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.
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.