The sun is back to shining in all its resplendent glory. The northern hemisphere has returned to its normal operating mode. Your Facebook feed has resumed its regular baby-photo programming.
So why do you feel so…meh?
After big, exciting life events, we can often fall into small pits of depression. Periods of high-energy, high-emotion buzz give way to feelings of emptiness as we flounder to find something else to get fired up about. The next total solar eclipse isn’t until 2024, so what do we do now?
The abrupt withdrawal of stress hormones such as cortisol from our bloodstreams could be the reason why we emotionally crash instead of feel relieved at the return of homeostasis. In an article titled “Post-adrenaline blues: Why do we feel so bad when we should feel so good?” psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore hypothesizes why we buckle after high-stress events. “Post-adrenaline blues can strike after major positive events like a wedding or a graduation,” she says. “They can [also] strike after a long burst of effort for a major work deadline or after a challenging personal project, like preparing for a family move.” Or, hypothetically, one of the most media-hyped interstellar events in recent history.
Some psychologists link this to “the contrast effect,” and it’s a common aspect of unconscious cognitive bias. We’re more liable to judge our current state of being as either better or worse depending on the direct comparison of what came before it. For example, a teacher may grade an average student’s paper more harshly if she reads it after a particularly brilliant essay, or an opera signer’s so-so performance may be perceived as prophetic if he follows an amateur’s aria. This effect is also seen physiologically in visual perception: It’s the reason why colors look different depending on if they’re surrounding by darker or lighter hues.
So of course your next conference call, after postulating the enormity of the universe, will feel just a little dull.
This phenomena is so common in the entertainment industry that it has a nickname: post-show depression, or PSD. “Typically, the condition starts off with moderate to severe obsessive tears being shed, a sudden increase in presence on social networking sites…and the usual overreactions to having a sudden increase in free time on one’s hands: cleaning the house, adopting a cat to adapt to your new lonely lifestyle without your cast, and potentially picking up new hobbies, such as scrapbooking or knitting to help pass the time,” jokes Brooke Lynn Tousley.
The same could be said for the community that has formed around this intoxicating astral event. For the past 72 hours, so many conversations have revolved around the best totality viewing spots, horoscope predications, and does-anyone-know-where-I-can-get-some-of-those-goddamned-glasses queries. Now that we don’t have a common topic to talk about, we’re back to being reminded of the divided state of the nation and the problems plaguing life on this planet. After all, the solar eclipse has arguably been one of the most positive bipartisan events of the year: Everyone can get a little jazzed about astrophysics.
The same thing happens when we come back from vacation. We spend so much time bathing in the glory of our time off that we find it tough to return to humdrum normality. “We are not built to sustain such nonstop happiness; neither do the vicissitudes of life permit us to attain it except at rare moments,” says psychoanalyst Richard O’Connor. “But we push ourselves to be cheery, to present a false front of emotions that we feel somehow expected to sustain. This guarantees further disappointment.” In fact, researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University even came up with an equation for how down you will feel when you return from a holiday.
Ordinary life can feel a bit bland when it’s directly contrasted with the spectacle of rare celestial happenings. But we should be thankful that us mere mortals get to experience the universe on this scale at all. As the Hawaiian saying goes, “No rain, no rainbows.” Or, in this case, “No sun, no solar eclipse.”