Our Favorite Ways to Recuperate After Online Therapy
If you’ve ever had a particularly rough therapy session, you probably know what a “therapy hangover” is – that specific feeling of exhaustion and mental strain after therapy. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’ve probably felt it. While therapy is a valuable part of self-care, working on yourself and revisiting difficult emotions can leave you feeling wiped out, emotionally sensitive, and a bit raw.
Therapy hangovers can affect the way your body feels, too. If you’ve ever left therapy suddenly feeling stressed, fatigued, or with physical symptoms like indigestion, headaches, or muscle tension, you can thank your therapy hangover.
The Difference Between an In-Person and Online Therapy Hangover
In recent years, lots of people have switched from in-person therapy to online therapy. This was first mainly due to COVID-19. But more and more people are choosing to stick with online therapy even as more people start feeling comfortable attending appointments and events in person again, thanks to the convenience and other benefits of online therapy.
This has also shifted how a lot of people experience therapy hangovers. In-person therapy is, by definition, outside your home. That means you have to commute back home or to work afterward. While most people love the fact that online therapy cuts down their transportation time, the therapy commute does come with some benefits:
- Immediately leaving your therapist’s office helps many people separate any difficult feelings they may have discussed in therapy from daily life. There’s a sense of “leaving your feelings at the door” when you say goodbye to your therapist and head home.
- If you drive home, you have some time alone to decompress, listen to the radio, cry, talk to yourself, sing, say affirmations, or listen to your favorite podcast.
- If your commute home involves walking home or taking public transportation, you can get your body moving, which can reduce stress and help your mind feel fresher and clearer.
- If you take public transportation, you can zone out, spend a little more time unpacking what you talked about in therapy, meditate, or distract yourself with a game on your phone as a mental palate cleanser.
- If your therapist’s office was in a downtown location, you may have been able to run errands or grab coffee before heading home. This would have given you a chance to clear your head and ease back into the rest of your day.
When therapy is just a Zoom call away and you can do your sessions from your home office or bedroom, you don’t have a natural separation from “therapy mode” and regular life. While plenty of people are glad to have the flexibility and accessibility of online therapy, traveling home from therapy is its own kind of ritual that’s been lost for a lot of people.
Luckily, that’s a fixable problem. You can create your own post-therapy rituals to lessen your therapy hangover and have an easier time bouncing back from “therapy mode” into “life mode.” You might have to be more deliberate about creating your therapy ritual, but that also means you can customize it to your liking, which can make it more rewarding.
Ways to Deal With a Therapy Hangover
If you can, try scheduling therapy on days when you don’t have a lot of other stressful things going on. Or at least set aside some time after therapy when you can decompress. That can help create some separation from therapy and the rest of your day.
Try a Grounding Exercise or Mindfulness Techniques
Take a moment to notice what’s going on in your body, do some deep breathing, and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Writing down your post-therapy thoughts can have a cathartic effect. It can help you remember big realizations, sage advice from your therapist, or any action items you and your therapist discussed during your appointment. It also gives you a chance to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto the page.
If words aren’t your thing, try doing something else creative. This can help even if it seems unrelated to your feelings at the time. Draw, paint, sew, cook, bake, play a musical instrument, sing, dance, or even pull out an adult coloring book. A creative activity helps get you into a different headspace and lets you express yourself in a way that feels comfortable to you. You can share what you create or keep it for yourself.
Channeling difficult feelings is a time-honored tradition of all kinds of artists. Tapping into your imagination is fulfilling, satisfying, and can remind you of the good parts of life – especially when you’re feeling low.
Try a Gratitude Exercise
It might sound cheesy, but try writing down or thinking of 5-10 things you’re grateful for. This exercise reminds you that there are still good things in the world, even when you’re feeling run-down or low.
Make sure you approach gratitude exercises with the correct mindset. The goal isn’t to gaslight yourself into denying any negative feelings you might be processing. Gratitude doesn’t negate any traumatic or unpleasant experiences you might have discussed in therapy. But it can shift your attention, make you smile, and keep you from ruminating on negative thoughts.
This might not be feasible after every single therapy session, but after leaving a particularly tough session, it might be worth buying something small and fun that gives you a bit of a boost. Bonus points if it’s something self-care-related like a weighted blanket, fidget toy, or a healthy snack that will benefit your mental health beyond the initial excitement of buying something new.
Hesitant to spend money? Treat yourself to a bit of window-shopping. The novelty of taking in new sights can pull your mind out of negative thought spirals. It can also help you feel connected to your community and those around you, especially if you’re browsing a local business’s wares.
Even if you don’t normally meditate, it can be worth taking time (even just a few minutes) to close your eyes and clear your mind. This can help you identify the emotions going through your head.
If you already have a meditation practice you like, you can simply follow your normal meditation routine. But if you’re new to meditation and want to try it out, all you need to do is find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and spend a few minutes focusing on your breathing. You might find yourself finding new insights about the topics you discussed in therapy. But the most important thing is simply noticing how you feel and giving yourself a break from having to think about anything.
Go for a Walk
If you used to do in-person therapy, you probably had a short walk afterward (even if it was just to your car). Replicate that by stepping out of your house and taking a quick walk around the block.
Getting a bit of exercise and fresh air boosts your endorphins and is great for your mental health. It also gets you out of your head. Listen to music, an audiobook, or your favorite podcast as you go. Or you can turn it into a mindfulness activity by leaving your phone and earbuds at home and just savoring the sounds of your neighborhood.
Make Time for Self-Care
Ask yourself how you normally like to unwind, then go out of your way to give yourself a little extra relaxation. This could mean taking a long shower, treating yourself to a massage, or giving yourself a mani/pedi while watching your favorite movie. Whatever self-care looks like for you, embrace it.
Connect With Your Favorite People
Most people see therapy as something they do alone, privately. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with setting boundaries and keeping your emotions to yourself, it can be gratifying and soothing to connect with someone you love while you’re coming down from heightened emotions.
You don’t have to talk about your therapy session if you don’t want to. It doesn’t have to be an emotional activity. Just focus on feeling close to people who make you safe. This can look like:
- Hosting movie night or a TV watch party with a few of your favorite people
- Making a habit of calling friends you haven’t heard from in a while to chat
- Cooking a fun, easy recipe with your kids
- Asking your partner to listen while you recap what topics you covered in therapy
- Meeting a friend for coffee or drinks
- Attending a social event or local club relevant to your interests
Another benefit to getting other people involved is that it gives you something to look forward to. If you normally dread therapy, you can help develop a positive association with it in your mind by tying it to an activity you already like. In time, you’ll find therapy doesn’t stress you out as much as it used to.
Nobody likes feeling off-kilter after therapy. Letting an emotional hangover linger certainly won’t make you feel any better about working on yourself. But if you develop a post-therapy ritual to help you bounce back, you can shake that pesky hangover and turn online therapy into an even more positive, beneficial experience than before.
ie. Whatever self-care looks like for you, embrace it.