People often talk about the calm before the storm but there is another form of calmness after a whirlwind of events that is a bit unsettling. Let me explain. You know that slight feeling of sadness when you return from vacation or the way you feel after your big life event is done and everything has gone back to normal? Yeah, that’s the calm I’m talking about. Most people experience a form of sadness and mental slow down after a period of intense experiences and emotions. So you spent the last 3 weeks in paradise with your loved ones and now you have to come back home to responsibilities (there’s actually a name for this particular sadness you feel after a vacation – Post-Vacation Blues). Or you spent all this time planning towards a special day or a special event and suddenly, it’s done and all you have left is yourself, your time, and silence.
💡A quick science lesson on why you feel this way: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by the brain that gives the pleasurable feeling. But the catch is that it is only released for a short period of time, after which it dips. The dopamine dip is what creates the feeling of sadness and we try to fight this feeling by looking for the next interesting thing that can trigger more dopamine to be released. The book Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning goes into more details about the neurotransmitters that control the feeling of happiness.
These moments are often hard to deal with because it feels like life just moves on and you’re no longer relevant. You see others celebrating milestones and you feel like your season is done. But this is not true, your brain is just wired for a dopamine dip. Chemicals and neurotransmitters aside, I believe that life is punctuated with mountains that get us excited to keep moving forward. It’s these mountains that trigger a release of dopamine to give the feelings of happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Picture your life like a flat road. You keep walking on stable ground, but then you have this mountain that you get to climb and conquer and this can create such euphoria. But then, you have to come down on the other side at some point in order to continue your journey. Now you could stay on that mountain top forever, or you could come down, deal with how you feel while on your way down to your regular road and build momentum for another mountain. Your choice.
When you look at this full picture, it’s a bit easier to deal with the unsettling calmness. Take a look at your life, what does a normal day look like? When you’re not working on a big project or planning a vacation, and what is your “normal”? Going on vacation does not change your normal (well if you have the means, you can make this your normal), rather it creates excitement and can be a way to recharge for your normal. Every time you have to come back to your normal, embrace it as your regular heartbeat and the road that must be travelled to get to the next mountain.
The effect of the information overload we get from social media is often overlooked when we’re navigating this rough patch. While you’re busy trying to get back to normal, you see a post about someone else on their dream vacation or an “excited to announce” post on LinkedIn and your dopamine disappointment grows even larger. My go-to move during these times is to first place a pin on what gets me triggered (only because I hate unexplained feelings and I have an impulsive need to get to the bottom of everything), followed by a self-imposed break from social media. Social media is ideally meant to connect people but when you start to feel disconnected, discontented, and disappointed, it is not serving its purpose and is doing more harm than good. At this point, jealousy can creep in and there’s not much good that can come from the green-eyed monster. Disconnect from social media and connect with your feelings as you navigate your return to normal.
Another thing that has helped me in the past in getting back to normal is easing myself into it. Think of it this way – isn’t it much easier to descend a gentle slope than a steep one? For example, when I went away for a month long vacation, by the third week, I decided to pick up my pen and write an article; writing is part of my regular routine, whether the article is published or not (I say this as I return from a 7 month self-publishing hiatus 🙃). Of my own choosing, I decided to look through my emails to get myself excited about returning to work (yes, sometimes I’m excited to go back to my job because it’s more than just work). Now I’m not suggesting that everyone takes work on vacation or checks emails at their birthday party. What I’m saying is that if you retain a piece of your normal, you can latch on to that as you return to your regular road. For you, it might be just thinking about something positive that you’re returning to or something you enjoy from your normal life. You could also try taking a few days between your big thing and your normal routine to recenter yourself.
You don’t have to feel like there’s nothing to look forward to if you have a list of “nexts”, and even if you’re not into lists, what are somethings you’d like to do now that this one thing is done? Look at these statements: “this vacation was good for my soul, I want to experience this again, maybe twice a year”, “I loved our wedding ceremony, can’t wait to celebrate our first anniversary”, “I spent all my time studying for this exam, I can’t wait to get into all the activities I missed out on”. These statements bring a sense of hope towards your next mountains or just something to look forward to as you return to normal. They also create the motivation to take steps towards your next mountain. Even as you take small steps towards your next, don’t forget to celebrate the small moments in between.
The next time you feel like you’re descending from such a high, consider these tips and embrace your normal. Besides, normal is not all that boring. You can find joy and excitement in your everyday things, what do the girls call it… romanticizing your life! Until next time, à tout à l’heure!