The Let-Down Effect

Friend, via text: Hey, how was your week?




I’m not sure how to respond, so I sit with my phone in my hand until my eyes drift to the trees in my backyard. The birds are back. This is a good friend, so I know I can trust her, I can be honest. But as this text references, it’s been at least a week since we talked. And in this moment I’m wondering: how honest should I be?  

Should I tell her I felt like crying in the cereal aisle at Costco? And later in my kitchen while shredding cheese? Should I mention I’ve been listening to rap music at decibel levels sure to damage my hearing while vacuuming—frustrated and angry and sad over too much I don’t even know how to name? Would she understand what I meant if I said I haven’t felt joy in a long time?

I’m afraid to admit any of this, though, for how it will make me look. Because on the surface, my life seems fine. Healthy kids. Roof over our heads. Bills paid. Food in the fridge. But I can feel it in my bones—something isn’t right.    

Me: I’m overwhelmed. 

This seems to me the most true response, the most concise. I put the phone down and move towards my next obligation, all the while asking myself: what, exactly, is causing the overwhelm? Why, exactly, do I feel like this? 

Why am I not jumping for joy that my kids are finally healthy and in preschool again and I have a minute to breathe and I am no longer tracking covid numbers like a maniac or gluing myself to the interminable news cycle? 

Prior to my maternity leave I was redeployed to support the Covid-19 pandemic. I had no choice but to leave my role supporting health promotion in schools to working for communicable disease control doing contract tracing. At first, I managed okay, but after a few 6+ weeks of the same routine (with no end in site), it started to wear on me. Being the voice on the other end of the phone informing people they had been a close contact for a positive covid case didn’t exactly make me very popular. Many did not enjoy me having to tell them they were required to legally isolate for 14 days, or they had to quarantine from the rest of their families. 

Although this was not my favourite line of work, I was thankful to support the pandemic as a healthcare professional. It truly was an “all hands on deck” mentality and I was happy to be a part of a team with a broader focus. But, did I mention I was pregnant throughout all of this. I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and the long days were getting hard to manage.  After those long days, I had children to pick up from childcare, feed, bathe and put to sleep. Taking care of myself (and my not quite earth side baby) felt impossible. My needs were always put on the back burner.  

Soon I noticed a pattern: every time I took scheduled time off —without fail—I’d get sick. Head colds. Respiratory infections. The flu. It was as if my body knew I could finally unwind, and with the stress gone, with the need to be “on” removed, I’d fall apart. 

Apparently, this is a real phenomenon called the Let-Down Effect. It’s pretty common, and seen in people after a stressful event subsides. Basically, we hold it together until life slows down, until our bodies start to relax. And then in that calm, we’re nailed with all that the stress has kept at bay. 

Does this sound familiar? 

For the last two years, we have pivoted and managed, white knuckled and shoved down, cried in the shower and taken alllllll the deep breaths. But we’re not doing much of any of those things anymore. At least for the time being. Instead, many of us are looking back and blinking hard and thinking, Wow, what was that? 

Whatever it was, it was rough for most of us. Our bodies feel it. And so do our minds. 

Right now, I’m pretty sure I’m in a mental and emotional Let-Down Effect. I feel like I’m falling apart a little. And maybe you are too? 

Same friend, via text: I’m here for you.

I don’t know if research backs this up, but at least for a moment, that one little phrase helped. Feeling connected helped. Admitting what I’m feeling and having someone hear me helped. In time, I know we’ll be okay. 

But until then, we still need each other. Maybe now more than ever. 

Here for you, 


Read more by Sonya



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