We’ve all been there at some time or another.
You feel somewhat disengaged from a lot of the things in your life. Work, even if you enjoy it, seems like a burden. Maintaining relationships seems like a burden. You fall back to the most basic of your life routines. You feel tired and perhaps not all that optimistic about things. Depressed isn’t the right word for it – maybe melancholic is closer to the truth, or mild seasonal affective disorder. You’re just in a funk. You know you’ll probably get out of it in the future but for now you feel like you’re just going through the paces.
I feel this way in the winter due to mild seasonal affective disorder. I also tend to feel this way during the month or so following a period of extreme stress – I usually pull through the stress, but find myself in a funk if I don’t have a period of true downtime to refresh myself. Honestly, to an extent, I feel that way as I write this.
There are a number of big, expensive ways to break out of a funk. A big, low-intensity vacation is a very common one. I have a friend who breaks out of a funk by going to a ten day meditation retreat out in the woods somewhere, led by monks and costing a pretty penny. Sometimes people respond to short-term funks by making major life changes, like switching jobs or careers, that ends up causing a lot of long term financial damage. Lots of people resort to retail therapy to break out of a funk.
My toolkit is a little bit different. Here are twelve things I do that cost virtually nothing that help me to break out of a funk.
I exercise. I simply do anything that gets my heart rate up, gets me sweating a little, and gets me out of breath. I usually do sets of bodyweight exercises – pushups, planks, squats, and so on. I also often do repeated kicks in the air, sometimes holding them when my leg is extended. The goal is to get to a point where I’m panting and try to stay there while also exercising muscle groups enough that I’ll feel a bit of soreness the next day.
You don’t have to do anything that intense, but anything you can do to get your body moving or get yourself breathing a little heavy is good. Not only is it good for your health, it’s also good for improving your sense of well being. I find that exercise usually provides a pretty big temporary lift, and doing some form of exercise every day tends to bolster those temporary lifts.
I go on long walks. This is a mix of low intensity exercise and time spent outside in the sun. I love to hike when the weather supports it (but I’m not a huge fan of long cold weather hikes), but when I don’t have the time for a hike, I just go on walks around my neighborhood.
Simply getting outside in the fresh air with sunlight on my face and arms is a mood lifter. I tend to find that going on two or three short walks (around the block) and one long walk (a mile or two) is a good fit for me.
I stretch. This might seem strange, but I swear that it works. I spend some time each day stretching, and by that, I basically mean a mild yoga routine focused on stretching and flexibility. This is pretty close to the routine I do most mornings, and I do even more than that when I feel like I’m in a funk.
This is a very low impact way to make my body feel less lethargic when I’m feeling down and out. It doesn’t require as much from me as doing a lot of exercise, yet still leaves me feeling better for a while afterwards. I find that doing some stretching daily for a few days tends to lead to enough motivation to get some exercise, and that tends to be a big part of my road toward getting out of a funk.
I eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I find that when I get into a funk, I tend to rely on carb-heavy foods like pasta and breads more than I should and I eat less straight fruits and vegetables. If I make a conscious decision to reverse that trend, it usually helps.
For me, one way to do that is to eat a piece of fruit whenever I eat anything. I have an apple or an orange or a banana to accompany any meal or as a snack. I also make an effort to have some kind of vegetable at each meal and make sure that it’s at least half of the volume of the food I eat, measured roughly by making sure I have more vegetables on my plate than anything else. This practice tends to help tremendously with energy level and feeling less lethargic.
I drink a lot of water. Another thing I notice is that when I’m in a funk, I don’t drink as much liquids, period, and when I do, it’s in the form of coffee or tea. Making sure that I drink a lot of water helps a lot with that, too.
For me, the best way to do this is to make water consumption easy by keeping a filled water bottle with me pretty much everywhere I go. I’ll fill it first thing in the morning and then fill it again when it’s low.
