How do you relax after therapy? 4 tips against emotional exhaustion
Therapy is notoriously connected having a “therapy hangover” – feeling drained after working through difficult emotions. Talking to a therapist about your inner state can be exhausting. You may even end a session feeling worse than when you started.
To make matters worse, many people cannot choose when they need therapy. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a surge in people seeking help and mental health providers are struggling to meet the demand. Competition for appointment times could see you cramming teletherapy into your workday — a boon for those who can afford it and have access to the technology, but one that raises another tough question: How do you get over the ” Therapy Hangover” and dive back in your responsibilities?
Experts tell me there are specific steps you can take to unwind after therapy and move on with your day, but first here’s the good news: “Therapy hangover” isn’t always a bad thing. Instead, it could mean your efforts are working.
“When you focus on emotionally charged issues in therapy, which most people do, it’s not only normal to feel tired after your appointment, but it can also indicate that the work has been productive,” says Joel Minden , a clinical psychologist.
What Causes a “Therapy Hangover”?
It’s common and normal for people to feel tired or exhausted after therapy, explains Jaime Castillo, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker. She compares it to other emotionally intense experiences, such as B. a big fight with someone important to you or a long cry when you are grieving.
“Usually in therapy, we ask you to face something that’s threatening to some degree,” Castillo says. “We want you to embrace discomfort rather than avoid it.”
Facing what feels threatening, such as trauma or problematic behavior patterns, can lead to tiring, heightened emotional states. High intensity good and bad emotions trigger our sympathetic system, which can be mentally and physically taxing.
“Growing pains are not limited to the body.”
You also spend time addressing issues that upset you: Fear of negative emotions after therapy is one of the top four hurdles researchers have identified that keeps people from opening up to their therapist. But facing that fear and processing painful memories — even if they’re distressing in the short term — can help in the long term, explains Melanie Badali, a psychologist who specializes in stress and anxiety.
“You can think of it as a sign of the effort you put into a therapy session,” says Badali. She says think of it like exercise: After a good workout, you’ll be tired and need time to recover. Over time, what was difficult will become easier and you will turn to more challenges. You work hard to achieve your goals.
“Growing pains aren’t limited to the body,” says Badali.
How to decompress after therapy
4. Create a “buffer zone”
If you need to return to work or other tasks soon after therapy, Badali suggests choosing an activity that “engages your senses and grounds you in the present.” This can be as simple as participating in deep breathing exercises or preparing and enjoying a cup of tea.
Castillo also recommends taking 10 minutes to walk, stretch, or do yoga. Physical activity can help “get out of your mind and into your body after a therapy session,” she explains.
3. Participate in reflection exercises
Minden recommends taking notes at appointments that summarize the most important findings.
“Write down what you learned, what you want to remember for the future, and what goals you set for the week,” he says. “If you need to bring your attention back to school, work, or relationships, knowing you have a recording of your therapy session will make it easier to get back to your routine.”
Castillo invites her clients to “imagine putting all unresolved or lingering emotions in a container, securing it, and keeping it in a safe place” before moving on to what they need to do next. “If emotions creep in later, imagine putting them in the container to address them at a later date,” she adds.
2. Be prepared and mind your schedule
Prepare yourself as best you can for being emotionally drained after therapy, Castillo says. To help this, avoid scheduling important meetings or tasks after a therapy appointment.
“In an ideal world, we could schedule all of our therapy appointments on days when we’re not working, giving ourselves enough time to rest and recover afterwards,” says Castillo. “Since this is not realistic for most, I encourage people to schedule therapy on weekdays or times of the day when workloads might be lighter.”
Do you have an important meeting with your boss every Tuesday? Then this is probably not the best day for therapy. But planning aside, all of this hinges on one crucial step: being kind to yourself.
“It’s important to be patient with yourself when it’s difficult to deal with the emotions after the therapy session,” Minden says. “After an appointment, you may not be as relaxed or as present as you would like, so a little self-compassion can go a long way.”
1. Your therapist can help you In front therapy ends.
This goes back to the exercise metaphor: if you add too much weight too soon, you can work on new skills before trying again.
Badali recommends working with your therapist to manage the “therapy hangover” and use it to move forward. She explains that it can be helpful to revisit the feelings you experienced after therapy at your next session. You can also work with your therapist to set a schedule; As a team, you can build transition periods into meetings or work on difficult topics on days when you have enough recovery time. For example, Badali and a client may meet on a day when the client can take the afternoon off if there is a plan to discuss a particularly difficult topic.
“As a psychologist, I keep my eye on the clock and will not ask probing questions or bring up a painful topic towards the end of a therapy session,” she explains. “I’ll do that earlier in the session so we have time for processing and debriefing.”
“Therapy hangover” shouldn’t keep you from therapy, says Badali. The work is often not easy, but it can pay off through diligence and cooperation with a therapist you trust.