The Horrible Holiday Hangover

Did your holidays kinda suck? You might be experiencing an emotional hangover. And it sure doesn’t help when people keep asking you how things went, expecting a positive response. What might an honest answer sound like?

Friend: “How were your holidays? Do anything fun?”

You: “To be honest, I…” (check all that apply)

  • Cried in my car
  • Fought with my partner
  • Tried to make my family happy, but they’re still unhappy
  • Drank too much
  • Sat alone in the dark and wondered if I was the loneliest person on earth
  • Felt like a loser
  • Yelled at my kids
  • Regretted my past
  • Worried about the future
  • Questioned if I’ll ever feel inner peace

Maybe all of those things happened. Or none. Perhaps you did everything perfectly right, yet you still feel like everything fell apart. You gave it your all (and now you’re exhausted). 

Why is this happening? 

While emotional hangovers are deeply uncomfortable, that discomfort contains powerful information. You can’t change what happened in December, but your mind, body, and spirit tell you that you need something different moving forward. Wisdom will reveal itself. But before you can get to the learning, you must deal with the exhaustion. 

Beware the Blame-Shame Spiral. 

At first, your hangover will make you want to assign blame (to yourself and others). You’ll want to focus on the parent/friend/partner/boss/coworker/neighbor who let you down. 

But the more you stew in the blame, the more disappointment you’ll feel. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative feedback loop of the Blame-Shame Spiral.

The risk? You’ll start to feel hopeless, making you feel ashamed and alone. As much as your mind will want you to analyze, worry, and ruminate, this is not the time to be judge and jury. It’s time to get your physical health back on track after this challenging situation. 

Do one nice thing for your health.

It’s time to invest in your physical health. Do one nice thing TODAY to support your body. Something that can immediately change your physical state for the better includes a bath, a shower, light exercise, a healthy meal, and comfortable clothes. This will support your resilience. You’ll feel a bit brighter, a bit more centered, and you’ll gain wisdom and clarity. 

Your ego might throw a tantrum. 

Trust me: your ego will fight you. Hard. That’s what happens to me.

When I’m caught in a negative thought spiral, the LAST thing I want to do is take a soothing shower, cook myself some soup, or stretch my body. My mind has other ideas for what I should be doing. My mind wants me to make BIG, SWEEPING decisions – especially about people. I want to vote people off the island of my life!

Unfortunately, making decisions when I’m emotionally hungover is a recipe for regret. When I’m exhausted, triggered, or strung out, I say things I don’t mean. I act in ways I’d rather forget. I hurt people I care about. If you’re in the Blame-Shame Spiral, it’s better to delay decision-making and focus on building resilience.

Your ego is a lot like an overtired little kid. 

Have you ever been around a little kid who missed their afternoon nap and got off schedule with meals? It isn’t much fun. The more tired a kid becomes, the more they protest going to bed. Tantrums and lousy behavior follow. We understand that when kids are tired, this is what happens, so we patiently ensure they get to bed on time (even if they protest!). 

But when it comes to our ego, sometimes we let it run wild. We let the little kid in us break all the house rules. We feel awful and tired, so we eat cookies for dinner and stay up late. We become negligent parents to ourselves. 

And the worst thing? We do this after we’ve experienced pain, trauma, and harm. We neglect and punish ourselves. And sometimes, this leads to even more self-destructive behavior. 

Self-compassion is the most courageous form of love.  

It takes courage to rise above the noise of our ego. Courage is not easy; it requires holding ourselves with love when we feel like love is the last thing we deserve. 

You don’t have to solve everything today; you can take it one hour at a time, one action at a time. And you don’t have to do this alone. That’s where counseling and recovery groups can help. 

Get connected to support. 

Counselors are trained to help you through the seemingly impossible times and cheer you on when you’re struggling. You are not alone, and counseling can help. Trained mental health professionals are also adept at helping connect you to communities of support like 12-step fellowships and affinity groups. 

If you’re in a holiday hangover, the two best things you can immediately do for yourself are: 

  1. Do something to nurture yourself physically
  2. Get community and individual support

The holidays are a painful time of year for so many of us. Know that you are worthy of love. Know that you deserve self-compassion, especially when it feels impossible. It’s okay to ask for help without knowing what help will look like. You got this!

Sarah Suzuki, AM, LCSW, CADC

Sarah Suzuki, AM, LCSW, CADC

Hi, I'm Sarah, and I'm a counselor who helps high-achieving men learn how to moderate their drinking. I currently offer counseling services and corporate training here at Chicago Compass Counseling. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.