By Raffael Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA
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”. It’s a great term for two reasons. Firstly, it takes out the word “depression”, which is a common word in several versions of this phenomenon. Using psychological diagnostic labels in place of routine emotional experiences or normal personality differences (e.g. “I’m so OCD,” when what you really mean is, “I’m really attentive to details and I like things a certain way.”) devalues the serious, lingering distress of legit psychiatric diagnoses and can lead to additional shame in those suffering from them. Secondly, her term applies to so many things that we experience in our lives, not just conventions.
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 game. 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.
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.
So Now What?
Regardless of whether post-adrenaline blues occur 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? The first thing to remind yourself is to treat yourself gingerly, as if you have a cold.
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.” Post-adrenaline blues are generally a temporary thing, lasting a few days at most until we get back into the swing of things. Remind yourself of this.
If part of your crash is about inclusion, you can remind yourself that this feeling of loss is normal. The good news is that there are other cons waiting for you in the future! There are other places to feel included. You’ll feel it again.
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 yourself from the temporary negative feelings.
Lean on Your 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. We like to say, “It’s dangerous to go alone,” for a reason! Also, if you’ve been so focused on spending time with your con friends, and there are important people in your life you haven’t spent as much quality time with, this is a wonderful time to reconnect with them.
Take a Break and Allow Yourself to Need It
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 it easy for the week following a major convention. Conventions are 14-hour (or longer) days for us, as they are for many exhibitors and attendees. Attendees crash just as hard as we do, so give yourself permission to take it as easy as you can for a few days after a weekend-long convention.
Rest and Eat Good Food
There is a decent chance that you gave up a few hours of sleep over the course of a long convention weekend. There’s also a decent chance you didn’t eat the healthiest food. Now is the opportunity to give your body what it needs. Go light on caffeine (or eliminate it for a while, if you can). Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Eat foods that have actual nutrients in them.
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. Use these steps as a guideline, or let us know how you cope with post-con crash on Twitter. And however you do it, rest up so you can be at your best for your normal life and the next convention!