Post event crash and dealing with the “Let Down Effect”
If you don’t slow down, you’re gonna cra-a-ash. (Lyrics “Crash” by the Primitives)
There are some things in life that are meant to be good — namely the actual fun, meaningful or positive stuff like weddings, festivals or finding a new job when you’ve been unhappy in the old one. But you can also look forward to the end of negative or fundamentally stressful life situations too — like paying off debt, moving into a new home or ending medical treatment — although that’s in a grim, gritting your teeth kind of a way. It’s any situation you feel compelled to celebrate when you reach the finishing line, whatever the occasion.
The “everything will be ok once x happens” is a natural psychological response to trying or stressful circumstances, and that thought will keep you going until the event is passed, there’s a wave of relief and joy and then….
CRASH. BANG, WALLOP.
You’re low, you’re uninspired, you thought you’d be joyous and relieved, but you’re just in a terrible mood. Sluggish, grumpy, disengaged.
This is known as the Let-down effect.
This also occurs when you’ve had an extended period of stress, but there doesn’t need to be an actual event and nothing particularly positive or negative has happened. However when you finally make it to the golden gates of rest that you’ve been longing for, your shoulders drop and you manage to have a tiny bit of downtime — then BAM! You’ve got an overwhelming urge to nap. You have a sore throat. Again, grumpy. Again, mentally, you’re about as sharp as a pillow. Yes, you’ve guessed it, that’s also the Let-down effect.
So what causes this?
Well, it all boils down to adrenaline for the most part, though stress does make the body produce other important hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine. That little bit of psychological stress has an impact on the body that is almost imperceptible, which means that those much neglected, small and incredibly vital organs, the adrenal glands, are working just that little harder than normal all the time.
It’s the reptile brain preparing you for flight or fight, but the problem is that this primal response can’t tell the difference between a job interview, being a little busier for a sustained period and being chased up a tree by a sabre tooth tiger. The reactive bits of the brain, that are great for keeping us alive, can’t make the distinction between life threatening and slightly pre-occupied, particularly if you’re preoccupied for a long time (when planning a wedding for example).
However, rather neatly for the survival of human beings as a species, the adrenaline and the accompanying hormone soup that comes with it, actually temporarily protects the immune system while under stress. However, this protection falls down at the point where you are able to rest, particularly if you do it suddenly.
It makes people more likely to catch colds, develop headaches, gastrointestinal issues, asthma attacks and even autoimmune flareups. The heightened stress response also unwittingly gives latent viruses like herpes simplex (cold sores) a little boost and the Epstein-Barr virus (which has similar symptoms to Mumps, and is known in the US as Mono) that pop up in the wake of the stressful event ending. What should you do to prevent Let-down or make it easier when it happens?
First of all, if you can plan in some self-care, do it before. Lock the bathroom door, sit in the car and read for 10 minutes when you’re waiting from someone, rather than doom-scrolling or trying to get “just….one….more….thing” off the to-do list. Take the exercise (nothing major but get your heart rate up a little bit) by walking, dancing or whatever else for about 20 minutes as often as you can.
Be strict with your boundaries. Give yourself a cut off time at night where you step away from the computer or whatever is consuming your time.
Be prepared to say NO, NO AND THRICE NO! Try and avoid bad habits, junk food and beer all add up.
Water — stay hydrated, your adrenals work more efficiently and they are part of the waste disposal system of the kidneys.
It’s common sense stuff, and will help cushion the blow when you eventually do come to a halt, while also preventing whatever mini-disease decides to make an appearance from being too gross and debilitating. Try and tail off your activity gradually in the week before you can take a break.
Too late! I’ve left it too late and I feel like I’m going to crash!
First at all, all is not lost! You’ve recognized the problem and that will go a long way towards making your upcoming break something you slide into, rather than coming to a shattering halt inches from a brick wall. The key to this is to step down from your hyper aware state over a couple of days to gently and firmly dial down your overactive nervous system.
While resting is a must, doing a little exercise outside for 5–10 minutes a couple of times a day. I’m a big fan of going somewhere leafy or pretty and having a wander about.
Also don’t go into full sloth mode straightaway. While mindless TV certainly has it’s benefits, try and give you brain something to do so that it too gets the shots of juice that it’s been used to. Short bursts of activities like puzzles or reading about topics that you enjoy that are still intellectually stimulating will help your whole system to return to a peaceful and harmonious state.
Life is always better if you can watch your stress levels, and recognizing the Let Down effect for what it is, a short term problem that can be mitigated with a few little adjustments to your lifestyle by treating your body like a friend rather than a go-cart. It’s easy to fall into thinking that we can just keep powering on, but that’s a big mistake that will hurt (bigly) in the long run. Life’s too short and complicated enough without making ourselves suffer for the want of a little self awareness. x