‘Emotional hangover’ is the term quite popularly used to describe a heartbroken individual who is struggling to move past his or her previous relationship. In a recent study by New York University (NYU), USA, the researchers have, in a way, legitimised the term. The study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience, states, “The results indicate that neural measures of an emotional experience can persist in time and bias how new, unrelated information is encoded and recollected.”
“How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states,” says Lila Davachi, associate professor, department of psychology and centre for neural science, NYU, and senior author of the study.
In simpler terms, emotional hangover means that the events that take place during a high emotional arousal state tend to form a better memory as compared to neutral emotional states. And, emotions not only affect the memory of the past events but they also tend to influence the formation of new memories.
Works both ways
Emotional hangover has several potential negative effects. “When emotional hangover tends to persist in the same intensity or more, clouding one’s sense of sanity, it makes the person more vengeful or vindictive. This causes more harm for the overall emotional development of the individual,” says Dr Fabian Almeida, psychiatrist and counsellor, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.
“Due to the acute stress that a person undergoes due to emotional hangover, there is a rise in the cortisol level of body,” says Neeta V Shetty, psychotherapist and founder, Blissful Mind Therapy Centre, Wadala (E). She adds, “The rise in cortisol may decrease the immunity level, cause inflammation in the body and make them prone to lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, irregular blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.”
While predominantly used in a negative connotation, the condition also has the capacity to help create healthy habits.
“Emotions can be positive or negative. One needs to be aware of the feelings and emotional state that he or she is in at that moment. Awareness itself can lead to a better aid of memory,” says Namrata Dagia, clinical psychologist and founder of The Illuminating Zone, Kandivali (W).
“So, if you need to inculcate new changes in your life, you need to first feel good about yourself. For example, just listening to your favourite song can lead to positive emotions, and the activities that are done in that state tend to be more fulfilling. This automatically leads to better memory and helps you to come up with productive solutions for problems,” she explains.
Spot the symptoms
While emotional hangover — when used in a mindful manner — can be beneficial, the negative effects can take a toll on people’s personal as well as professional lives. In such cases, the family and close ones of the individual should be sensitive, and in dire circumstances bring in medical intervention.
As per experts, here are the ways to know if someone is going through an emotional hangover:
1. If a person is emotionally hung-over, he or she might feel emotionally exhausted. This exhaustion might last from a few days to few weeks or even more.
2. Such people are stressed and usually suffer from insomnia.
3. They tend to be emotionally inert — are persistently upset, dazed, withdrawn and irritable.
4. They may choose to stay aloof, might suffer from lack of attention or concentration on the present situation, could feel irritated or have low tolerance, may overthink or get frustrated, etc.
5. They have a pessimistic view not just of what transpired but also of their expectations from future experiences.
“Recognising what one is going through, working through it with the help of counselling, introspection and exercise can help not only in overcoming it, but also in becoming more resilient to future experiences,” says Dr Rajesh Parikh, director of medical research and honorary neuropsychiatrist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Peddar Road.
Psychotherapist Neeta V Shetty suggests few things to help overcome emotional hangover:
1. Physical activity or exercise: It reduces the cortisol level and raises the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
2. Learning the art of mindfulness: It helps one to become aware of his or her thoughts and actions. Mindful meditations also help one calm down and rewire the brain towards happiness.
3. Spending time in nature: It’s a great stress buster.
4. Socialising with friends or loved ones: It helps in healing. Speaking to someone close also provides a vent for thoughts and emotions.
5. A creative pursuit or a hobby: Learning something new improves focus, and helps divert your mind into more productive things rather than ruminating thoughts.
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The author tweets @iamsusanjose