Whether your are just past the family event, about to go participate, or are anticipating for next year, here are some things that may help you avoid, or at least lessen, the Emotional Hangover.
Before you go
1. Have hopes, not expectations. Expectations and hopes may appear interchangeable in the dictionary, but they are not the same psychologically. Expectations have the scent of “this is how it’s going to be”; hopes have the more ethereal quality of possibility. There is space for hopes to become more; expectations have a more concrete anticipation with confidence of fulfillment*. Expectations hold a greater chance of not being met and leaving us with disappointment.
While you are there
2. Drink plenty of water – at least as much water as you are drinking other items (coffee and alcohol dehydrate you – 1 for 1 is highly recommended). Sometimes the 2nd glass of wine is better sipped afterwards on your own couch in the silence of your own home.
3. If your start feeling irritable, consider the HALT rule: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. This mantra is an old rule of thumb from Alcoholics Anonymous, but has implications for most of us. Self-awareness is key: if you find yourself irritable and out of sorts, run the above mantra. Is anything from this list contributing to your irritability? If you can determine what’s feeding the crankiness, you may be able to fix or at least lessen it. Knowing what’s driving the irritation can help defuse it. While you can’t let Aunt Martha have it verbally (much as you would like to and as much as she probably deserves it), you can recognize that her rudeness was just Aunt Martha being her loathsome self – it wasn’t personal. And she isn’t going to change just because you told her to.
4. Enlist a ‘rescue buddy’. Safety in numbers is key – have your beloved (who is not related to this group except through you) run interference for you. Frequently a sibling or a cousin can make an excellent confederate if you are single or without a beloved at this event. As allies, each of you can watch the other’s back from afar, poised to intervene and extract one another from conversations when you see the secret ‘help me’ sign. You may also need an ‘I’m fine’ sign.
5. Limit your stay – sometimes difficult if you are attending a ‘scripted’ event. Decide how long you can stay and stick to it. Give yourself permission to change your mind and stay if things are going better than anticipated (see also #1). Also remember that it can be helpful to be “seen leaving the party” before Uncle Julius slyly refills everyone’s wineglass “to get them talking”.
After you leave
6. Recognize that you will be exhausted when the event is over. Plan some down time. Hopefully you will be suffering in your own home, your own room at the hotel, or your childhood bedroom with the door closed. Remember that most of these events frequently cause many of the participants to suffer from the Emotional Hangover, too – so in this, you are not alone.
Be gentle with yourself – and your family. There was likely nothing you could have done to prevent whatever happened. This is bigger than you – let yourself off the hook. Whatever psychosis is indigenous to your family, you can’t fix it – but you can arm yourself beforehand to have the best chance of some enjoyment of the event next time.
Before ‘next time’
As with most ‘events’, planning is key. If your experience didn’t go so well this time, a little planning next time might eliminate some of the beforehand ‘dread’ and the ‘hangover’ afterwards. This little mantra may be helpful: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. Change, while challenging, may be worth the effort.
Oh, yes – about the cure? Well, there is no cure – only prevention: one part awareness and one part preparation, sprinkled liberally with lots and lots of understanding.