Have you ever returned from an adventure feeling flat? Had the old ‘post-holiday blues’?
When you come back from the adventure of your dreams to a snoring partner or a screaming baby or an empty house, you can feel flat, exhausted and irritable. And it’s not just you wish you were still exploring the Mediterranean or some mountains. It’s because you have a dopamine hangover.
Dopamine is the happy hormone linked to motivation and pleasure. Your body makes it when you have something to look forward to, either short or long term, and it brings feelings of happiness. If you’re not looking forward to the next date, long weekend away, Game of Thrones season release, gourmet dinner party or holiday, then you’re bound to feel flat.
These feelings get worse just after an exciting event or adventure. It’s not uncommon to see friends moping around after the high of a holiday, or when the thrill of a job promotion wains, or after a family wedding is done and dusted, or when life returns to normal after a big challenge.
We talk to the teenager who survived Mount Everest. (Post continues after audio.)
Last year I fell in a heap after climbing Mt Fuji. The trip was incredible, but on return, nothing even vaguely interested me. No dopamine-dosing meetings, no adrenaline-inducing presentations, no endorphin-sparking workouts. I wanted to slip back under my doona and escape to my dreams.
My daughter struggled with it after her HSC exams. She took years to rekindle the sparkle she’d experienced through the challenge and success of Year 12. After I won the Australian Gymnastics championships I felt lost and hollow, and that emptiness lasted for a decade.
Often when we settle into married life with kids, we are so busy surviving that there’s no time for thriving. We think we must care for others, but not ourselves. We think motherhood should fulfil us, and feel guilty if it doesn’t.
We have all our basic needs met and we’re super busy bees, nurturing and serving others 24/7. But we’re exhausted and bored. With nothing to look forward to, nothing to seek and nothing to explore, we feel flat. Many of us are flat.
But we don’t need to accept that this is okay. If you don’t feel awesome most of the time and you want to, it’s possible. And one thing that can help is having something to look forward to.
Check out more of Di’s adventures on Instagram. (Post continues after gallery.)
Science tells us that when we lack dopamine, we lack motivation – we’re just not interested in going out and working for things. But when we go and do something, we get that feel-good sensation, the pleasure that makes us want to do it some more. After we achieve the goal, our dopamine spikes briefly, and then drops again, filling us with self-doubt, procrastination and lethargy.
The solution to a dopamine hangover is to create new mini goals before you’ve even achieved your current maxi goal. I recommend you:
1. Start planning your next goal before you’ve finished your current one.
2. Break your big goals down into mini and micro goals so you’ve got little challenges regularly.
3. Recognise and celebrate the small achievements you have along the way.
4. Start each new day with your Daily Rituals of Joy.
Di Westaway is the Chief Adventure Chick (CEO) and Founder of Wild Women On Top and Coastrek, and author of Natural Exhilaration: Lead An Adventurous Life You Love.
Di is a global leader & 2016 AFR/Westpac Top 100 Woman of Influence in Business Enterprise. She has inspired nearly 20,000 people to get off the couch and into adventure and raised almost $20 million for charity while leading an adventurous life she loves.