Post Performance Depression is mostly discussed within the world of classical musicians and research on this phenomenon is lacking. However, there is a recognized set of changes that occur within performers due to the intense contrast in chemicals released during a performance and during post-performance. Due to the increase in mental health discussions within the music industry, post performance depression has been a topic that has been receiving more attention lately and rightly so. It is incredibly common for people to experience emotions that they cannot identify or recognize as being caused by a mental illness or experience, like post performance depression, due to the lack of mental health education in our society. Hopefully, by discussing these experiences on various platforms, people can find the information and discussions to help them better understand emotions within themselves and others.
John C. Buckner gave a great description of post performance depression in his work, “Mastering The Post Performance Blues.” He states,
“When the body experiences major shifts in mood, it is flooded with several different neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin, just to name a few), resulting in a bio-chemical release that leads to a feeling of ecstasy and excitement. After these moments the nervous system needs time to recalibrate itself to prepare for another release. After an exciting performance the body starts to balance out the level of neurotransmitters, and therefore it is not releasing the same level that caused the exciting feelings, resulting in the lingering sadness.”
In simpler terms, the brain releases an excessive amount of chemicals to create the excitement that you experience during a performance; however, immediately after a performance, the brain must rebalance and stops producing those “excitement” chemicals until the levels return to normal. When the brain stops producing these chemicals, you can feel a sense of sadness. The contrast between these extreme highs and lows can have a significant toll on musicians mental and physical health. On tour, musicians are playing shows one right after the other and can experience post performance depression after each of these shows.
In 2015, The Guardian brought attention to the darker side of the touring industry and discussed post performance depression along with the destructive impact that the touring lifestyle can have on artists. I remember reading this article when it was published and see it discussed throughout the music community. Bringing awareness to difficult experiences, like post performance depression in the touring industry, is essential to creating safer environments, both for musicians and society in general. It’s important that we help musicians understand these emotions and provide them with support when this lifestyle takes a toll on their health.
To learn more about post performance depression, you can find Buckner’s work here.