There can be a lot of mixed emotions you may feel leading up to your first session with a new therapist.
Whether this is the first time you’ve ever been to therapy, or you’re seeing a new therapist after a history of working with others, it is not uncommon to feel an “emotional hangover” after their first therapy session.
What is an emotional hangover?
An emotional hangover is any lingering uncomfortable feelings after your first therapy session. They typically appear a few hours after your session and can last into the following day. You may notice a range of emotions, including feeling frustrated, anxious, embarrassed, or irritable. It is not uncommon to replay certain things you said in your first session asking “why did I tell them that?” or conversely, you may be asking “why didn’t I tell them that?”
The emotional hangover can be distracting and possibly a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be highly distressing or overwhelming.
In talking to new clients, I often compare it to the feeling you might have after working out for the first time in a while. Maybe you started exercising with the goal to get stronger or healthier but the next day your muscles are tired and it’s hard to walk up stairs! Similarly, after your first therapy session you may feel an emotional “soreness” but you can also feel proud of yourself for making this choice to take care of yourself.
Why does this happen?
Let’s be honest, it’s somewhat of a unique experience walking into a room and telling a stranger some of your most personal issues. You might have shared things with the therapist you haven’t told many other people yet. And it’s common to talk about things you’ve been struggling with for a while or have a hard time putting into words. That takes bravery, honesty, and vulnerability, in other words, you were doing a lot of emotional heavy lifting.
Does everyone get it?
No, anecdotally, I’d say it happens to roughly about half of the new clients I see after their first session. It’s not a problem if you experience it, it’s also not a problem if you don’t.
What can I do about it?
Most of the time, people find it useful just to be aware of the emotional hangover in the first place. If you are able to anticipate this experience ahead of time, it can help to better understand why you may be feeling a particular way after a session or why you may be acting a certain way (e.g. feeling more irritable while you’re out buying groceries that evening and realizing it may have nothing to do with the cashier that’s annoying you).
If you notice any unusual emotions, try not to get upset with yourself, remind yourself it’s quite common for people to feel this way and it’s not a problem or concern. If you’re able to, try to go easy on yourself that day (as you would with sore muscles after the gym) and if you booked a follow up appointment with that therapist, you can choose to talk to them about it at your next session.
Try to Remember
Therapy can be an incredible experience. It can lead to personal growth, new insight, and improve your behaviours, relationships, and outlook on life. Along the way, there may be times when you challenge yourself or push a bit outside of your comfort zone and as a result, you may feel a bit of an emotional hangover.
But you should never feel unsafe, judged, pressured, or distraught by therapy. If that is the case, consider telling the therapist what you’re experiencing or, if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, talk to someone else in your life for support. It is also worth asking yourself if this therapist is the right fit for you. It can be helpful to call a local distress line where you can talk to someone immediately to cope with how you are feeling.
Recognizing the emotional hangover (or soreness) allows you to normalize what you’re experiencing and take care of yourself in the moment.
Jaylin Bradbury is our Clinical Director, responsible for leading our team of exceptional clinicians at Shift Collab.
You are vigorously scouring your social feeds looking for the newest articles on the coronavirus and COVID-19 while simultaneously ordering overly expensive hand sanitizer on Amazon.
You are considering going to Costco to stock up on toilet paper and you are fearful of being surrounded by your family when they arrive home from work, school or errands.
You may even be nervous to leave your home and go outside.
I feel your panic.
I too am anxious about what this means for my own health and that of my loved ones. Currently, it feels difficult to decipher what I should believe and what is scaring me for no reason. Most of all, I want to be in control of my fear and cope with the stress of this pandemic in a healthy way.
First, it’s important to better understand why we feel panicked in the first place.
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress and acts as a built-in safety mechanism that prevents you from harm. When that mechanism is working well, it correctly assesses danger and offers us a safety response, kind of like a smoke alarm sounding when there is an actual fire. When we hear the alarm it triggers us to quickly change our behaviour to stay safe.
For many of us, our internal safety mechanism — a metaphorical smoke alarm — can be overly-sensitive or even faulty from time to time resulting in an inability to correctly assess the situational risk and properly determine the level of threat. Think of it as a defective smoke detector that signals an alarm at the right, and wrong, times. Fire or not, whenever we hear that alarm, we naturally respond with stress.
