Home > Blog > Adrenal Health > The Let-Down Effect: Why You Crash After Successfully Climbing the Mountain

The Let-Down Effect: Why You Crash After Successfully Climbing the Mountain

Have you ever wondered why you felt so lethargic or even became physically ill after successfully dealing with a very stressful event in your life? Or why your chronic condition exacerbated after a big move or handling a crisis? There’s a name for this: The let-down effect.

It is no surprise that stress can lead to significant illness and worsen your existing conditions. Both scientific evidence and personal experience back this up. However, researchers have only recently uncovered some of the reasons why people who deal with very stressful events end up getting sick after those events.

What Is The Let-Down Effect?

An image of a doctor holding up a brain scanThis phenomenon, called the let-down effect, describes a pattern of sickness or flare-ups of existing chronic conditions—not in the midst of a period of concentrated stress—but after the stressful event resolves.

Current research shows associations between stressful events and later flare-ups of pain and other conditions. Other research shows increases in panic attacks over weekends, rather than during the week. Likewise, scientists in Taiwan in 2015 found an increase in emergency room visits for peptic ulcers on holidays and Sundays compared to weekdays.

In the same vein, a research study conducted in 2014 by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City investigated migraine attacks. Migraine sufferers were asked to keep a diary tracking every episode of migraine and any stressful events for a period of three months. Interestingly, the results turned out different from what some expected. Instead of having migraines during the stressful period, the participants reported that they suffered severe bouts of pain about six to eighteen hours after the stressful event ended. The researchers called these migraines let-down headaches.

Similarly, scientists have reported other let-down effects like flare-ups of digestive problems, skin conditions, asthma, and autoimmune conditions that occur after stressful periods in some people’s lives.

And, just like negative events can lead to increased stress, the let-down effect can follow from positive events that bring on stressful changes as well. Holidays, weekends, vacations, even retirement can prove stressful and result in the let-down effect later.

In a way, it seems your body is designed to handle severe, acute stress, but when the build-up is over, all the other needs your body was ignoring to prioritize the stressor come crashing back in. So your body, in turn, crashes in a desperate bid to recover.

Stress, Its Effects On Your Body, and How It Can Trigger the Let-Down Effect

Stress from any source brings on the same kind of physical response in your body. Your hypothalamus releases the hormones that trigger your pituitary gland, which in turn releases hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands.  Once activated, the adrenals produce and release hormones to fight the effects of stress. This hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis becomes stimulated by any kind of stress.

At the terminal end of this axis, your adrenals release glucocorticoids like cortisol, catecholamines like epinephrine, and adrenaline to deal with the stress. This ‘fight or flight’ response helps your body to mitigate the stress. In addition, it activates the immune system to protect your body.

On the other hand, this activation also can trigger latent viral infections such as herpes simplex 1 and the Epstein-Barr virus. The symptoms for these viruses may only become apparent a few days later after the stress event resolves, thus becoming part of the let-down effect.

Meanwhile, as you continue dealing with stress, your perception of pain diminishes because of the hormones like cortisol and other stress hormones. In the short-term, while the stress continues, this proves helpful in dealing with the stressors. However, once the stress goes away, cortisol levels decrease, and with the loss of cortisol's pain-suppressing function, the potential for flare-ups of chronic pain, fibromyalgia, or migraines increases.

When your immune system down-regulates after the stress and your pain-suppressing cortisol levels also decrease, you may find yourself more vulnerable to feelings of pain and illnesses.

In addition, an activated immune system can also lead to increased inflammation. This inflammatory response sets the stage for later experiences of illness or pain. Once the stress resolves, and your immune system down-regulates as a result, the inflammatory response can linger.

Likewise, the up and down surges of stress hormones can decrease dopamine levels in your brain. Once these hormone levels fall, you can experience a desire to overeat or engage in drug use to return to the feelings of pleasure and reward you felt with higher dopamine levels.

Adrenal Fatigue and the Let-Down Effect

An image of a man spreading his arms while facing the sunAnother aspect of the discussion of stress must include adrenal fatigue. In its response to stress, your body activates the HPA axis as mentioned above. In the face of chronic stress, your adrenal glands become pressured to release more and more cortisol to deal with the stress effects. At some point, the adrenals get overwhelmed with these demands and cannot produce sufficient cortisol to meet them. This leads to the condition called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

When your adrenals become fatigued in this manner, another natural mechanism called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response begins working harder to help your body remain balanced in dealing with stress. The NEM stress response consists of six inter-related circuits composed of three organs or systems each. Their inter-related nature means whatever affects one circuit affects the others.

What does this mean in regard to the let-down effect? When you suffer from AFS, your body becomes sensitized to the effects of stress. Chronic stress depletes your body's resource reserves, using increasing amounts of nutrients and critical precursor hormones. This makes it less able to respond to stressors in the future.

