How to recover from the energy drop after a big event?
May 1, 2022 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a job that’s intermittently high-intensity, with fast, important, unpredictable, fun, social, sometimes high-conflict, emotional, nerve-wracking, high-performance and high-stakes projects about every 2 weeks. I love the surges of adrenaline and happy hormones... but when each project finishes, I feel really depleted. How can I recover?

Relatable situations might be: performing a play or concert, a big sports match, trial, presentation, planning a wedding, etc. Sometimes it feels like fixing a space ship in time for re-entry.

Some other relevant details:
I can’t plan ahead much better than I already do, since each job is quite different from the others.

The intensity is part of the joy.
The high-intensity parts last 1-5 days.
The days are 10-14 hours long.
Often I need to work long hours against my natural circadian rhythm (I’m a night owl but these work days often start early)
I’m in a leadership role so there’s no rest - everyone looks to me.

I often can’t sleep or eat well during the whirlwind, but I do try my best- lots of protein and produce, not too many carbs, minimal sugar.

I don’t do any drugs and I avoid alcohol. I do drink about 4 caffeinated drinks per day.

I very likely have undiagnosed ADD; in this line of work it’s very common and a huge asset since split focus is so important and the job is stimulating enough to earn constant small bursts of my hyperfocus. In my normal life I scroll online constantly or even pick arguments to feed my brain with short-term rewards: when I’m working I don’t do any of that.

Picture a working dog who chews up the house when bored but is just a joyful busy purposeful vigilant machine when there’s a herd to manage - that’s me.

I feel incredible joy, flow, focus, pride, confidence, boundless energy and excitement during the culminating events of each job. It’s incredible.

But then....
I feel completely flat for a few days after - tired, sore, distracted, low energy, slow thinking, unmotivated, blue.

I used to think it was just an emotional blue period because the fun job was over, but lately, hearing more about neurotransmitters, I started thinking about how 1990s ravers would have huge mood drops on Mondays and Tuesdays from using up all their serotonin with weekend ecstasy ... so I wonder if this feeling I have I might actually be chemical - like I flooded myself with neurotransmitters and now I’m exhausted. And if it’s physiological, maybe there’s a physical “cure”. Any ideas?

Any research or anecdotes would be helpful! Thanks!
posted by nouvelle-personne to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When you are experiencing these lows, what is your mental state? What’s your self-talk during this time? If you were to make a list now of activities that feel replenishing to you, what would be on that list?
posted by amanda at 1:18 PM on May 1

So first of all, you probably are pretty physically exhausted! Do you schedule rest time for yourself after these events? For example, if you normally work Monday - Friday and these events are on a weekend, do you take off Monday and Tuesday for recovery? Are you trying to get right back to a regular schedule? Imagine someone who has just run a marathon on Sunday -- they get to take a few days off after that! You need to do the same.

Don't minimize that physical exhaustion is a thing when your schedule is so out of whack and you are working so much.

But also, we ADD folks may have shortages of dopamine. I'm going to guess that going all in with work is generating as much dopamine as you ever get, and you are missing that post-event. The stress and conflict and emotions are BIG and EXCITING. Have you read about the let down that many Olympians deal with after going home? It's a similar thing, I'm guessing.

The cure is to know that this is something that happens, so you can plan for it. The cure is also to go ahead and plan for a few days off right after these events. The first day can be for rest (literal rest, like sleep). And then the second day can be for something low key and fun and not too strenuous, like a walk in the woods. Plan for something that makes you feel good and happy and that you look forward too, not just cleaning up the house or catching up on chores or going right back to work. And start to know that this is part of the cycle.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:34 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: My self-talk is great, I usually feel invincible so I’m not self-critical or anxious - I just have no energy or motivation.

My body feels not only tired but also over-used: sore, stiff, hoarse voice, eyes half closed. I often catch a cold the week after a big event.

My usual plan post-event:
Use the dregs of the energy to clean up and re-set my hurricaned home before the drop starts (drop + clutter feels awful)
Eat a big hearty meal and drink lots of water
Schedule a day or two to lie around
Lie around, drink lots of water, nap, avoid too much social time
Stay cozy and horizontal and low-key.

I usually end up scrolling listlessly online just because it’s easy and requires low focus.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:48 PM on May 1

I mean, I think this is both normal and literally part of the job. People have huge, "post partum" drops after events that require huge planning to execute -- weddings, conferences, speeches, TV appearances, whatever. To me, it's about realising this and making a recovery period part of the plan -- this shit is emotionally and physically exhausting.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on May 1 [7 favorites]

Sounds like you're already taking some time to relax which is mainly what I would recommend. One thing is if you are able to shift the rest of your life to be a bit less night owl that might help, I know if I have to get up much earlier than normal I can make it work on adrenaline but feel 100% wrecked afterwards.

If you want to experiment with extending the rave analogy there is a whole suite of supplements that some MDMA users take to avoid a nasty comedown. While I don't have any personal experience with using these supplements I know people who are pretty religious about it.
posted by 12%juicepulp at 1:56 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you're doing all of the right things, to be honest. You're already very emotionally aware of yourself and taking steps to mitigate the physical lows -- that's all really good. I know a few people who are heavily into LARP and other big social events and they describe a very similar physical/mental drop after events. In fact in LARP it's such a known quantity that there are guides to get through LARP drop (you might also find this helpful).

I wouldn't try to push through it or try to "cure" it. This is your body and your mind telling you to rest and relax for a while. Nobody can maintain that kind of high indefinitely, at least not in a healthy way and without a bunch of high class drugs. It's normal to crash.

