Have you ever done something fun and then felt down afterwards? If you have ever been on a fun trip, like Disneyland, and felt down, it probably made sense to you, right? We just had a great time and now it’s over and so we might feel bummed about that.
Have you ever felt down after a high and it didn’t really make sense to you? I have competed in multiple dance competitions in which I had great results, but found myself down and even crying during my hour-long drive home from the airport. It would make sense if I was disappointed in my performance, but what about when that isn’t the case?
Why was I down and on the verge of tears when things had gone so well?
Post -competition blues are a real thing. This weekend I read a book call Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke, MD. She discusses how pleasure and pain are processed in overlapping regions of the brain. In other words, they act like a balance. “We when experience pleasure, dopamine is released in our reward pathway and the balance tips to the side of pleasure.” She goes on to say that the more the balance tips, and the faster it tips, the greater the pleasure we feel. But since it is a balance, it wants to remain level, or in equilibrium. Therefore, a self-regulating system will kick into action to balance it.
What goes up, must come down.
To balance it, there is an after-reaction that is opposite the pleasure. Or, we feel some pain to balance out the pleasure to bring us back to homeostasis. This is why even if you have a great time and do well, you can feel down afterwards.
So part of your down after an up, is literally physiological. That part you don’t have to worry about as that is just the body and brain doing what they do. Some post competition blues come from you, though. That part we can do something about.
If after a competition you are beating yourself up, well that will just feel terrible. This might seem simple, but if you beat yourself up, it doesn’t feel good. If you tell yourself you failed, that you aren’t good at this, disappointed the people involved, should have done better etc, you are creating unnecessary pain for yourself.
It is possible to get better without beating yourself up. Feeling bad about yourself isn’t actually required to improve. Many of our brains default to punishment to motivate change, but I don’t think this is the most effective way. I like to teach my clients how to feel GOOD and get better. It’s way more fun and leads to more success as we don’t desire to quit all the time to escape our taskmaster selves.