After the glare of the stage lights is just a memory, you’ve said goodbye to the friends you made in line or met up with for the show, and you have returned to the reality of daily life, it is not unusual to feel a little down. Post concert depression (PCD) is surprisingly common. Symptoms can range from feeling slightly blue to signs associated with clinical depression such as wanting to withdraw from daily activities, crying jags, apathy, and a feeling of hopelessness. So, what is it and why does it happen? Is it just the price fangirls (and boys) pay for reaching such an emotional high during the show or are there things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms?
So, first, why do you get it?
There is something special about attending a live performance, especially if it is a group that may not come to your country regularly, and especially if you are an isolated fan in your daily life. This is often the experience of K-pop fans. Unless they engage with others through social media, they may have very few people locally who listen to the same music. Attending a concert is more than just seeing their favorite idol group; for many fans it is a sense of homecoming. Everyone in that stadium or auditorium understands why you love this group. They speak your language–maybe not in the linguistic sense (they might speak Korean, English, Tagalog, Mandarin, etc.), but they speak the language of the fandom. There will be someone there who will squee when Key speaks English, will scream when Baro raps, and will shriek in unison when J-Hope dances in front of you. The universal language of shared obsession is powerful. There is a sense of belonging that comes from gathering together with others who share your interests. And then there is the performance itself, an opportunity to see these artists right in front of you, to hear them and interact. They might be speaking to thousands, but it certainly feels like they are speaking to you. It meets one of Maslow’s hierarchical needs, belonging, and it is not easy to replicate. Returning to reality after experiencing this feeling can be very difficult.
There is also a sense of urgency around attending K-pop concerts. In the world of K-pop there is a distinct phenomenon where groups tour and then fans must wait for their “come back.” Especially for international fans, it may be a year or more before there is another opportunity to see them live. For groups with male idols, there is also a very real ticking clock. With mandatory military service required for all Korean men, there is a sense of urgency to take advantage of every chance to see them. That is not to say that groups cannot continue on after their service to their country, but the industry changes rapidly, so there is just no guarantee. The feeling that this may be one of the few chances to hear this group as they are today leaves a sense of finality post-concert. Will this be the last time you get to see them like this?
From a physiological standpoint there is also a chemical change that occurs that can truly impact moods. Most people experience a surge in the neurotransmitter called dopamine because of the excitement and joy they feel during the concert experience. Studies show that dopamine is produced when we are visually stimulated by delicious food or Jimin’s thighs. (Studies don’t say that exactly, but they say things like,”images of physically attractive people,” so it is really the same thing.) Music is also associated with dopamine release.
So, when you consider the total concert package-dancing, beautiful visuals, and music that gives you chills, you are likely to be pumping out dopamine. When faced with a return to daily reality, there is a very real “crash” that can take place. In this sense, post concert depression symptoms can be similar to withdrawal symptoms from a drug. That desperate feeling when you bargain with yourself saying you could probably skip work, pay a little extra for a ticket, and skip the car payment this month in order to catch them at the next stop (not that I am admitting to such thoughts, of course…) sounds quite a bit like an addict with drug seeking behavior. Dopamine is often associated with addiction and gambling, so it is important to be aware of it.
Just like anything, if your concert obsession begins to seriously interfere and disrupt your ability to function, hold down a job, or maintain relationships, then you should consider taking a step back. However, if you just consider this your hobby and you can continue to draw a distinction between reality and fantasy, then there is no harm, as long as you have a solid plan for combatting PCD.
So, what can you do?
If you have the money and time, you can splurge on your addiction. You can chase your favorite group across the country or countries and attend more and more concerts. You can feed the pleasure receptors and invest in your joy. As long as you have the means to do so and indulging in this way will not jeopardize your education, job, relationships, or other commitments, then this is no different than any other hobby or pursuit. For point of reference, if your hobby was fishing, golf, biking, stamp collecting, or scuba diving, you could easily spend thousands of dollars pursuing these. Compared to buying and maintaining a fishing boat, the cost of attending concerts (even if you buy the highest priced seats and trek cross-country for the entire tour) is really negligible. Yes, I know it sounds like I am justifying, but I do think it is important to validate the enjoyment of music and the fan culture, placing it within the context of other hobbies and pursuits.