When it comes to anxiety around COVID-19, for some of us a similar stress response may be happening. While we are rationally aware that we may not be at significant risk, we may feel that we are not in control and therefore our internal panic button or alarm is triggered resulting in physical and emotional distress.
Second, let’s discuss what is helpful.
Each of us can take small steps that, taken together, can make a big impact on managing our anxiety.
Regular hand washing. Wash those hands! Experts recommend at least 20 seconds of vigorous handwashing with soap and warm water. Just an FYI 20 seconds is as long as the chorus of Lizzo’s Good as Hell.
Reading trusted news articles. Being careful to verify the source of the information. A lot of misinformation that is being shared on social media is inaccurate which can be further dangerous. For the most trustworthy information refer to the World Health Organization.
Discussing fears with loved ones or your therapist. Sharing your fears and concerns with trusted loved ones can help to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. As humans, we are wired for connection and sharing our stories and experiences helps us to make sense of them. Friends and loved ones may give us perspective that we don’t necessarily consider ourselves and may help us problem-solve around how to cope with our stress.
Checking in with your loved ones that are at higher risk (elderly and/or those with chronic medical conditions). We know that some populations are at higher risk than others. If you have a close friend or family member who is elderly or live with a chronic medical condition, checking in with them regularly can help them, and you feel more in control.
Naming the pandemic for what it is. The term pandemic can drive feelings of anxiety but as Mark Lipstick, Harvard Epidemiologist says, “it’s helpful to call a horse a horse”. In Pandemic, a podcast by Dr. Sunjay Gupta of CNN, Gupta states, “I keep reminding the viewers that still, based on two very large studies, the vast majority of people who get this infection are not going to get sick. They’re going to have a mild illness, if any, and they’re going to recover. This tends to be very reassuring to people. But I don’t want to minimize this. We’re dealing with something that is growing and becoming a legitimate pandemic.”
Practice social distancing. This buzz term simply means keeping people apart from each other, at least 6 feet apart, and avoiding direct human contact with others. What that means in actionable terms is that the notion of community may need to change for the short-term. As Author Max Brooks states in his New York Times Opinion piece, The best way to prevent “community spread” is to spread out the community. That means keeping people apart. No more handshakes, group photos and “free hugs” from those cosplayers at Comic-Con. In fact, it might mean no more Comic-Con for a little while, as well as no trade shows, concerts or any other events that draw a large crowd. Each individual is responsible to take precautions that prevent the spread of the virus, not only for themselves but also to protect those who are at higher risk.
If you are sick, stay home. Whether you are showing the symptoms of COVID-19 or not, adjust your work, school, and social commitments to avoid having to be in close proximity to others. Call on friends or family members to drop off food or supplies and simply lay low. If you are able to work from home and stay productive it will keep you focused on other things and increase a sense of control. Your employer or professor will understand and hopefully support your decision to stay home.
Get tested if you are showing symptoms. If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, it is essential that you get tested. Rather than showing up unannounced at a clinic or hospital, it is best to call your healthcare provider or public health authority and they will be able to guide you on the appropriate location to go to.
Third, let’s tackle what might be unhelpful.
There are actions that will likely add to your anxiety. It’s important to remember that you are not superhuman — none of us are — and that means accepting that we have to keep our knee-jerk reactions in check.
It is difficult to understand how to not over or under-react. Often in an effort to keep us safe, our mind falls into a pattern of catastrophic thinking. It can be helpful to separate between what is necessarily going to happen from what is possible to happen. It may be possible, but is it certain? Similarly, it can be useful to not make assumptions or get ahead of yourself, instead of making choices one step at a time.
Overindulging in media consumption. Take a break from social media and news consumption if you feel that you are becoming increasingly worried or anxious. Notice what happens in your body and mind while on the break. If you feel calmer and less overwhelmed it’s a good reminder to take regular planned social media and news consumption breaks throughout your day. If any major updates occur, you’ll hear about them regardless of being plugged in constantly or not.
