The situation: you find yourself in a funk. I’m not talking about the Pepé Le Pew kind of funk – that just requires the generous application of soap and water. The kind of funk I’m talking about is where you’re almost inexplicably sad, slightly depressed, or down about something.
This happens to almost everyone every once in awhile. The goal here is not to figure out how to avoid getting in a funk, but rather to short-circuit the funk when it happens. This is why getting enough sleep is not on the list, because that’s not helpful when you’ve already deprived yourself of sleep.
Note also that I’m not talking about chronic depression. Though the suggestions below will help, coping with and recovering from chronic depression takes far more work and may require some radical changes to your lifestyle.
I have a checklist that I start going down when I recognize that I’m in a funk. It starts with the recognition that the easiest way to short-circuit a funk is to work on the physiological level first and then work on the emotional, social, and mental levels later – yes, this is the same Aristotelian schema that I discussed in the 3 Key Ideas from Aristotle That Will Help You Flourish. It takes its cues from cognitive therapy, which trains patients to become aware of negative thoughts and to immediately take action to subvert those thoughts.
The Physical Shorts
Oftentimes, funks come about simply because we haven’t been taking care of our bodies the way we should. This list focuses just on getting your body back in proper order. Remember: your body is more than a head transportation vehicle.
1. Drink Water
Proper hydration is key to proper human functioning, but for some reason, it’s so easy to forget to drink enough water. The first response when you’re in a state you don’t want to be in should be to drink water – 16–24 oz. immediately, and then at least 8 oz. every hour thereafter.
2. Eat a Balanced Meal
The lifestyle that many of us live is not very conducive to eating high-quality, balanced meals on a day-to-day basis. There seems to be a lot of feast and famine in this arena – days go by where we eat fast food and boxed meals until we have the time, energy, or money to have something better. In the meantime, our bodies are depleted of the nutrients we need, and the physical depletion affects all other functions.
Despite the fact that you may not want to, grab a well-balanced meal. Low blood sugar, protein depletion, vitamin deficiencies, and the whole other host of things that occur just from inadequate nutrition are very easy to correct, and all of those, in different degrees, affect the way we feel.
3. Do the Daily Business
Dehydration and poor nutrition lead to another bad thing: irregular excretion. Freud spent a lot of time talking about pooping, and though we may question some of his assumptions and implications, his insight that it makes us feel better is right on the money. I’ll not spend a long time talking about this and instead point you to May’s great post on pooping.
4. Get Some Sun
Sunlight has been found to have a strong effect on everything from mood to fertility. What we are concerned about here is sunlight’s effect on melatonin, the chemical that makes us sleepy, and serotonin, which strongly affects our moods. Sunlight has been shown to decrease melatonin and to increase serotonin – which has the collective effect of increasing our alertness and mood.
Exercise has a whole list of benefits, but the one we’re most concerned about here is the fact that it has a very positive effect on our moods. Do this one after you’ve rehydrated and eaten, though.
6. Take a Bath Break
Okay, so I said this wasn’t about that kind of funk, but it turns out that a nice bath or shower makes a huge difference. While you’re at it, shave, scrub, clip, and do all the other things you feel you must do to present your best appearance. That “fresh new you” feeling may be just enough to subvert the funk you’re in.
As sappy as it sounds, scientific research supports the notion that we are happy because we smile… not that we smile because we are happy. Smiling causes biofeedback that affects emotions and behavior, and you might just be able to smile your way out of a funk.
The Emotional Shorts
The list below is about rebalancing your emotions and finding and reconnecting with yourself.
8. Listen to (or Play) Music
“Music soothes the savage beast,” but it also gives spirit to the melancholy one. Listening to Alice in Chain’s “Down in a Hole” while you’re down in a hole isn’t particularly helpful, as music has a very strong effect on mood. It’s hard to make blanket recommendations here, as musical tastes are so different, but look at the music you listen to and try to find something that either inspires you or has an upbeat mood. My go-to guy for this is Jack Johnson, as I can’t help but smile and enjoy life as I sing along with him.