Therefore, even a small stressful event can bring a significant impact on your body. If this stress event resolves, your risk of experiencing the let-down effect increases because of the sensitization.

In addition, AFS typically increases your risk of developing chronic illnesses. Therefore, when you experience a stressful event, the likelihood of one or more of these chronic conditions worsening increases.

Similarly, your entire system must deal with the constant ebb and flow of hormones stimulated by chronic stress. This waxing and waning of hormone levels lead to an increased risk of the let-down effect.

Conditions Associated With The Let-Down Effect

Quite a number of illness conditions can be associated with the let-down effect. Included among them:

  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • The common cold and influenza
  • Skin outbreaks
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Binge eating
  • Allergic reactions

How To Prevent The Let-Down Effect

Probably the best way of dealing with the let-down effect involves avoiding it in the first place. The key is to find the most effective ways of handling stress. While you are in a stressful situation, you should take care of yourself by taking rest and keeping your stress levels in check.

Some practical methods of doing this involve the following:

  • Become aware of when you feel stressed and pace yourself to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  • Make sure your diet consists of nutritious foods in the right balance.
  • Get seven to eight hours of good sleep every night.
  • Engage in moderate exercise daily, even if only for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Take time for relaxation, meditation, reading, quiet time, and deep breathing.

When you find yourself in a stressful situation, make time to decompress while you go through the event. This will not come naturally, so you must purposefully make yourself do it. Staying activated all day, seven days a week, will eventually harm you and increase your risk for the let-down effect. Making time for decompression during which you engage in deep breathing and/or meditation will help de-activate some of your natural fight or flight response.

How to Lessen the Let-Down Effect's Severity

An image of a woman meditating in front of her computerOn the other hand, if you can’t avoid the let-down effect, you can decrease its severity.

You can do this by helping your body de-stress more slowly, by presenting gentle, healthy stressors and maintaining self-care after a stressful event to provide structure and slow the pace of change in your body. De-stressing too quickly, like hitting the brakes on the highway, can lead to sudden changes in your biochemistry that may result in symptoms. It could leave you more vulnerable to symptoms like stomach problems, migraines, or panic attacks.

The idea here is to keep some small level of physical and mental stress going in your life after a period of major stress so your body does not have to adjust too quickly. This keeps your immune system active and helps stave off a period of extreme fatigue and vulnerability.

Use Physical and Mental Stimulation to Avoid the Let-Down Effect

A significant and effective method for avoiding the let-down effect consists of the right kinds of physical and mental stimulation. Moderate exercise in small amounts several times during the day can help. In addition, mental stimulation in the form of doing crossword puzzles or difficult math problems could also help. The critical time period for engaging in this kind of mental and physical stimulation falls within the first three days following the stressful event. Doing this will increase your chances of coming through any stressful period in a more healthy way.

Get Good Quality Sleep

Sleep allows your body to restore its strength, activating your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" response. Research shows getting more than seven hours of sleep a night decreases your risk of becoming ill by more than four times.

Avoid Drinking Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption cause dehydration. In addition, it may contain large amounts of sugar that can trigger inflammation. Drinking before bed can also reduce your quality of sleep.

Keep Your Nasal Passages Moist

Using a humidifier or saline spray several times during the day will accomplish this goal. It helps your nasal passages block germs from entering your body. In addition, saline is naturally sanitizing.

Work To Manage Your Stress

You can manage your stress by doing several things such as meditation, yoga, gentle exercise, journaling, engaging in a hobby, spending time with family or friends, or even playing with a pet. Try different methods for a few days each to help determine which one works best for you.

Nourish Your Body

Eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Oranges and grapefruits contain lots of vitamin C. Sunflower seeds and spinach contain vitamin E. Beef, pumpkin seeds, and egg yolks contain zinc. Probiotics work to strengthen your immune system by building your microbiome. Focus on eating more nutritious foods that are easy to digest to support your body during this time.


An image of a woman holding one knee up to waist levelEveryone experiences stress in their lives, especially right now. And nearly everyone is aware that stress can cause illness, sooner or later. The let-down effect is just another example of this. It can exacerbate existing conditions after the stress is over.

But it doesn’t have to happen. There are things you can do to mitigate possible let-down effects:

  • Become aware of when you feel stressed.
  • Do what you can to decrease your overall stress level.
  • Exercise moderately.
  • Feed your recovering body a nutrient-dense diet.
  • Get sufficient sleep so your immune system can recover.
  • Avoid excessive drinking of alcohol.
  • Maintain gentle physical and mental stimulation after the stress is over.

If you would like to know more about or need assistance with dealing with the let-down effect, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. Or you can send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The let-down effect comes into play when a new illness or an exacerbation of an existing chronic condition emerges following a period of stress in your life. However, it can be avoided or mitigated with adequate self-care and slowly decreasing your stress levels.

Are You Ready to Start Your
Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Journey?