Ignoring your needs. When you are feeling particularly anxious, it is essential to pay attention to what you can control. Can you telecommute and work from home instead of heading into the office? Does your medical practitioner offer video appointments? Do you feel unwell and need a sick day? It’s okay to prioritize your needs during this time even if it includes cancelling a trip you were looking forward to. We expect to see a lot of grieving during this time, as people end up having to cancel time with friends and family or major life events due to precautionary measures to control the spread of the virus.
Ignoring your coping strategies and self-care. Self-care is health care and it’s important to continue the routines that have consistently helped you to remain healthy. Often, these routines can be modified to support recommended infection-control practices. Change your studio practice to an at-home yoga practice. Attend your regular therapy session over video or telephone instead. Take advantage of the meal delivery service you’ve been wanting to try and cook at home. Being creative will be your best strength here.
Identify your drive to panic buy and where it comes from.This article by CNBC interviewed Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University to determine why people are stocking up on toilet paper and how easily we can influence each other socially when we are stressed. The phenomenon, also known as fear contagion, was described by van der Linden, “when people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behaviour,” he said. “People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it’s rational it sends a signal to them that it’s the thing to do. Sometimes there can be a lot of value in social knowledge — from an evolutionary perspective when we don’t know how to react to something, we look to others for guidance,” he added. “If you’re in the jungle and someone jumps away from a snake you automatically do the same thing. But sometimes that gets highjacked and you’re told to do something that’s not the right thing to do.”
Fourth, if you feel that you are overwhelmed, please reach out to someone for support.
There is no shame in sharing your feelings, fears and challenges. We are literally all in this together.
If you are in crisis and in need of support, calling a crisis line can help.Click here for a list of crisis resources. Contrary to popular beliefs about crisis lines, they exist to provide support for a wide range of distress.
If you are concerned you may have COVID-19, seek medical attention. If you are unwell and worried that you may have contracted the virus, the Government of Canada and Public Health suggests, “if you are ill and must visit a health care professional, call ahead or tell them when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness. You may be asked to wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent the spread of the illness. If you have travelled abroad and you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing in the next 14 days: isolate yourself within your home as quickly as possible and call your healthcare provider or public health authority. Tell them your symptoms and travel history. Let them know whether you have had direct contact with animals or a sick person, especially if they have had symptoms.
If you are anxious about this pandemic and its impact on you, speak to a therapist. Our wonderful team of therapists at Shift Collab, the crew behind Real Campus, is available for in-person, phone, and video sessions throughout Canada. You can also connect with one of our therapists on-demand virtually by using the Maple app.
If you’re like most people considering going for therapy, you probably have some questions about what to expect.
Your first session is a chance for you to share a bit about yourself and what brought you to therapy.
Some therapists choose to use a structured assessment that asks a series of standard questions as a way to get a comprehensive understanding of you. Other therapists may opt for a more flexible session during which they ask more general questions such as “what brought you in today?”.
In either situation:
Feel free to ask questions.
This time is for you, and it’s important you feel comfortable.
Remember that everything is voluntary.
In an effort to get to know you better, your new therapist will likely ask you a lot of questions. If at any point you’re uncomfortable with answering the question, remember that everything is fully voluntary and it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’d rather not talk about that topic or would like to wait until you feel more comfortable before answering that question.
Share what’s helped and what hasn’t been as helpful before.
This can include lessons from past therapists, as well as other strategies you’ve used to cope up to this point.
Give feedback to your therapist.
Remember that this isyourtime and as such, it’s important to let the therapist know how they can best help you.
Expect that you may show different feelings during therapy.
Some people feel embarrassed if they start crying or show other emotional reactions, but it’s important to remember that these feelings are understandable as you’re purposely focusing on topics that are often uncomfortable, painful, or can make you feel vulnerable. Take your time when sharing and remember that your therapist is not there to judge, but to support you and your emotions.
I always encourage my clients to take care of themselves after their first session. While it’s important to practice self-care at all times, it can be especially helpful to do so after your first few sessions of therapy. It can be a strange experience talking openly to a stranger about difficult areas in your life. Expect that this level of vulnerability may stir up different feelings for the next day or two after your initial session. Try to go easy on yourself during this time.
