27

We've all heard of postpartum depression, though I'm not a woman so I have no idea what it's really like.

I am wondering if there is any medical/psychological evidence to support similar (reported) feelings after the completion of a big research project.

This is my (I'm the sole author each time) fourth time sending a paper to a journal after spending countless hours working to finalize the draft. This typically involves a frenzy at the end where I work 12 hours a day trying to perfect the paper. This is in addition to the stress incurred while actually creating the research (in my case, mathematics) in the first place.

Each time I finish a paper, including my most recent, I have feelings of emptiness and anxiety. I'm not here for medical advice, I'd just like to know if anyone is aware of some scientific basis for these emotions.

  • 7
    There's a phenomenon among grad students commonly called "post-qual slump" and I don't see why the same shouldn't happen at other levels. – Nate Eldredge Jun 25 '18 at 0:54
  • 11
    Have you tried not doing 12h/day at the end? If you spread out the work more, you might avoid having to deal with (or ameliorate) a behavioral and emotional swing from one day to the next. Basically, I think there's a link between stress/sleep deprivation/overworking oneself, and rapid emotional shifts, or even depression. – Anyon Jun 25 '18 at 3:56
  • 5
    I think this general phenomenon is pretty common. My partner calls this "post-strike depression" from her time in theater ("strike" being taking down the set at the end). I used to regularly be depressed at the end of a teaching semester. Regular daily schedule, exercise, staying active helps. – Daniel R. Collins Jun 25 '18 at 4:14
  • 5
    Our gradschool has a training for this phenomenon: how to regain your flow after ... My personal advice: undertake some activity that totally distracts your mind (eg. short travel, sport) and hereafter continue with the following research/activity. First on discipline until the flow returns. – user93911 Jun 25 '18 at 4:48
  • 5
    One possibility is that you may have underlying depression or aren’t feeling fulfilled in other areas of your life — those feelings are masked by your long days of rigorous work and when that work is done the mask comes off. – Greenstick Jun 25 '18 at 6:30
13

I don't have a name for it, or a scientific basis, but I experienced exactly what you are describing: a general numbness/boredom that lasted a couple of weeks after seeing a paper published - everything was pretty hectic up until that point.

My guess is that this is due to something called 'lifestyle changes' (also a hypothesised contributor to postpartum depressions) - your life changes almost instantaneously upon submitting a paper. Before that you were totally hyped up, working really long days, getting by on the fear that things wouldn't work out and the adrenaline when it turned out they would after all. And then when you're done you are exhausted and all your previous drivers (that all related to getting your research project done) are gone. You have to recuperate and you have to find something new to live for (next project? family? a little bit of Mozart maybe?).

Good luck!

| improve this answer | |
  • This isn't exactly what I was asking for, but you captured my experience perfectly. The adrenaline rush when doing new math and writing it up.... it is very real. I suspect there could be some withdrawal symptoms from that. I'll go for a run tomorrow! – Forever Mozart Jun 26 '18 at 3:08
3

Perhaps you could quickly find something else to get involved with, at a more liberal place. The brain is very "hungry" and can cause you to "act out" when it doesn't get what it wants. But some light tasks and a little bit of physical involvement (outdoors, indoors, but not indoors studying) may help.

| improve this answer | |
1

Post coital tristesse is the correct analogy. I know what you mean about the paper. I experience some after a big project or sports match or even a presentation. You've been all keyed up and then you let down.

One thing I find helps is to always have a couple or more pubs in progress. Just electronic file with major headings and basic intro and a little on expected conclusions. Doesn't matter if the research changes because it is so easy to edit in the non typewriter era. And I go over stuff hard so not worried about errors creeping through. Actually I find that doing some writing in parallel with investigation helps motivate the research or even make me reflect a little when working.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.