Coping with post-race depression
Race day arrived and you gave it your all, but then race day ended and left you feeling apathetic and depressed. After weeks, sometimes months, of sacrifices – grueling workouts, calorie counting, early bedtimes, spending less time with family and friends – you expected to feel on top of the world. Yet all you feel is let down and unmotivated. What gives? Though exercise has been shown to alleviate depression, athletes often experience the post-race blues. It can occur independently of your race performance, but can be intensified if you didn’t perform as well as you had planned. Here are some ways to beat the dreaded post-race blues.
The exercise-depression link
Exercise induces a release of natural "feel good" chemicals called endorphins, which produce the well-known runner's high or the euphoria you feel after weight lifting, a spin class or yoga. According to Jonathan Modie, OHSU researcher, exercise causes neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) and, over time, more exercise is needed to have the same level of euphoria produced through exercise. Not getting your endorphin fix can leave you feeling down, irritable, and even empty.
Athletes and Depression
Post-race blues is a widely under-reported and minimally researched phenomenon affecting athletes of all calibers. Though it is a milder, transient form of depression, it has similar symptoms that can disrupt your daily functioning. Post-race blues can occur during the weeks preceding the event, during the taper period, or after the race, lasting weeks to months. As Modie's research suggests, the extra neurons coupled with the need for more exercise to produce the same level of euphoria may contribute to post-race depression. Additionally, extreme exhaustion of the sympathetic nervous system and general fatigue may also play a role in the occurrence of post-race blues.
Ways to Combat the post-race Blues
Instead of opting out of the upcoming events on your training schedule, accept the possibility of post-race depression and arm yourself with an action plan to combat the blues.
1. Prepare Yourself
Knowing is half the battle! Prepare yourself, especially if you have experienced post-race blues in the past, and plan accordingly. Schedule a post-race massage, make a coffee date with friends or family, plan to relax with some of those movies you weren't able to see during training. Just don't leave too much empty space on your calendar because that's not you and you're not used to that!
2. Review and Move On
If you didn't perform well or reach your race day goal, honestly evaluate the training factors you could have controlled that may have hindered your success. Be proactive and take notes on how to make changes that will help you perform better for the next race. Next, analyze what factors worked really well for you and remember to use those next time. Now, most important, move on.
3. Register for a new Race
Find a new race to enter. Even if you you're your season training schedule mapped out, find a shorter or a different race to help you bust the blues and refocus your energies on a new goal. Having a goal right around the corner can help avert the post-race blues. Check out Active.com for upcoming race events in your area, and make sure you enter an easy one, allowing for adequate recovery between races.
Talk with a Professional
If the above self-help techniques still leave you feeling blue or even worse, talk to a professional to rule out or accurately diagnose depression. You don't have to suffer in silence waiting for yourself to "snap out of it." It's just like buying gear for your sport or researching the best fuel for your body to be the best on race day – you trained hard to get you where you were for race day and you may need some help to get back to your best.