Dealing With the Other Hangovers

"Tis the season for excess—and we're not just referring to eggnog. Whether you overdid it at dinner or are suffering from stress, we've got your recovery plan.


By Stacey Colino
Illustrations by Noma Bar

The stress hangover

Your mile-long shopping list has yet to be addressed; houseguests are imminent and you're nowhere near prepared; coordinating the family calendar has been impossible, and you're supposed to be in three places at one time. Whatever the source, a spike in stress can make you feel agitated, angry, drained, weepy, or unable to sleep—or, let's face it, all of the above. This happens when the brain's fear center triggers the stress and fight-or-flight responses, a flood of hormones that revs up breathing, spikes blood sugar, and increases natural steroids so you can fight off an attacker or run for your life. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective but is an overreaction for most modern-day stress, explains psychologist Marc Schoen, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and the author of Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You. In fact, it can exacerbate the problem. "The end result could be an abundance of inflammation, leading to accelerated aging or symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] or asthma," says Schoen.

RECOVERY PLAN

Interrupt the story line. Take a break and allow yourself a moment to correct distorted thoughts about the situation. Ask yourself: Am I catastrophizing? Making this into a bigger deal than it has to be? "Fostering mindfulness—and reminding yourself that people [including you] are fallible—helps distance you from the source of stress," says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., the director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center, in New York City, and the author of Stress Management for Dummies.

Settle down. Spend a few minutes quieting your mind with deep breathing. It calms your sympathetic nervous system, switching off the fight-or-flight response, says Elkin.

Get moving. You've heard it before: Take a brisk walk and cool off. That's because, aside from providing a scenic distraction, short doses of moderate exercise (five to seven minutes will do) can boost your immune response, says Schoen.

THE FOOD HANGOVER

After overindulging in rich holiday fare (or simply eating too much), you wake up bloated and sluggish. "You've basically exceeded the capacity of your gastrointestinal [GI] tract to digest food," says Dawn Wiese Adams, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine of gastroenterology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville. The food just sits there until it can be digested and transported through the GI tract, which can leave your stomach and small intestine distended and your belly aching.

RECOVERY PLAN

Mangia! "People often undereat or avoid food completely to make up for overeating the day before," says Keri Gans, R.D., a dietitian in New York City and the author of The Small Change Diet. But fasting can backfire. "By the end of the day, you're so hungry, you could easily end up overeating again." Instead, have a meal high in fiber and low in salt, and drink plenty of water.

Get moving. "Cardio exercise—a brisk walk or a bike ride—speeds up gastrointestinal motility," says Adams. And the endorphins released by the activity will boost your mood, making you feel less crummy overall.

Try ginger and mint. Numerous studies have shown that ginger can relieve mild to moderate nausea. Have some ginger tea, or just grate fresh ginger into warm water. And peppermint oil has been found to ease symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps by calming the GI tract (in a study of people with IBS). One note: Peppermint can exacerbate reflux, so if you're prone to heartburn, skip the mint and neutralize stomach acid with an antacid instead.

The talking hangover

Your takeaway from nonstop holiday revelry: a voice huskier than Kathleen Turner's. The technical cause is "acute inflammation of the vocal folds," says Michael Benninger, M.D., the chairman of the Head and Neck Institute, at the Cleveland Clinic. Inflammation causes fluid accumulation in the larynx, lowering the pitch of your voice. "How long this lasts depends on the severity of the trauma," says Benninger. If you're still whisper-hoarse after four days, see a doctor.

RECOVERY PLAN

Shhhh. Rest your voice. With the convenience of texting and e-mail, you have no excuse for straining to be heard (er, except maybe if you have little kids). For a day or two, talk as little as possible and only "in gentle library tones," says Benninger.

Rehydrate your vocal folds. Small sips of water with a squeeze of lemon, noncaffeinated herbal teas, lozenges, sugarless gum—these all stimulate saliva flow and lubricate the vocal folds, says Benninger. They also "keep the throat moist so that you don't clear it," he says. (Throat clearing aggravates the injury.) Although gargling with salt water may be Grandma's best advice, says Benninger, it's ineffective here: "The gargles never get close enough to the larynx to help."

Seek out steam. Whether you sit in a steam room or take a long, hot shower, humid air moisturizes those passageways, making your throat feel better and possibly hastening healing.