It’s even better if you can play a musical instrument, as that has the same effect on your moods while also getting your mind off the funk. The effect of music is even stronger when you’re playing music rather than just listening to it, so be very careful that what you’re playing isn’t funk-inducing on its own.
9. Write Down What’s on Your Mind
If you’re still in the funk by now, then it’s a good time to sit down and try to really figure out what’s bothering you. You know it’s not something merely physical – it’s something with your feelings or thoughts. Sit down and journal what’s on your mind. Listing may not work, so consider mindmapping your emotions, too.
It’s important that you express yourself in writing, as that gives you something to refer to after you…
10. Find a Sanctuary and Sit in It
We each have our own places to find solace. For some, it’s a chapel, church, synagogue, or other place of worship. For others, it’s a deep forest stream or a mountaintop. Find your sanctuary, sit in it, and think about the things on your list from above. These places are great places to…
11. Review Your Goals, and Dream
Sanctuaries are great places for comfort, but they also tend to give us perspective. While you’re there, review your goals and allow yourself to dream. It’s important to NOT review your tasks or To Do list, as the point is to reconnect with those things you really want to do and be, not with the long list of things it’ll take to get there.
The Social Shorts
Still in a funk? Wow, it’s a powerful one. This (shorter) lists focuses on reconnecting with the social aspect of your being.
12. Go Where People Are Having Fun
Fun and happiness are infectious. Simply being around people who are enjoying themselves has a strong tendency to make us happier. You don’t even have to explicitly be there with anyone for the happiness of others to infect you.
13. Find a Way to Help Someone Else
Helping others generally makes us feel better about ourselves. Whether it’s due to egoism or true altruism, the effect is the same: we feel better. Helping others adds value to the world, so at the end of the day, funk or not, you’ve added more value to the world than you would have if you had just sat on the couch moping.
14. Talk to an Old Friend You’ve Lost Touch With
Friends help us flourish and old friends have a way of reminding us who we are and who we want to be. Additionally, old friends know how best to help us out of our funks even without our asking for help or saying we’re in a funk. Lastly, we tend to talk about the important things with old, out-of-touch friends, so this is a great way to think about (through talking about) the important stuff.
The Mental Shorts
Sometimes just having a nut to crack is what you need to derail the train o’ funk. This list focuses on things to wrap your mind around.
15. Solve a Puzzle
Riddles, puzzles, and mysteries are great at short-circuiting funks because they keep you occupied long enough that the funk subsides. Whether that puzzle is Sodoku, crossword puzzles, physical puzzles, planning your next novel or article, or composing your next song, the process of throwing your mind fully into a process helps immensely.
16. Plan Out Your Goals and Dreams
So, you have your list of goals and dreams from above – it’s now time to figure out how to make them real. How much time will it take? How much will it cost? What commitments will you have to take or let go of? Start from now and go forward, rather than worrying about what you have or haven’t done.
The really powerful ways of getting out of funks combine a few of these suggestions. The combined effect far outweighs the sum of its parts.
17. Go for a Walk Through an Outdoor Refuge
Combines Exercise, Sunlight, and Sanctuary.
18. Play Music with Friends
Combines Music, Friendship, and Puzzles. Bonus points can be had if you play spiritual music, if you’re so inclined.
Combines Sunlight, Exercise, and Sanctuary. It’s also been shown that dirt exposure boosts happiness.
20. Plan With an Old Friend
Combines Friendship, Planning, and Things You Value. It helps to look forward to the future things that you want to do rather than focusing on your current state.
21. Spend Time With Children
Time spent with children has a great way of fighting funks, for children are the epitome of life, energy, and potentiality. Forget what you had planned today and spend some quality time with them.
No one wants to be or has time to be in a funk. Life is simply too short and we have way more important things to be doing and life to be living. Next time you’re aware that you are in a funk, start working down the list. Spending a couple of hours on personal, emotional, and social maintenance is far better than spending a day or afternoon moping on the couch.