A social hangover feels a lot like the real thing: grouchiness, brain fog, and utter exhaustion.
The morning after my son’s seventh birthday party, a garish banging jolted me out of a deep sleep, well before I had intended. Squeezing my heavy eyelids shut, I willed the noise to cease, but the pounding went on, and on, and on, reverberating throughout my skull: “Bam. Bam. Bam! Bam!!”
Groaning, I fumbled for my phone, mumbling a string of profanities as I registered the time. It was 9 a.m.; admittedly, much later than I typically woke, but this morning, I could easily sleep for another hour, maybe two.
You see, I was suffering from a hangover, but not just any hangover: a social one — an introvert hangover. They’re a very real phenomenon with key symptoms — being exhausted, not feeling well (physically or emotionally), and having an intense desire to be alone.
So you can see why my body was begging for rest. I stirred, slowly becoming aware of my surroundings, and identified the source of the obnoxious noise. It was a hammer driving a nail into the wall directly behind my headboard, which doubled as a metaphor for how I was feeling.
I groaned and managed to get out from under the mountain of blankets I was hiding beneath. I cracked my door open, but then lunged back into bed. Immediately, my son ran into the room, tumbling onto Mount Blanket with a smile so full of light. I swallowed him up readily in my arms, grateful for the gift of his brightness.
I would love nothing more than to have a productive day, but on this day, it wasn’t an option. I was wholly worn out. My body and mind were calling for rest and recovery.
Yep, I was definitely suffering from a full-blown social hangover.
Social Hangover Symptoms
The hammering had stopped, though the pounding in my head did not. As both an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP) — wherein I tend to absorb others’ emotions and be extremely sensitive to stimuli — all forms of social interaction, even when enjoyable, are extremely draining for me.
It’s the ultimate catch-22: I love people and relish human interaction, but too much leaves my tank on empty; if I don’t give myself the space to recharge, my body physically rebels until I do.
A social hangover feels a lot like the real thing, minus the greasy food cravings: I’m grouchy, my brain feels foggy, and carrying on a conversation feels impossible. Please don’t talk to me, and definitely don’t ask me any questions. Most of all, my energy is depleted, and I struggle to complete the slightest of tasks. Make my son breakfast? How about some cereal?
The day after a particularly long, loud, or otherwise overstimulating social engagement, I often feel as though I haven’t slept at all, even when I’ve had an abundance of rest. Since I’m not willing to become a complete recluse, a social hangover is sometimes unavoidable.
But the good news? It’s become much more manageable to navigate because I’ve learned to be honest with myself about my needs and allow myself the grace to recover. Through years of experience, I’ve discovered effective solutions to remedy the effects of social excess and restore my energy levels. Here’s how you can, too.
4 Social Hangover Cures for the Highly Sensitive Introvert
1. Take a time-out
Introverts are easily overstimulated by social engagements: the noise, the small talk, and the crowd all become extremely overwhelming, even when we’re surrounded by people we know and like.
And as a highly sensitive introvert, I’m extremely susceptible to the energy of others and hit with an excess of energy from everyone in the room, absorbing it as though it’s my own.
This is confusing, draining, and all-consuming, even when the energy is light, positive, and exuberant. It’s an energy overload akin to an adrenaline rush that leaves you completely depleted after the initial rush wears off.
One way of lessening the energy drain is to find a quiet space to take a time-out and recover. Find a place that is calm, quiet, and peaceful, anywhere you can be alone to just breathe — even if you have to go hide out in the bathroom.
Try mindful breathing, which is extremely centering. Take slow inhalations in and out, counting each breath. Focus on your own body and thoughts, recognizing which feelings are yours. Then, release the burden of any emotion that does not belong to you. Doing this allows us highly sensitive introverts to reconnect with ourselves and recenter.
At times, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to sneak away on your own, particularly when you’re hosting an event. The afternoon of my son’s birthday celebration was such an occasion. The festivities were loud and engaging. The attendees, a group of 10 school-aged boys, were bursting with excitement and non-stop energy.
It was exactly as a birthday party should be, full of fun, laughter, screaming, and sugar. With the influx of noise and movement, I recognized an escalating need to retreat, but there was no window of opportunity. At the end of the evening, I was weary and in need of some serious alone time to recover.
2. Find peace and quiet
Solitude is not an indulgence for the sensitive soul, but an absolute necessity in order for an HSP to recover from being emotionally tapped out.
For me, extra sleep (a solid 12 hours) is crucial. This may seem excessive, but the exhaustion felt by HSPs when we’ve reached our limit is major. Sleep is a way to wring the sponge, freeing ourselves of the excess emotions we’ve absorbed from others.
If I don’t get enough extra slumber, it’s much more difficult to replenish my energy stores. When I do get the necessary rest, it feels incredible, like a fresh start. Waking up from this kind of sleep feels divine and is my favorite thing.
Beyond extra sleep, spending time alone with yourself is an important recovery method. Take as much as you need, and do not feel guilty about this crucial element of highly sensitive introvert self-care. Let go of other’s needs and desires and prioritize your own.
As HSPs, we often try to help everyone else before we tend to ourselves. But now is the time to do the opposite. Create a space where you can be alone, with only your own energy, allowing yourself the chance to release any of the negative energy you’ve unwittingly taken on. Letting go of unwanted energy is a vital step in recovery.
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3. Take a bath
Water is an important weapon in my arsenal against the exhaustion I fight as a highly sensitive soul. Whenever I feel I’ve taken on too much and am feeling diminished, I crave a hot bath, so much so it’s become a self-care ritual of mine.
I fill my tub with the hottest water I can stand and dump in pounds and pounds of Epsom salt, which has many benefits, topped off with a few drops of lavender essential oil.
Soaking in this soothing concoction is extremely centering. The water becomes almost buoyant, and I feel like I’m floating: so relaxed, centered, and safe. It’s one of the most effective ways to restore my energy and bring back internal balance.
As you try this, allow the water to symbolically wash away all traces of residual negative energy — picture it cleansing you, leaving nothing but brightness and light.
Along with submerging ourselves in water, consuming it is a great way for highly sensitive people to bring back balance to our bodies and minds. The human body contains up to 60 percent water, and allowing ourselves a steady, bountiful supply serves to keep us grounded and functioning at our healthiest capacity.
4. Spend time in nature
Nature is a powerful recovery tool. No doubt, as an HSP, you’re aware of nature’s healing potential. Even when we are drained, lacking the physical energy to do anything, just being in nature is restorative.
Simply find a quiet place outside, in solitude, and let your senses awaken. Soak everything in: every sound, every smell, every sensation.
Take off your shoes and feel the grass under your feet, grounding yourself with the energy of the earth. Connect with the natural energy that surrounds you, feeling it merge with your own energy field as you become more resilient and serene.
Listen to nature’s song while allowing your own thoughts the freedom to flow, but don’t analyze them as HSPs often do — just observe.
Time in the natural world never fails to leave me feeling revitalized and renewed.
Highly sensitive introverts have been blessed with an incredible gift, but it’s one that must be protected and nourished. The key to thriving as both a highly sensitive person and introvert is by maintaining an internal balance, knowing when to let go of what does not serve us.
By listening to our intuition and honoring our needs as they arrive, we diminish the burden to ourselves and are then better equipped to serve others, a most beautiful thing.
And, once I’m rejuvenated, I’ll be free of my social hangover and ready to host another party for my son. Maybe not tomorrow — I’m still an introvert, after all — but definitely in the future.