May 16, 2019

You finally did it: resignation letter signed, cubicle cleared, farewells exchanged, and maybe one too many happy hour drinks had.

And then you start feeling it: something gnawing deep inside the pit of your stomach, followed up by immediate regret, topped with an overwhelming sense of panic. God, what did I just do?

Many of you might be familiar with this feeling—whether it happens after leaving a job, having a tough conversation, or making a major life change. It's a confusing mix of fear and exhaustion—and it's officially called a vulnerability hangover.

Coined by author and researcher Brené Brown in her TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” this gut-wrenching feeling pops up the moment we decide to get real about who we are, what we want, and how we express it.

A vulnerability hangover is a gut-wrenching feeling that happens the moment we decide to get real about who we are, what we want, and how we express it.
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Tell me more.

“It’s that lingering fear after you share something where you put yourself out there in some way, and you’re not sure of the response yet,” Jasmine Davis, Ph.D., psychologist at Lotus Counseling Center, tells Shine. “It’s that time in which you share something and you’re waiting to find out how it’s perceived, or how it’s received.”

And though this fear may seem to physically manifest itself in unpleasant ways, vulnerability can actually be a good thing.

So it’s not a weakness?

Not so much. In fact, Brown feels that it is only when we expose ourselves that we have experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. That it is our “most accurate measurement of courage.”

“A lot of people perceive vulnerability as a weakness because you can get hurt when you expose yourself,” Davis says. “It’s not synonymous, but it’s the parts of ourselves that we’re not so eager to share but that need to be shared.”

It is only when we expose ourselves that we have experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
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As a creative, I’ve since accepted the fact that vulnerability hangovers will naturally—and continuously—come with the territory of putting your work on display for millions of eyes to see (oh, hey, impostor syndrome 👋). That’s not to say that baring your soul gets any easier, but there are a few things that have pulled me back from hitting undo:

1. Reframe Your Self-Talk: 'This Will Happen' to 'This Could Happen'

Let’s talk day-to-day. Whatever damage you think has been done—whether you’ve texted your friend a novel-length message about an issue you’ve both been tiptoeing around or set up a meeting with your boss to finally ask for that promotion—your alter-ego will have at it in the worst way.

This friendship will be over. You’ll crash and burn. You’ll get fired.

Your instant reaction might be to show Negative Nancy the door, but what if instead, you showed her empathy–or at least some sort of validation? Anxiety coach and CEO of Curated Goals, Palak Vani, explains on a recent podcast episode that the key isn’t to hush those thoughts or run from them, but to learn how to be OK with the potential bad outcomes.

“When you have this fear that you’re going to get fired, you want to use acceptance and say, ‘I accept that I could get fired,’” Vani says.

The difference?

“Anxiety will say that it’s gonna happen, it’s happening now," Vani added. "It over-exaggerates whereas my whole approach is neutralizing that thought right away (versus letting that thought overpower you and lead you to a freakout downward spiral.)”

2. Keep a Physical Reminder of the ‘Why'

When it comes to the big picture, I’m all about my visuals—whether it’s moodboarding my new year, creating sticky notes of affirmations à la Being Mary Jane, or setting my phone’s background with a quote by someone who inspires me.

Here’s one of my favorites from author Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”

This is so relevant to my “Why”: Knowing that there are people out there who may benefit from what I have to say. Being reminded of this quote helps me recover from automatically focusing on the worst. Because those who have successfully carved out their path didn’t get to where they did by holding their tongue.

Those who have successfully carved out their path didn’t get to where they did by holding their tongue.
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Create your own visual of why it’s important to speak your truth–in a way that speaks to you. No, really. One that will speak to you personally and push you to follow through on what you originally intended.

3. Associate Discomfort With Growth

The story I shared with you in the beginning was my hard-hitting vulnerability hangover moment. I had traded my first cushy, long-held (albeit dead end) job in hopes of, well, a fulfilling one TBH. It was a decision that was long overdue.

I knew I was leaving a sure thing behind for the complete opposite: unemployment, uncertainty, and a heavy heart. Yet looking back now, being honest about what I needed—not just to myself, but to others as well—was one decision I would never take back.

The temporary discomfort and fear I dealt with was a small price to pay on the journey toward #careergoals. In that moment, I chose joy despite the unclear path that lay ahead–something that wouldn’t have been possible to find within my comfort zone.

You can't grow without a little discomfort—something to remind yourself of when the vulnerability hangover hits. Be kind to yourself if it feels tough right after you get real, but trust that the moment will give way to bigger and better things.

Cue Ciara’s 'Level Up'


Read next: How to Deal With Your Next 'Expectation Hangover’

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