What You’re Experiencing Is an Emotional Hangover

A therapist’s advice for regaining your focus after an emotional roller coaster

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ast week was an emotional roller coaster for everyone. And as we rode the highs and lows of the election results, many of us abandoned our usual habits: We left the TV on all day. We reached for the leftover Halloween candy for dinner. We racked up double-digit hours on our screen usage reports. Now, in the aftermath, we’re struggling to morph back into responsible humans.

I’ve told my therapy clients before that it’s normal to experience some dip in mood and functioning after a period of high emotion. People often feel low shortly after they graduate from school, for example, or after their team wins a championship.

To counter that feeling, you have to put the focus back on the one thing you can control: yourself. As you exit an emotional week, you can increase your ability to stay thoughtful, do good work, and take care of yourself.

To help my clients feel more in control of their own emotions and behaviors, I encourage them to come up with a few simple daily questions that help them be more responsible for themselves. Those could look like:

  • How would I like to take care of myself today?
  • How would I like to be responsible today?
  • What would a good day look like?
  • What would good work look like today?

The answers to questions like these, whatever they may be, remind you that you are in charge of yourself. And the more self-directed you feel, the more quickly you can bounce back to a higher level of functioning after an intense period of time.

External events, like who wins the presidency, will continue to affect our lives. Of course they will. But we shouldn’t let our emotional reactivity from those events, good or bad, keep us from living a life directed from the inside out — a life steered by our best thinking about who we want to be, how we want to take care of ourselves, and how we want to take care of others. So ask yourself some good questions this week, and make space to be surprised by your own capability.

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.