If you have any other questions, consider booking a phone consult to talk directly with your potential new therapist. This is an easy way to ask more questions and start to decide if they are the right person to support you.0 Likes
I want to share a secret. Something that far too many advice columns forget to mention when it comes to self-care. The truth is, you don’t need hours to take care of yourself.
Small quick changes can have a big impact. That’s important because it’s the busiest people who need self-care the most and the last thing you have time for is to feel guilty for having yet another thing on your to-do list you can’t seem to get to.
Most of the time when we think of self-care we think of activities. Catching a yoga class, walking through a park, or reading a great book. All of these are fantastic but they are not the only ways we can take care of ourselves. Making a change to your internal monologue, focusing on the positives in your day, or genuinely accepting a compliment from someone else takes only seconds but can go a long way to feeling better.
When it comes to self-care quick and often is better than long and infrequent. Can’t make it to that Zoomba class? Take three minutes in the morning and dance to your favourite song. Longing for a day at the Spa? Treat yourself to a fancier body wash or light your favourite candle for a few minutes before bed.
So what are you waiting for? Try one of these today. You deserve it!
Starting today, I’m ready to:
Make a point to smile at strangers while I walk down the street.
Turn up the radio and sing as loud as I can while stuck in traffic.
Send a text message to a friend to let them know I’m thinking of them.
Close my eyes and take three slow breathes in and out while saying a positive message like, “I’ve got this!” or “I am strong and capable”. (Helpful trick: Say it out loud. It makes a difference!)
Focus on my own progress and growth rather than comparing myself to someone else.
The truth is simple. Post-secondary life can be wonderful but it can also be challenging. And you can’t do it alone.
Whether you’ve moved out on your own, you’re living in residence, or commuting from home, adjusting to university or college can be difficult. You’re also expected to balance school work, a personal life, possibly a job or volunteering. Throw in a club or sports team and it’s amazing you have time to brush your teeth. (You are still brushing your teeth, right?).
Often we’re told to take care of ourselves, but it’s equally important to remember that we can’t do it all on our own. Humans by nature are a social species and as such we require the support of others.
To help you navigate all of the ups and downs, here is a helpful guide on social supports. To begin, we’ll review the 5 types of support that are essential to make it through college or university.
From there, we’ll review who in your life offers each type of support, how to best determine what type of support you need, and finally how to ask for more support when needed.
And for added fun, we’ve thrown in a quiz you and your friends can take to figure out the type of support you most often offer others.
All of which can be covered in less than your one hour lecture on organic chemistry. Let’s get started!
The Big Five Kinds of Poeple
There are five major types of social support needed in university or college; emotional, motivational, practical, problem solving, and recreational. Depending on what’s going on in your life you may need more of one than another but all are going to be needed at some point or another.
Person 1: Your Emotional Support
Who they are: This is the person who’s able to listen to how you are feeling without immediately trying to change or stop you from feeling that way. They’re good listeners and you know you can talk openly without being silenced, rushed, made to feel guilty, or that your feelings don’t matter.
Traits: Understanding, accepting, non-judgemental, and patient.
Things you won’t hear: “Ugh, don’t be angry/sad/etc” “Just cheer up” “Get over it”
Things you want to hear:“That sucks” “I’m really sorry that happened to you” “You didn’t deserve that” “I’m not sure what to say right now, I’m just really glad you told me”
Why you need this person: Whenever you are experiencing intense emotions it is helpful to have them validated by someone else. This helps you to feel connected and understood.
Useful tip:most of the time we don’t want someone to solve our problems but rather just offer understanding.
Person 2: Your Motivational Support
Who they are: This is the person who’s able to motivate you whenever you’re feeling discouraged or uninspired. They can remind you of the reasons behind your goals when you’re feeling down. This person truly believes in you and your abilities to accomplish what you’re working towards.