Lost your voice? Gargling might feel nice, but it's not effective in healing the injured vocal folds. Saliva stimulators, such as lozenges, herbal tea, and sugarless gum, are a better bet.

The nightmare hangover

When your sleep pattern is disrupted—whether by anxiety over dysfunctional family dynamics or just a nonstop schedule—nightmares are more likely to follow. And disturbing dreams can leave you feeling seriously out of sorts—hazy, tense, even nauseated. "When you're dreaming of an unpleasant situation, the same areas of the brain are activated as would be in your waking life," says Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. "It's as if you were actually living the experience." The stress hormones triggered by a bad dream are still flooding your bloodstream for the next few hours, and your body and mind suffer the aftereffects.

RECOVERY PLAN

Take a cold shower. "It shocks your system," says Carsi Hughes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois, "changing the channel in your body and brain."

Get it out of your head. Write down or record as much as you can about the dream and how it made you feel, Raymond suggests. "Putting the dream into words engages the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that's involved in reasoning and judgment, calming the fear and anxiety," she says.

Analyze it. "If you can change your thoughts about the dream, you can change your feelings," says Hughes, and that in turn will soothe your sympathetic nervous system. Say you dreamed that you were trying to get away from someone: Consider whether the person you were trying to evade reflects a part of you—perhaps you're trying to tell yourself to leave something behind.

THE WORKOUT HANGOVER

You've been too busy with obligations to get to the gym. You try to make up for that with one massive Saturday session that includes a challenging spin class and an intense interaction with the stair-climber. The next day, you're paying for it. "As your muscles repair themselves, inflammation occurs and impinges on the nerves surrounding the muscles, causing pain," says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. Although slight soreness is typically a sign that your muscles have been stressed and will get stronger with adequate recovery time, it doesn't make walking any easier.

RECOVERY PLAN

Ice, ice, baby. You might be craving a hot bath, but those achy spots will respond better to an ice pack, which can ease inflammation and interrupt pain signals, says Fabio Comana, M.S., a faculty member in the department of exercise and nutritional sciences at San Diego State University.

Drink tart cherry juice. A 2016 study published in the journal Nutrients saw benefits for semiprofessional male soccer players who consumed 30 milliliters (about an ounce) of tart Montmorency cherry juice, which is high in anti-inflammatory compounds, twice a day for eight days. These players had significantly less inflammation and muscle damage following an intense session of prolonged, repeated sprints than did those who consumed a placebo. The athletes drank the juice (which is sold in supermarkets) morning and night, but experts say that a shot after exercise will do the trick.

Stay active. Classic hair-of-the-dog advice: Go for a walk or an easy bike ride; do any activity that gently engages the sore muscles the following day to stimulate blood flow to the area and help the healing process. Says Comana, "This helps clean up the cellular debris from the muscle tears."

The sleep-deprivation hangover

"Missing out on sleep deprives your brain synapses, muscles, ligaments, and joints of the chance to reset and renew," says Matthew Edlund, M.D., the director of the Center for Circadian Medicine, in Sarasota, Florida. This could compromise your reaction time, coordination, strength, balance, judgment, and mood. Research published in 2000 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that going 17 to 19 hours without sleep—say, being awake from 6 A.M. to 11 P.M.—can impair judgment and motor reaction time as much as if a person were legally drunk.

RECOVERY PLAN

Beware carbs and caffeine. Make healthy choices even when your body is crying out for doughnuts. (Lack of sleep triggers a surge of cortisol, which triggers appetite.) Sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., the author of The Power of When, suggests that you enjoy your usual cup of coffee—but just one. And eat protein, rather than carbs, for steady energy. Also, get outside so the sunlight can help reset your body clock and shake off the sluggishness.

Use aromatherapy. For a quick alertness boost, inhale peppermint or rosemary oil. Research from the University of Northumbria, in England, found that the scent of peppermint increases alertness and memory function. And a study published in International Journal of Neuroscience found that being exposed to the scent of rosemary for three minutes alters brain-wave patterns in ways that increase mental agility.

Have a chat. Even if you feel beat, talk to your neighbor at the train station or call a friend for tea. "Social interactions improve alertness and have a positive effect on your body's clock," says Edlund. In fact, research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that when people cooperatively engage with others for even 10 minutes, they experience a lift in cognitive functions, such as attention and flexible thinking.


THE PERKS OF STRESS

Yep, they exist. Make anxiety work for you at realsimple.com/successfulstress