Screaming On the Inside

Beware the let-down

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020

As I mentioned in my previous “Screaming On the Inside,” last week was a high-tension time for The Spectator. 

I, along with a few of my fellow editors, put in a lot of work on a breaking news story. We spent countless hours huddled around my desk in the Spectator office. 

I lived off of takeout and vending machine food, crammed homework into any free time I could salvage and lost a lot of sleep.

The work we did was really rewarding and I am glad I was able to take part in it, but it was also very draining. So, we decided to take this past weekend off from the constant reporting and decompress a bit. 

Sounds nice, right?

In theory, yes. It was incredibly nice to relax, catch up on some homework and binge watch something on Netflix. 

However, sometimes the human body struggles with such an extreme transition. 

As soon as I allowed myself to let go of some of that anxiety and pressure, it was as though my immune system decided to take a break too. 

Immediately after posting our most recent update on the breaking news situation, I physically felt my body give up. 

The next morning, I woke up to a tight throat and congested nose. By the end of that day, I had a killer congestion headache and my whole body felt weak.

Knowing what was coming, I stocked up on cold medicine. I made the decision that I would take the weekend to “veg out” on the couch, sleep a ridiculous amount and eat something besides leftover Chinese food. 

Now here I am, writing this story from my couch. I still can’t breathe through my nose, there is a strong pressure behind my eyes and my throat still feels a bit ticklish. 

Why is this the way our bodies reward ourselves for undergoing stress? Or is it not so much of a reward, but more of a punishment.

WebMD calls this the “Let-Down Effect.” 

“When you’re straining and struggling under the burden of work or family pressures, your body releases a number of chemicals — including stress hormones — which mobilize your immune system against illness,” the WebMD article says. “But when the stressful period ends, your immune system pulls back its troops and the body becomes less vigilant in weeding out invaders.”

So, as I understand it, there’s really no winning when it comes to extreme stress. Isn’t the human body fun?

According to WebMD, the post-stress illnesses related to the Let-Down Effect include upper-respiratory infections (check), the flu, migraine headaches (check), dermatitis, arthritis pain and depression (check). 

Thankfully, there are some things that can be done to defuse the dreaded Let-Down Effect. 

  • Practice techniques that activate the immune system. For example, short bursts of exercise may prevent the immune system from weakening so rapidly following a stressful period of time.
  • Try mental problem solving. According to WebMD, studies have shown that doing things like crosswords or math computations at a rapid pace increases immune-system activity.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Slow, deliberate breathing can lower your heart rate, slow your brain waves and reduce your blood pressure. 

So, while my head may be in too much pain to tolerate the usual internal or external screaming, at least there are things I can do to lessen the suffering. 

My final words of advice: remember that extreme stress is usually temporary, know that you will get through it and, finally, beware the aftermath.

Fuerstenberg can be reached at [email protected]