How To Get Out Of A Funk

Photo: cordron.alejandro

At various times in life, I’ve found myself in a state I can only describe as a funk—not depressed, not sad, but listless, purposeless, unable to motivate myself and caring about very little.  Words like “flat,” “empty,” and “disconnected” also come to mind.  It’s not a particularly pleasant state, but it is often surprising: it usually occurs immediately after I’ve accomplished a goal.

You’d think that would be when I’d feel the most positive and the most self-actualized—and it is. But it’s also when I feel the most exhausted and in need of a break. And feeling that way—looking into the future with little else in mind but rest—somehow also seems to dampen my spirit.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t other times I feel “funky.” Often, I don’t really know why. Often, I simply have to wait it out, to let it resolve on its own. But I’ve discovered over the years a number of steps I can take that sometimes, depending on my funk’s cause, can speed up its resolution.

  1. Connect with people. As I wrote in a previous post, How To Pull Good Things Out Of Others, who we are and how we experience ourselves often has more to do with who surrounds us than anything else. When feeling low, one of the fastest ways to pick yourself up is to connect with specific people you know bring energy out of you.
  2. Commit to a new goal. Sometimes my listlessness is purposelessness in disguise. Human beings are not only intrinsically driven by a sense of purpose but also seem to require a sense of purpose to lead a satisfying life. It needn’t be a grand purpose, but it must be a purpose that feels important to you.
  3. Read an engrossing book or see an emotionally powerful movie. Both have the power to transport us, to provide a perspective far removed from our own, and in doing so, unlock emotions we want to feel: joy, hope, warmth—even sadness. When in a funk, what we feel doesn’t seem to be as important as finding a way to feel something.
  4. Travel. Though travel has never been one of my favorite things to do, it does accomplish something important when I’m in a funk: it takes away familiar environmental cues and replaces them with unfamiliar ones. And as most of our behavior and emotions are cued by our environment (from turning off lights when we leave a room to the sinking feeling we may get as we approach our place of work), if we want to act and feel differently, changing our environmental cues is a good place start.  Not that you can escape yourself by relocating geographically. But you can be helped to access different parts of yourself.
  5. Wait patiently. No mood lasts forever. And life won’t leave you alone but will eventually present you with new challenges that activate you. And even if such challenges are difficult, they will often bring out your best self.

Often simply becoming aware of what we’re feeling helps prevent us from being swallowed by it. Even if you feel powerless to break out of a funk, just admitting to yourself that you’re in one can be helpful. And even help you appreciate it. For if we never experienced funks, any joy we’d feel wouldn’t be quite as sweet.

Next Week: Why We Should Befriend Jerks

9 comments to How To Get Out Of A Funk

  • Shivani

    Alex—I think we all experience this funk state every now and then. Have you ever tried just “riding this funkiness out” not trying to resolve it or replace it with another goal but just letting it be? For me, I have realized that when I do so, the purposeless-ness & disconnection settles after a while & it is actually followed by a temporary sense of inner peace (with no dependency on external elements whatsoever) and the next purpose or motivating idea comes by itself without trying at all. Point being that even without trying, mind finds its way out by itself (because it can never tolerate silence for long and is always inclined towards noise), by speeding the process I think we miss out on those “temporary moments of peace.” Just my 2 cents based on my experience.

    Shivani: Agreed. See #5.

    Alex

  • John

    I’ve found that it helps to give when you’re in a funk, whether it be donating to a cause or contributing time to a family member, etc.

    Helping to make other’s circumstance better makes me feel better, like I’m contributing to something other than myself.

  • Ayelet

    I thought I was the only one feeling like u. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Gene

    Recognizing that I’m in a funk, and knowing from experience that it will eventually pass, takes away some of its power over me. Sometimes I allow myself to experience the funk. But having experienced major depression, I know it can also spiral out of my control. If it doesn’t lift after a couple of days, I make myself take a walk, see a film, see friends. Any of those activities can lift my mood. Up to a certain point, I find I can choose whether or not to prolong a funk.

  • I am a newish reader of your blog and find it thoughtfully written and informative. I get in funks about once a month and usually it is because I am feeling tired and burned out. I usually will take a day off and just sleep late and swim laps in the pool and play with my two dogs. That usually does the trick for me.

    Cherie: Welcome. Glad to have you here.

    Alex

  • Rob L

    Hey great post. Would be cool if the words engrossing book or emotionally powerful movie linked to a list of defunking selections we could draw from.

    Wondering what book and movie for you has the power to debunk you?

    Rob: For books, check out Great Books.

    Alex

  • John Slomski

    Regarding “Commit to a new goal”: In a funk, one lacks motivation. I would recommend a commitment made as a member of a group. Groups can act as an external motivation until the funk dissipates.

  • downfromtheledge

    This line says a lot: “it usually occurs immediately after I’ve accomplished a goal.” I think, sometimes, that the anticipation of reaching the end goal keeps us locked in the future, then when it comes, the high can wear off pretty quickly. Also, once you’ve accumulated so many accomplishments, they can start to lose their meaning.

    Maybe that’s over-analyzing it. I’m just quite familiar with my own tendency to think reaching some goal will be the thing to make me happy or fulfill me…when really it’s a temporary distraction, and I wind up having to face the emptiness again.

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