I take a few specific supplements – vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron. Those supplements tend to address potential deficiencies due to two things in my life: eating an almost entirely plant-based diet and not going out in the sun very much during upper Midwestern winters. Taking them tends to help alleviate the feeling of being in a funk, whether it’s a placebo effect or not.
As always, check with your doctor before taking a dietary supplement of any kind. My doctor actually suggested these due to my diet and due to a long history of seasonal affective disorder.
I write in my journal. This is a strategy I’ve mentioned a lot in recent months. Journal writing has been a lifelong habit for me, but I’ve found that when I use it to really dig into what I’m thinking about and what’s bothering me (more than just listing life events), it’s a profoundly helpful thing.
My strategy is the “morning pages” technique I learned from Julia Cameron. Sometime in the early morning each day, I pop open my journal with the aim of filling at least three pages, and I just dump whatever’s on my mind. What’s drawing my thoughts? I find that almost every sentence I write helps me clarify a thought, and that tends to almost always lead right into another one, which is another sentence, and before I know it I’ve filled at least three pages. When I stop – and sometimes I have to make myself stop – I feel like I’ve unclogged my head and that leaves me feeling much more prepared to tackle the day and tackle my life in general.
I spend time with friends and in social situations. When I’m feeling in a funk, I tend to retreat into myself and spend time at home rather than out and about. Consciously choosing to not do that and instead make myself engage socially makes a giant difference.
I’ll make myself go to a meetup or a community board game night. I’ll touch base with my friends and see if they’re up for doing anything social. I do this even if I don’t feel like it, and I strongly urge myself to go even if I don’t really want to. Why? I feel tremendously better when I get there and get involved in something with other people.
I make my bed, shower, brush my teeth, and put on clothes that make me feel good. Another thing that I often do when I’m in a funk is stay in my pajamas all day. It’s easy and feels comfortable, but it tends to add to a state of feeling in a funk.
If I start off my day – or at least do this in the morning – by taking a shower, getting dressed in something that feels good (like I’m engaging with the world), and making my bed, I tend to feel like today’s going to be a pretty good day and that carries on throughout the day.
I meditate. I mention meditation and prayer often, but it’s because it’s probably been the most profound thing I’ve discovered in terms of improving my life over the last few years and it’s free. The trick is that you really have to do it every day for a long while to start seeing the effects of it, because at first it doesn’t really seem to do a whole lot.
Just spend five minutes a day focusing on your breathing or on a single phrase or short prayer. If your mind wanders from it, bring it back to that focus point. Just do it every day. What’s the benefit? For me, it becomes easier to focus. It becomes easier to have a grip on my emotions. I sleep better. I work better. Everything just gets a little bit better. It happens subtly over time so that you don’t even notice it.
I block off a few days in the near future for a “stay-cation.” For me, knowing that I have two or three days coming up to dig deep into a hobby or take care of a project that’s been bothering me, I feel way more motivated to step up to the plate with all kinds of things in my life. I know that I have to get work completed by then and I usually want to get a bunch of other personal tasks done by then, too, and I feel motivated to do them.
This is more of a “time motivator” or “time reward,” really. By setting up this reward, I strongly encourage myself to be more engaged today and in the next few days, and by being so engaged, I often lift myself out of a sense of lethargy.
I go to bed early enough so that I can wake up naturally without an alarm clock. One of the most surefire ways for me to feel burnt out is to get up excessively early every day to take care of tasks. I can do it for a while, but then I need at least a day or two where I can sleep in without an alarm and get up when I feel like getting up.
Waking naturally rather than due to the sound of an alarm clock means that your natural sleep cycles finish when they should rather than being disrupted. This helps with wakefulness and energy level throughout the day and can help quite a bit with turning back a tide of low energy.
These tools are incredibly helpful for me personally when turning back a period of melancholy or low energy in my life. They are not a solution for clinical depression, vitamin deficiencies, or other deeper problems. If you feel a strong sense of low energy and low mood that isn’t alleviated by these techniques, please see a medical professional or at least talk to someone in your life about your struggles. People do care and will listen.