So, what if investing right now is just not possible because of the cost or time commitment? (Note: If attending the next stop on the tour will require a black market sale of a kidney, then you should not indulge.) If you can’t follow your favorite group and attend every tour stop, then what else can you do?
You can use this as your muse. That was your soul stirring when you felt so happy and were transported by the music, and it is your soul crying now. Artists throughout time have used this sense of longing and aching to inspire their greatest works. Write, sing, compose, choreograph, paint, draw, or sculpt as a way of expressing your feelings. You may find that your form of artistic expression can be marketable. Perhaps you will write fan fiction that can become a novella, or maybe you will record your choreography and share it through YouTube, or perhaps other fans would like to purchase your paintings of your bias. Even if nobody else appreciates your art or you have no interest in sharing it, the creative process can help fill the void that accompanies post concert depression.
Remember, one of the reasons concerts are so powerful is because of that sense of belonging. If you are not already a member of a chat group or fan club or other social media network, then now is the time to get involved. You can share pictures, videos, stories, and memories, but also develop meaningful friendships. After all, you know they at least have the same taste in music, but you might have even more in common. It is also possible there will be members of this group attending future concerts that you cannot attend and you can live vicariously by stalking all of their posts. You might even make plans to meet up at the next concert.
It is likely this group will come again in the future, or maybe you will discover a new group. If you were unable to afford tickets for multiple tour stops this time, now is the time to think about how you can make that happen in the future. Maybe you will take on a second job or work overtime and dedicate that money for your “concert fund.” Even without additional income, you could find something in your budget you could cut and start saving that amount each month. For example, if you indulge in a daily coffee habit from a coffee shop, you could save hundreds of dollars by giving it up. And as you feel that caffeine withdrawal headache you can tell yourself it is a sacrifice you are making for your future happiness. Even in tight budgets there is often room to make a change that will make a difference over time. The trick is to stick to it. By the time the next tour is announced you may be able to attend every stop in your country or even go international. Having a clear plan toward the next goal is a great way to overcome post concert depression. It gives you an attainable goal to work toward.
Similar to planning for a future concert, this suggestion is also about goal setting. If you can’t have your bias right in front of you, maybe you can at least prepare for your next meeting. Learn languages, learn to dance, learn to sing, or get physically fit. The next time you have an opportunity to attend a fan meeting or a concert, you can showcase your new skills.
If you are not already fluent, then learning the language of your bias is a great goal. Maybe your end game is to have the linguistic capability to communicate with your future spouse, but even if that never becomes a reality (never say never), you can at least watch interviews without subtitles and listen to lyrics without translation. There is nuance to language that sometimes gets overlooked in translation. If you speak the language you will have a deeper understanding of the music.
Other productive goals include learning to dance, sing, or get fit. By the time that next concert comes around you could steal the show with your moves. Maybe you will even get noticed by the idols on stage as you dance along. If you have always wanted to sing, then invest in vocal coaching or practice on your own by singing covers of your favorite songs. If you have ever needed motivation to get physically fit, then consider every sit up or mile you run as one step closer to impressing your bias. You might consider learning Tae Kwon Do or one of the others martial arts. It is not only great exercise, but it will leave you feeling less vulnerable the next time you decide to camp out in line before a concert. An added advantage of physical fitness and exercise, of course, is they naturally create endorphins that can combat depression. The act of learning and finding something productive to help you move forward is a very positive way to deal with PCD.
Finally, if nothing else works and you find that the sense of loss is too overwhelming, then sometimes the best solution is to walk away for a while. Stop watching every video from the concert, stop reliving each moment, and take a break. Throw yourself back into your daily life, and then after a few weeks or so, once that feeling of rawness has healed, you may find you can look back at your memories with fondness. It is also important to be aware of your state of mind. If you are really feeling hopeless or having difficulty functioning, then it may be time to seek professional mental health support.
Post concert depression does not have to bring you down for long. It can be a catalyst for creativity and a motivator for the future. The tips and tricks included are both research supported and fangirl endorsed. If anyone really wants to geek out, I will happily provide links to the research articles. Have you experienced PCD? What are your best tips and tricks? Please continue the conversation in the comments below.
Until the Next Concert…
Dr. Kdrama Jen