Things you won’t hear: “You can’t do that” “Oh come on, be realistic” “What did you expect?” “You always quit on things” “Just give up, it’s not worth it”
Things you want to hear: “That’s awesome, you’re going to do great!” “That’s exciting, please let me know how I can help” “I know you can do it” “Just keep trying, you’ll figure it out”
Why you need this person: Internal motivation isn’t constant, it comes and goes. As a result, we all have those times when we feel discouraged and want to give up. Having someone that believes in us and can remind us of our motivation can help us to accomplish great things.
Useful tip: Often the way in which the inspiring messages are communicated is just as important as what is said. Think about what truly motivates you as an individual. Do you prefer the boot camp drill sergeant or the positive cheerleader? Not all people respond to the same style of motivational support, it’s important to figure out what works for you.
Person 3: Your Practical Support
Who they are: This is the person who can help in those practical everyday ways. This person can help you unpack from your dorm room, has the spare charger in class when your laptop is dying, or brings over soup when you’re sick in the middle of a snow storm.
Things you won’t hear: “Oh man I totally forgot” “Sorry I have to bail last minute” “You’re on your own”
Things you want to hear: “I can help with that” “I’ll be there” “You can count on me” “I’m ready, what do you need?”
Why you need this person: Even the most independent of people need help from others at times. Having someone you can count on to be there makes certain experiences go a lot easier.
Useful tip: There can be many different types of practical support often linked to resources and skills. E.g. Someone who’s able to take notes for you in your econ class may not be able to drive you to the airport for reading week.
Person 4: Your Problem Solving Support
Who they are: This is the person who can help when you’re stuck and not sure what to do. They offer useful advice and feedback on how to make improvements in your life. They often help you to discover solutions you may otherwise not have been able to think of on your own. Often coming from their own experience, they take the time to understand what’s going on and offer ideas that are useful to your specific situation.
Things you won’t hear: “Oh wow, I have no clue what you can do” “How would I know? Looks like you’re stuck”
Things you want to hear: “I went through something similar, here’s what worked for me” “I wonder if you could try doing this…”
Why you need this person: When experiencing a stressful situation, our own ability to be creative and resourceful can decrease. What’s more, when we’re in university of college we often face situations we’ve never experienced before, and therefore may not automatically know how to fix them.
Useful tip: The most useful advice is offered after the person has a full understanding of your situation, which includes hearing what you’ve already tried or considered and why previous attempts haven’t worked out. Only then, will they be able to offer suggestions that you haven’t tried yet, leading to a less frustrating experience for you both.
Person 5: Recreational Support
Who they are: This is someone you’re able to have fun with. You have shared interests and enjoy each other’s company.
Traits: Fun, Entertaining, Enjoyable, Relaxing
Things you won’t hear: “No that’s boring, let’s not do that”, “I just really don’t like any of the things you want to do”
Things you want to hear:“Hey let’s go out this weekend!” “Want me to come over? We can hang out and watch a movie”
Why you need this person: Post secondary can be a stressful time, it’s important to take time to relax and have fun with others. Finding the people who have shared interests will allow you to make the most of your time at school and enjoy yourself.
Useful tip: There are many opportunities to meet new people at college or university for recreational support. Think of an activity you enjoy doing and find out if there is a club, team, or group on campus where you can meet others who also enjoy that activity. If there isn’t a group yet, consider creating one yourself!
Helpful Tips to Remember
Often people have the desire to be helpful but not always the ability. In order to qualify as a support, one must be both willing and able to offer that support. Recognizing and accepting this fact can prevent a lot of frustration and disappointment.
Getting the wrong type of support can feel rejecting and upsetting. For example your brother may be terrible at offering emotional support but don’t discount the practical support he can provide. Making a point to go to him when you need help moving out of your dorm room will therefore be far more useful than expecting him to have something helpful to say after going through a major breakup.
In addition to close friends and family, don’t forget about the support from paid professionals. A therapist, a professor, your residence advisor, or even an uber driver can all offer valuable support.
People can learn new skills all the time. Before you assume that someone can’t offer a particular type of support just because they haven’t in the past, take the time to talk to them about it. It’s possible that they’ve been trying to be supportive but don’t yet know the right way to support you as an individual. For example, some people find it helpful to be reminded of the silver lining in a bad situation while others find it discounts their experience. Learn specifically what you need in each type of support and try to teach others how they can help you best.