Perhaps you just need to learn to accept it emotionally as you already have done in terms of planning. Maybe set aside movies or books or low energy craft projects to do during these times, so you have something to look forward to while resting. If you're into video games, maybe pick up some low intensity city builders or simulation games that you can pick away at without too much brain energy.
posted by fight or flight at 1:56 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

I double up on daily multivitamins during the event and in the days afterwards, just so that I know that my body has whatever base materials it needs to recover. I don't know if this actually helps or not, but I feel like it does and that's not nothing.

Other than that, you just have to rest and recuperate. I mean, listen to how you've described it: five 14 hour days, against your body's normal preferred rhythms, running on adrenaline and without decent sleep in the middle of it? Of course you're tired, of course you need to recuperate. Take the time to do that.
posted by mhoye at 2:00 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing that you're doing all the right things. I believe there's been some research that recovery from high stress events is better with exposure to nature, so maybe after a day or two of in-house recovery you could explore do all the things you're doing outside? Not like a hike or anything like that, just plan some time every day to be out and listen to the birds / watch a river even if you're just scrolling on your phone half the time? (He says, posting to metafilter on the patio while sitting on a lounge chair looking at the trees bloom and the mountains in the distance).
posted by true at 2:25 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried getting a full body massage during this low period? If you're a person who is not generally averse to massage, I would try it, especially if you have a massage therapist you like and trust. It might accelerate your recovery.
posted by potrzebie at 2:54 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

My friend who runs conventions for a living calls this "con drop" -- I would recommend googling for that.
posted by yueliang at 3:34 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

I am literally in the concert business - your life sounds pretty familiar. (Although I am not ADD, and it sounds like you do have much higher highs and lower lows than I tend to experience. But I'll definitely Nth that this is all pretty normal.)

And if it’s physiological, maybe there’s a physical “cure”. Any ideas?

Carbs, fats, sugar, hydration, electrolytes, maybe B vitamins and potassium. While you're on the gig & after.

lots of protein and produce, not too many carbs, minimal sugar.

I mean, despite umtpy years of various pop media health/diet/wellness proclaiming that fats and sugar and now carbs are The Devil Incarnate, they are actually necessary and useful elements of a complete healthy diet. "Carbo-loading" is a known thing for athletes (especially, I think, endurance athletes.) And your need for these elements if you're working 10-14 intense hours a day (especially if there's physical activity) is likely different than if you're spending 8 casual hours a day at a desk. Worth considering if you need to rework & rebalance your food intake while you're on the job.

I often can’t sleep or eat well during the whirlwind, but I do try my best

Uh hunh. Well, everyone I know in my line of work who is or thinks they are ADD is . . . not the most self-aware when it comes to their food & liquid & sleep habits on the job. So you'll hopefully forgive a little skepticism about "best". As in, maybe you feel it's your best given that you're in a sort of sustained manic mode, but maybe you don't have such great perspective on this because you're in that manic mode. So maybe you could actually do better, possibly with some external assistance.

For both of the above maybe a fitness tracker/calorie counter app could be handy - you can set reminders for meal times so you're eating on a more regular schedule, and the act of needing to enter data about your meals and snacks and liquid intake could help you be more aware of when or if you're actually getting the nutrition you need. And I believe there are various sleep hygiene apps, too, although I'm not familiar with those.

And/or you could set reminders on a calendar app.

My body feels not only tired but also over-used: sore, stiff, hoarse voice, eyes half closed.

Honestly, you sound dehydrated. You talk a lot about all the water you plan to drink after the job, but not much about how much water you're drinking during the job. Which is IMO & IME more important than trying to play catch up later.

because it’s easy and requires low focus

This is EXACTLY what low-stakes familiar TV, music, and books are for. Friends? House? Gray's Anatomy? WKRP in Cincinnati? Stargate? Stuff that you can kinda half pay attention to but that still gives you some sensory input so you're doing less scrolling on the interwebs for no purpose.

Naps are THE BEST. Keep doing the naps.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:10 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]

Can I suggest a few tweaks?

Use the dregs of the energy to clean up and re-set my hurricaned home before the drop starts (drop + clutter feels awful)
The home chaos thing is stressful! But this is also still work, isn't it? And you're not getting paid for it! If this is part of your rest and recovery time, it's not really rest, is it? I wonder if you could approach this in a few ways: during the event, hire a house cleaner to come over. Maybe this would be stressful because you'd feel obligated to clean up beforehand, but maybe not? I'm thinking that if your home space was cluttered but clean, it might not feel so awful? Coming home to a clean house can be glorious.

Eat a big hearty meal and drink lots of water
Schedule a day or two to lie around
Lie around, drink lots of water, nap, avoid too much social time
Stay cozy and horizontal and low-key.
I usually end up scrolling listlessly online just because it’s easy and requires low focus.

My other suggested tweak is to schedule a low key social outing with a pal who isn't connected to work or the event, for a few reasons: you can talk about the event and how it went (enjoy the buzz a bit longer!); you will still get some social engagement, which I suspect is part of the energy you feel during the event; it will force you out of the house and away from your phone. Without knowing you, I'd say a good activity would be a walk or hike in a natural area with a friend who is someone you are very relaxed around.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]

I used to have a job that was a lot like this, though thankfully the inflection points were not as frequent. I think you're mostly doing the right thing in the post-event time. One thing I'll add that worked well for me was, as bluedaisy recommended, a very low-key social hang. I'm talking a movie matinee, or dinner in sweats at a very good friend's house, or tag along on a trip to the dog park. Something that doesn't require a lot of energy from you, but fills up your emotional cup.

And yes, drink a lot of water during the event.
posted by lunasol at 4:09 PM on May 2

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