Beat the Weekend's Emotional Hangover With These Tips From a Psychologist

There are a couple of ways we can process an emotional hangover in a healthy way.

Dog on couch

Buckle up and grab your sheet mask. We’re doing this thing. It’s Sunday Scaries.

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.

This Week’s Chill Icon

This week’s chill icon is the dog of writer Jesse Jordan. On Wednesday, Jordan tweeted that it’s his dog’s one job is to “bork at things and make them go away,” but that “a bear has learned that my furry son can be bought.” Turns out, bears leave the good boy bones, and in exchange, they get access to Jordan’s trash. It is a very chill arrangement for the dog, and I respect it.

Let’s Talk About Emotional Hangovers

This Sunday, I’m thinking about emotional hangovers. These can hit with a one-two punch. There’s the fear of getting the emotional hangover, and then there’s the actual emotional hangover. It’s realizing halfway through Christmas morning or a wedding that this special thing you’ve been prepping for, and putting on a pedestal, for months will soon be over. And it’s coming home from a trip with all your friends to a perfectly nice life, putting your stuff down, and still having a good cry as you poke around your refrigerator for leftovers. (I hope that’s not just me.)

It may soothe you to know that emotional hangovers are just as real as the Netflix show you’re watching to get over one. In a 2016 study published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists proved that past emotional experiences can influence present brain states. Furthermore, the emotional hangover has the power to influence how we remember experiences that happened after the emotional one.

Emotion, the researchers emphasize, is a state of mind. In turn, our cognition is very much influenced by what’s happened to us in the course of our lives, and emotional experiences bias our interpretation of new, unrelated ones. A boring day after an amazing weekend could be perfectly harmless. But you’ll remember its insulting banality because of how intensely emotional the preceding days were.

Jennifer Newman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at New York University (who you’ll learn more about later), tells me there are a couple of ways we can process an emotional hangover in a healthy way.

One way to get over an emotional hangover is making a conscious effort to put things on the calendar to look forward to. Regular snippets of enjoyable activities that you can schedule your life around, like a weekly dinner you cook with housemates, can ease the absence of a very emotional weekend when you come back to the grind.

Another helpful thing to do, and this can’t be emphasized enough, is realize that it’s totally normal to feel a little blue after something special and exciting. We can’t maintain the high highs all the time, and that’s okay. What’s important is doing whatever you need to do to be kind to yourself.

“After something really positive, you might miss feeling that way, and that’s normal,” Newman says. “I think the more we normalize it and say, ‘I’m feeling a bit lonely and that’s fine,’ and then making a choice on how to manage that, the better we’ll be. And sometimes that choice might just be sitting with that feeling and knowing it’s okay.”

Now Look at This Oddly Satisfying Thing (It Will Help, I Swear)

Delicately slicing kinetic sand is an ASMR trend that’s a relaxing alternative to say, dipping your toes into actual sand.

How I Deal With Sunday Scaries

This week, we’re talking with the wise Dr. Jennifer Newman about how to deal with Sunday nights. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What is your job?

I’m a clinical psychologist. I primarily work in a group practice setting providing direct care service to patients. I also maintain a faculty appointment at New York University, where I primarily contribute to scientific research on treatment for PTSD trauma.

Do you ever feel the Sunday scaries?

Because my schedule sometimes varies, I don’t know if I always feel it on Sunday — but I have definitely had the experience of having to get ready for a big day or long week, and needing to manage the stress around that.

What advice do you have for dealing with Sunday scaries and the frustration they can cause?

Yes — so many people I work with describe that frustration. When people have a typical schedule, and then part of their weekend gets taken up by worrying about the week ahead, that can be incredibly frustrating.

I try to figure out with my clients how they can manage their worries, anxiety, or stress in a way that gives them space to be doing things that are not work-related. It’s important to keep track of the things that you’re interested in doing, and continuing to do them throughout the week. Then you have something to look forward to, and it doesn’t feel like there’s so much space between Sunday and the following weekend.

It’s important to set aside chunks of time for leisure and then really try to disconnect from technology, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. Cell phones and computers can be leisure tools, but they are also connected to work platforms. If you’re getting emails from work and seeing those pop-up notifications, it’s a constant reminder of work, and it will draw your attention away when you’re supposed to be relaxing.

Why do you think leisure time is important when it comes to one’s mental well-being? I feel like there’s this cultural sense that, sure, it’s nice, but not necessarily as important as productivity.

I think that it’s so important that it directly impacts productivity. There’s research that shows that when people are able to give themselves some breaks, especially when they work long hours, productivity increases. These breaks are maybe 10 to 20 minutes long — long enough to do something one enjoys or take care of themselves in some way. These breaks increase happiness and satisfaction. When people don’t take a break, the impact of stress reduces overall work productivity.

Culturally, yes, when we say productivity, we mean work productivity. But you could say that how productive we are in our self-care, or how productive we are in family life, are also positive forms of production. If we always associate productivity with tasks and don’t give ourselves the space for downtime, we can start to burn out. And when we feel dissatisfied and overwhelmed, that creates more stress and slows us down.

Reducing stress really comes down to creating a sustainable plan that works for you as an individual. If there’s one thing you’re planning on, and it isn’t available, then you can feel lost. There are certain kinds of therapeutic tools we can teach people, like breathing skills or mindfulness, but a person’s repertoire should also include things they are naturally drawn to, like art or reading.

What I’m Reading This Week

Distract yourself from the scaries with these reads:

“Sanctuary of the Pines.. In this personal essay meets historical retelling, nature is the impartial force that allows the author to feel free.

Nugrybauti.. In Lithuania, to get lost while picking mushrooms is an experience called nugrybauti. The word is also used to describe someone who has lost the thread of a story. But that doesn’t happen here.

Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships. You know your barista or that acquaintance from yoga? They are more important to your personal well-being than you might realize.

And if it’s midnight, and you’re still feeling the scaries…

Check out the YouTube channel of Li Ziqi, an extremely popular blogger who creates food and crafts from scratch in rural China. Sometimes she’s raising silkworms, other times she’s picking wild herbs. Maybe she’s riding a horse to find Magnolia lilies. It’s always very lovely and very relaxing.

Thanks for signing up and reading Sunday Scaries! And to everyone who sent a kind word after last week’s newsletter: Thank you. I’m very grateful that you like this weird little baby.

If you want to share your tips on how to get over the scaries, feel free to email me at sundayscaries@inverse.com. You got this!