The major reasons people get depressed or low after a large accomplishment or milestone lies in our basic biology and psychology. As we plan and focus on our goals, we are physically and emotionally anticipating the biological state to feel good. As we reach large accomplishments and milestones, the brain releases dopamine also known as “the achievement hormone.” The higher the dopamine levels in our body, the higher are our focus, creativity, alertness, concentration, and long-term memory. This hormone drives us to seek rewards in achieving our goals, and helps us draw the effort it will take to be successful. Here’s the downside…When we reach our goal, the release of dopamine drops and it becomes biochemically more challenging to be happy.
There are many coined terms for this post achievement depression. Each of the terms are essentially operationalized as the feeling, emotion, or state that results when we realize that there is nothing more to purse now that we have reached our said goals. My favorites are “destination’s disease,” “depressogenesis,” and “the arrival fallacy.”
As a clinical psychologist and celebrity peak performance coach, I have seen my fair share of post achievement depression. In fact, researchers have found that the extremely high-functioning A-personality types are more likely to experience major depression. I have also consulted with colleagues on this issue to delineate post achievement depression from the similar symptoms of mid-life crises. Although depression can and does affect everyone, researchers have found that the loneliness, emptiness, and pressure of the extremely successful put them at greater risk for depression. Take for example Elon Musk who we all know as the epitome of success. He admits that his friends are worried about him, and so is he. His board of directors wish he could sleep. And he is optimistic about Tesla, but pessimistic about his own happiness.
My best advice for those of us experiencing post achievement depression is to frequently engage in the practices of self-reflection and self-correction. Self-reflection and self-correction are humbling processes. It’s essential to find out why we think, say, and do certain things…then better ourselves. Self-reflection and self-correction are also the highest forms of self-learning and healing.