardment. I love that you can see and understand what is happening in your grandson. Must be very useful!

  5. Im starting to get this more and more. At first I thought it was alcohol related, meaning that even after one drink, the next day I’d feel exhausted, heavy, no motivation, empty, (sometimes headaches) muscle reslessness, slow moving, anxious depressed pit in my stomach. And then I thought it happens only if when there was anything emotional or slightly negative that happened than night, then I noticed I’d still get that way when the night went really well, then I started to notice that I’m getting this even when there’s NO alcohol consumed at all that night. So my original alcohol sensitivity thought was wrong. Looking into it I can see that I get this the next day after spending the night with a group of people or when I’m one on one after a date. I realized that I tend to get this when I’m socializing with people I don’t know as well, or relatives that aren’t as close. I never get it when I’m with my best friend, or my parents or my sister.

    I’m an introvert who does need time to myself after socializing. But this social hangover thing is entirely different. It a whole day of exhaustion and sometimes a few more days of anxiety or depression in the pit of my stomach.

    Does anyone else notice they have RLS restless legs/arms when trying to sleep? I also notice that I have trouble winding down after excitement, like my brain wants to replay evens in my head from a night socializing and I analyze the night in my head in terms of how I appeared to others and replaying conversations. Mind very active.

    1. I know this is an old post but I just found it as I sit here nursing my “hangover”. YES, I do get restless legs. Calms Forte helps. I take it as soon as I get home from an event.

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