You waited for your favorite con all year. You followed it on Twitter and Facebook. You had three screens ready to rapidly refresh and get your tickets as soon as they went on sale. Four months later, you had a blast all weekend. Friends! Panels! Celebrities! Cosplay! eSports! Food! Parties!
Now it’s the day after the con, and you’re sitting alone at home. You feel confused and distressed. You expected to feel tired. After all, it was a busy weekend. What you didn’t expect was the feeling of emptiness and sadness that you currently feel. You should feel happy, but you don’t. What is this?!
If you’ve experienced anything like the above situation, you’re not alone. Our volunteers at Take This get questions about this at pretty much every convention we go to. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no one name for this psychological effect. Depending on where you look, it’s called many things, but psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore calls it “post-adrenaline blues”. Take This often uses the term “con crash” because it’s the context in which we’re often asked about it.
Kennedy-Moore suggests, “The key trigger seems to be intense, sustained effort that ends abruptly.” Let’s think about the context of conventions. If you’re an attendee, you spend an inordinate amount of energy walking around the show (I average over 7 miles a day at shows), talking to people, anticipating all the fun, experiencing it all, then hanging out with friends after. If you’re an exhibitor, you do the same, but with long days of work and the joy and tension of showing off your booth. After all that, you go to sleep, repeat the next day, and the next. Then the show ends! This is the very definition of what Kennedy-Moore talked about.
In the past, I speculated that we get used to routines and behaviors, and we even come to expect certain things and focus on them. When something of intense focus is suddenly removed, we’re often left with a lack of purpose or focus. This sudden lack can be confusing about what we “should” be doing, especially if you throw boredom into the mix. This is in-line with what Kennedy-Moore writes about:
Maybe it stems from the contrast between how we expected to feel when “the big event” was over and how we actually feel. Maybe it’s about just feeling at loose ends, not sure what to do with ourselves, because something that has been the overriding organizing focus of our lives is now past.
She also posits that this could be due to sudden withdrawal of stress hormones in our bodies.
I’ve lost count of how many convention staff members and attendees have reported to us that inclusion is a huge part of the excitement of the show, as well as a part of the emotional crash later. For many people, society at large feels excluding because of a person’s hobbies being out-of-the-ordinary or even because of an emotional, cognitive, or physical challenge that a person lives with. Cons become that place where we get to be around “our people” and feel included in a way that we don’t always feel. For some, the shock of the con being over and having to go back to the day-to-day routine can take its toll and is part of their con crash. It certainly is for me.
Finally, a word should be said about con crud (i.e. the idea that getting sick after a convention is almost a guarantee). Yes, we’re surrounded by thousands of people at conventions who may or may not be ill. While others’ hygiene and wellness is important, that’s not the only factor in getting sick. Stress (even fun stress) strains the immune system, and when it crashes, we’re more susceptible to illness. This is especially pertinent in the time of COVID. Pre and post-convention COVID tests have become part of my routine, in addition to being fully vaccinated.
So Now What?
Regardless of whether the post-adrenaline blues/con crash occurs because of biological factors, psychological factors, or a combination of both, they’re something that many of us experience. What do we do about it? What works for you may not work for others, but I’m going to share some strategies I use for myself. The first thing I myself is to treat myself gingerly, as if I have a cold, and to listen to what my body and brain need. That can change from time to time.
This is Temporary
It’s amazing, the kind of resilience we can have if we know something is temporary. I know someone who has routine bouts of depression, and he always tells me, “Yeah, this sucks, but I’ve always gotten through it before. I’ll get through it again.” Con crash is a temporary thing for most people, lasting a few days at most until we get back into the swing of things. I like to remind myself of this.
Establish a New Routine
Routines can give us focus and purpose after a busy, intense event. Getting back to a regular exercise routine or engaging in other hobbies (Minecraft for me!) is a way to be healthy and distract myself from the temporary negative feelings. It also helps me to re-establish healthy habits that I’ve probably ignored during the convention.
Leaning on Friends and Family
The folks who were at the event with you might be feeling the same way and sharing that can be a major comfort. At Take This, we like to say, “It’s dangerous to go alone,” for a reason! Sharing in others’ similar experiences and feeling understood is often a way people build resilience, and it can also normalize our experiences. It certainly does for me. Alternatively, spending time with people who weren’t at the convention is sometimes helpful for me too. I like to use the few days after conventions to spend time with my family and close friends (via video chat in these COVID times) to catch up.
Alone is Okay Too
While talking to friends and family generally helps me, often I just want to be alone, and that’s okay too! Sometimes I just need to be able to do what I want without thinking about what other people need. Sometime that’s cooking a comforting meal for myself. Sometimes that’s sitting on my beanbag for 6 hours and playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons while I simultaneously play reruns of a TV series I’ve seen a million times. It’s probably Frasier. Maybe Deep Space 9.
Take a Break
Just because an event was fun doesn’t mean it was easy. Conventions and major activities take a ton of energy and effort (AKA “work”). Because of this, we have a standing rule at Take This: we take at least two days off following a major convention. Conventions are 14-hour (or longer) days for us, as they are for many exhibitors and attendees. They often take place on weekends. Because of that, we don’t expect our staff to come back to work immediately. They need a break! Friends at game studios have started doing this, and they’ve told me it was helpful for them too.
Rest and Eat Good Food
There is a decent chance that I gave up a few hours of sleep over the course of a long convention weekend. There’s also a decent chance I didn’t eat the healthiest food. Now is the opportunity to give my body what it needs. I go light on caffeine (or eliminate it for a while, if you can) for a few days and get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. I also make sure to eat foods that have – you know – actual nutrients in them and not whatever the convention center serves.
Reach Out For Resources
Maybe my usual tricks don’t work, and I need a little more help than usual. If I need some extra help, I’m booking a telehealth appointment with my therapist, or I’m going to head on over to Take This’ mental health resources page to see if there’s anything else I think would be helpful. Being back working at conventions in the time of COVID is bringing up a lot of unexpected emotions for me, and I suspect it’s going to complicate the experience of con crash for a lot of people.
There may not be an agreed-upon term in psychology for this post-con crash, but if you’re dealing with it, you’re not alone. I’ve lost count of how many conventions I’ve been to in the last seven years, and con crash has become something I plan for. Let us know how you get through con crash on Twitter, and however you cope, do what’s restorative and restful so you can be at your best for your day-to-day life and the next convention!
(Updated December 13. 2021)