The let-down effect in performing artists

When I was in medical school, I would repeatedly experience a cyclic health-and-illness pattern around the time of examinations. As soon as those grueling 3 hours exams were over and it was time to relax, I would get sick.

I remembered back in my dancing and performing days, I would experience a similar phenomenon. We would rehearse and rehearse and rehearse... often late into the night and do it again the next day. Almost on cue, after a performance, my body and mind would relax and I would become ill.

 

Scientists term this phenomenon the "let-down effect" or "adrenal fatigue." Some scientists think that the body is weakened during times of stress making it more vulnerable to infection. Others think it's a physiologic response to prolonged stress.

There is scientific evidence of this mind-body effect. During times of stress, the body releases cortisol. High levels of prolonged exposure to cortisol can weaken immune responses to pathogens like bacteria and viruses resulting in illnesses. As soon as the stressor is removed, the body down-regulates all systems and causes the body to go haywire. Some scientists believe that it is this hay-wiring that causes the cold-like syndrome.

Whatever the true scientific reason behind the "let-down effect," don't let it get the better of you. Remember to wind-down before big performances like other athletes. Use meditation, guided and self-guided imagery, and somatic methods like Yoga and Feldenkrais to prepare your body and mind. Your mind is part of your body and also part of your instrument and tool of trade. Remember to keep your mind healthy, just like you would your body.

References:

  1. R. B. Lipton, D. C. Buse, C. B. Hall, H. Tennen, T. A. DeFreitas, T. M. Borkowski, B. M. Grosberg, S. R. Haut. Reduction in perceived stress as a migraine trigger: Testing the "let-down headache" hypothesisNeurology, 2014; DOI: 
  2. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological bulletin. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601.