The Emotional Side of Detox

Detoxing isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s not always because of the common physical side effects like fatigue, headaches, or skin breakouts. While these things do happen to a lot of us, and can be quite uncomfortable, there is so much more to detox than the physiological changes it brings. Most people report feeling like they’re on an emotional roller coaster too, which can compound the physical discomfort. In my experience, most people fall off the detox wagon not because of physical aches and pains, but because of the emotional ride.

In order to move successfully through any kind of healing program, it’s important to address what might happen as you dig deep into detoxification. Too many people jump right into dietary changes and herbal protocols, without doing the mental and emotional preparation! There are a lot of people out there sharing tips on how to navigate the physical ups and downs of detox, but in my opinion, not enough giving mental health tips too. Because this is where the real healing starts- when we can walk through the hills and valleys of our mind with relative ease, with faith that we’re heading in the right direction.

Emotional Detox Symptoms

At the beginning of any detox program, you’re flooding your body with new things and this can really stir the pot. Fresh, raw foods, healing herbs or other supplements, will start to pull on the tissues of your body, freeing up mucus and other old gunk. Neurotransmitters will shift, and hormones will fluctuate in response to these new things, causing, for some people, a bit of upset, which may trigger additional anxiety. Not to worry- this is all part of the detox process! However, it sure would be nice to have some tips to cope, wouldn’t it?

Most of us report emotional fluctuations and “symptoms” as we detoxify deeper and deeper.

Some of these emotional markers of detox include:

  • Irritability
  • Apathy or lethargy
  • Euphoria
  • Mania
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Angry outbursts
  • Bliss or feelings of oneness
  • Nostalgia
  • Remembering of past events/traumas
  • Many more!

As you can see, the emotions of detox aren’t all down in the dumps. Many people experience moments of total ecstasy and joy too, mixed in with the tougher stuff. This is why it’s helpful to view this process as walking through a landscape- the terrain of detox has its beautiful peaks, as well as its swampy valleys. But with the right tools, you can traverse this landscape with grace and continued motivation. So, how do we do this? What tools can we pack along with us, as we take this important healing journey?

Here are a few tips to help you cope with the emotional side of detoxification:

1. Build in some down time

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can maintain a packed schedule, and still be successful in your detox. Most people need extra down time, especially during the first week or two of any new protocol. Leave a little white space in your calendar for things like napping, prepping food or juices, or *ahem* extra trips to the bathroom. Don’t push yourself to accomplish everything you normally might, but instead trim down your schedule, say “no” to additional obligations, and invest in more relaxation time.

2. Kindly warn your people

Since most of us interact with others on a daily basis, it can be a nice gesture to chat with them ahead of time about the detox you’re going to be doing. Partners, spouses, friends, coworkers, and kids may be hurt or confused by your emotional processes, if they don’t know why it’s happening. And this isn’t permission to be a total jerk to everyone- just simply communicate that you may be a little out of sorts for a bit, and tell them why this detox is important to you. This can be a nice time to round up some social support! (more on this in a moment)

3. Keep a journal

Human memory is inherently faulty, which is one reason why keeping a journal or diary is a great idea. While you’re detoxing, it’s smart to write down what you’re taking and eating, but it’s good to write about your emotional and mental state too. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be very therapeutic, and also acts as a log for you to refer back to. Notice if there are patterns in your moods over the course of your detox, and jot down how different herbs/foods affect your emotional state.

4. Take mindful timeouts

Get in the habit of taking brief “pauses” throughout your days during detox, to check back in with your body and do some kind of centering practice. This is a great idea before and/or after you sit down to a meal or juice, before you take your herbs, first thing in the mornings, right before bed, and scattered throughout the day. You can set timers on your phone if that’s helpful, and possibly use mindfulness apps to guide you. Mindful timeouts can be things like short stretches, getting outside barefoot, taking 10 deep breaths, doing a quick lymphatic massage, meditating, listening to a favorite song, or something similar.

5. Gather your support

Detoxification can be a lonely and difficult road sometimes, but it doesn’t have to intentionally be so. It helps tremendously to have an accountability buddy or two, as well as someone you can vent to, like a counselor or therapist. The more people you have in your corner, rooting you on, the more successful you’re likely to be. Talk to people about why you’re doing this healing work, and communicate openly about how they can help you- trust me, people want to help, they just don’t know how most of the time. Gather your tribe around you, and lean on them when things get rough.

6. Remember your “why”

Everyone has a powerful reason why they embark on any detox or healing protocol, but during the tough spots, it’s easy to make excuses or forget this “why” altogether. Take time at the beginning of your protocol to write down exactly what you want to get out of this experience, and how it will benefit you. I recommend placing this somewhere you’ll see it everyday, like your bathroom mirror or on the fridge. This will keep you re-connected to the reasons behind your detox, and provide motivation when dealing with difficult emotions.

The emotional ups and downs of detox are nothing to be afraid of, or shy away from. These feelings, memories, and thoughts are coming up to be healed and released. Try to meet them with as much open, nonjudgmental awareness as you can, and be extra gentle with yourself through this process. With these tips, you should be able to manage the hills and valleys of your detox landscape with as much ease as possible.