How To Deal with Emotions at Work (and Beyond)

Have you ever had an emotional hangover?

Say what?! I know, it may not be a term you’re familiar with. It’s one that I coined after reflecting on why I feel so terrible after a fight with my husband or disappointing my kids or having a heated dispute with a close friend. Basically, it’s any strong emotional, challenging confrontation or disappointment that can lead to you feeling like you would if you drank too much (your traditional hangover).

You know what I mean. You are exhausted. You have a headache and might feel sick. You feel unmotivated and just want to lie on the couch and watch Netflix, hiding from the world until you recover.

As much as it’s understandable – you’re an emotional being so of course sometimes your emotions will get the better of you – I don’t think you have to let an emotional hangover get the better of you. When you know what might be in store for you, you can prepare for it.

It starts with understanding that profound emotional events have a purpose. Plus, they’re inevitable (if you care about people and your contributions). Your emotional hangover, as much as it’s uncomfortable, serves a purpose; they often arise from conflict which is normal and healthy (you will actually have a worse emotional hangover if you let things build up). Therefore, I want to help you find some remedies for them without dulling them to the point you don’t feel or process the source.

Here is what you can do the next time you experience an emotional hangover:

Ask for Help

If you are having a difficult time, especially if you see an emotional hangover coming on, now is a time to ask for help proactively. It could be to ask for space. It could be for somebody to take over your work or a task at home. It could be for you to have somebody help you out with the things that you would normally do all on your own, but you’re not feeling resourceful enough to keep it all going on your own. Ask for help. It helps to fend off the longer-term effects of emotional hangovers. And sometimes, our strong emotional reaction can be traced back to resentment that we’ve got it all on our shoulders; martyrdom can’t be cured with Advil, so it’s no friend of yours during an emotional hangover.

Evaluate Your Story

When you question what your story is, it gives you space to consider if you have all the facts straight or if heated emotions are colouring the view. This is a foundational element in any difficult conversation training. Maybe you haven’t noticed that something is building or did but kept telling yourself a story that you didn’t have any control over. Have you ever shared your woes with a friend and they’ve seen it a different way? That’s because most of what we tell ourselves is just our interpretation of events and people and emotions. It’s all a story. The more honest you can be with yourself and the fact that other people may see it from different perspectives, the less likely you’ll have a long-lasting emotional hangover. When we evaluate our story, it takes discipline. It forces you (all of us) to face the reality that there are other points of view and that although you may not agree with them, it’s more helpful to invite other perspectives into the mix.

Make Repair Attempts

When I did my MSc in Family Relations, thinking I wanted to become a Therapist, one of the longest-lasting strategies I picked up (that has come in very handy in my 21-year marriage) is the importance of making repair attempts. A repair attempt is a statement or action in an attempt to diffuse any unnecessary escalation in tension. It makes it easier for both to save face and get things back on track. Even if it’s after the fact, reaching out (or planning to reach out) reduces your emotional hangover because it’s taking positive action. The key here is not to tie meaning to the outcome, but rather to the process; simply trying allows you to remain more in control. And frankly, the magic of a repair attempt is it’s pretty successful as it’s rare; how often do people say sorry or they didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or affirm during a dispute how valuable your contributions are? It’s an acknowledgement of the other person and their importance to you. It’s almost like an olive branch, so for the sake of your emotional hangover, see it like that. The fact you’re reaching out is enough. It’s not your job to make them take it.

Self Care

The next piece is to take care of yourself. I know you’ve heard this countless times, not just from me, but from people all around you. However, when you are in a state where you’re physically and emotionally depleted, it is more likely that that emotional hangover will set in and will last longer. Frankly, you’re more likely to be upset about things so that it will trigger those outbursts or those discussions and those disagreements that are going to lead to an emotional hangover. However, being able to take care of yourself means that maybe you are less likely to get to a state of exhaustion, emotional fatigue, resentment or frustration that is harder to come back from.


Finally – and you won’t be surprised by this – you need to recognize. Recognize yourself even when it’s challenging, even when you’re in the midst of your deepest, most painful point of your emotional hangover. What did you try? Are you a good person? Did you make an effort? Same with the people around you or your environment. Is there something – large or small – that is working? How can you acknowledge this? Is there some tiny glimmer of hope that things will be better? Focus on that. Recognize and acknowledge that so that you have a place to go forward.

My friends, there will be challenges, there will be conflicts, there will be tension points and it will be challenging. You will also recover from this. When you are in the midst of that battle, that pain, that challenge, that frustration, acknowledge that emotional hangovers are real. It will pass. You are allowed to be in the moment with it though. Acknowledge it and know that you have steps that you can take going forward.

Do you know someone who would benefit from this right now? Why not forward it to them and tell them you’re rooting for them and you know they’ll get through it.

Want to check out more resources about how you can recognize other’s greatness? Check out these articles:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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