Phoebe Harvey
Phoebe Harvey

Overcoming an ‘emotional hangover’.

”It all came flooding back…”

At various points in life every individual will experience heightened emotions or an emotional event, whether these emotions are a result of negative or positive experiences they are often unavoidable. An ‘emotional hangover’ can be described as the aftermath of a highly charged emotional experience. Many people have not been able to pinpoint exactly what they are experiencing after such an event but will often describe feelings of ambivalence, low levels of motivation and feelings of helplessness. Such feelings can persist for a long time well after the emotional experience. Past research shows that humans are more likely to be able to recall an emotional event compared to a non-emotional event, we are greatly affected by emotions, therefore it is imperative to address the point that there will be an inevitable aftermath and recuperation period.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience has shown that past emotional states can lapse over into the present day and even influence neutral brain states and experiences. Heightened emotional experiences can enhance future memory processes and can inevitably lead to an ‘emotional hangover’. This can also impact any future emotional events an individual experiences by creating biased or altered interpretations of unrelated events.

The researchers who carried out the study selected a group of participants to view two sets of images, one set of images were deliberately selected to cause an emotional reaction, the other set of images were neutral, chosen to elicit no emotional reaction. The participants reaction levels were measured by both fMRI brain scans and skin conductance. After several hours the participants took memory tests to determine which of the stimuli had left a lasting effect and record how many of images the participants were able to recall. The data showed that the participants’ brain activity was still influenced by the prior emotional response they had experienced after viewing the first emotive image, and that similar brain activity was apparent even when participants viewed the neutral images. The participants who had viewed the emotional images first were able to better recall the neutral images in comparison to the participants who had viewed the neutral images first.

The researchers were able to conclude that we are often influenced by past experiences and to a certain extent remnants of a prior emotional experiences can linger in brain activity. “‘Emotion’ is a state of mind,’ according to Lila Davichi, the creator of the study, “These findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that emotional brain states can persist for long periods of time”. The verifiable truth that emotions can remain for a period of time long after an event suggests that humans are incredibly sensitive to emotions and this can often affect us as individuals more than we perceive. The human mind and brain functioning will forever be fascinating, the way we see the world, the way we learn and the way we react to different situations can indeed be influenced by reinstated or lingering brain states.


There are several ways to overcome an emotional hangover, once an individual realises the way they are feeling is explainable and has been researched in numerous studies this can often provide reassurance and create a starting point to getting through this period. Getting enough sleep and rest is paramount, self care and allowing the body and mind to recuperate and regain energy are simple ways to overcome an emotional hangover. Being well hydrated and eating nourishing food gives the body strength and feeds a tired mind. Being motivated and busy during the downtime of an emotional hangover can also be incredibly healing, read a book and get as much fresh air as possible. Finally the most important step an individual can take is to talk about their feelings and emotions, often this is easier said than done but an important factor of self care is letting someone else know the situation.

About the Author
Phoebe is currently studying a degree in Psychology and will continue to a Masters degree in the near future. She is also interested in political issues, philosophy, economics and creative writing.
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