At some point or another we’ve all found ourselves at a place in our lives where we’ve felt worn out, bored, stagnant or just plain blah. And as the coronavirus pandemic marches on, we might be more prone to falling into these funks and ruts as we try to juggle a new normal.
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You might feel like you’re just going through the motions of life, doing the same things over and over again. This can be especially true if you’re now working from home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It can start to feel like the days all blend together.
Maybe you feel like there’s nothing to look forward to or like you’re running in place while everyone else is moving forward. Or maybe you can’t pinpoint what exactly is wrong, but something just feels…off.
Behavioral therapist Amy Brodsky, LISW-S, offers assurance and practical advice to dig yourself out of a funk.
What is wrong with me?
A slump, rut, funk (or general feeling of weirdness) is a fairly short lived bad day or bad couple of days, says Brodsky.
Sometimes our slumps can be reactions to something that happened to us. Maybe you’re feeling lonely in quarantine or you’re upset because you were passed up for a promotion at work. Perhaps you’re feeling like all of your friends are getting married while you’re still single, or it could be that a toxic friendship is starting to take a toll on you.
Other times there doesn’t seem to be anything specific that triggered the funk, which can be frustrating and confusing.
“When you can’t pinpoint or identify a reason for why you’re feeling the way that you are, try talking to someone,” says Brodsky. “Often times getting an outsider’s perspective can give you a better viewpoint of what’s really going on.”
Another way to help you work through a hard time is to show yourself some self-compassion. Consider talking to yourself as if you were a friend. Often times we’re harsh or inpatient with ourselves when we’re feeling sad or down, but if a friend came to us going through something similar, we’d show them kindness and understanding. We’d assure our friend that everything is going to be OK and we’d remind them that they’re a good person and that this won’t last forever.
So go ahead and show yourself that same grace and gentleness.
Embrace the funk
First and foremost – don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling blue. Slumps happen from time to time and they can affect anyone. Most funks hit people for a couple days before the clouds lift and you feel like yourself again.
“Going through a funk or rut is extremely common,” assures Brodsky. “It happens to everyone now and again and there are no hard or fast rules to getting through it. Everyone is different, so you’ll need to adjust and learn what works best for you.”
Digging yourself out of a funk begins as an inside job. Sure there are resources and people who can help you, but ultimately one of the first things to do is to look within.
“Don’t be afraid to take some time to just sit with your feelings – they won’t harm you,” says Brodsky. “The good news is that if you give yourself time and permission to feel what you’re feeling or if you can name the emotion, it can help you start to move past it.”
Feelings are like waves, they ebb and flow just like the waves in the ocean. When we fight a wave, it will often knock or pull us down, but if we go with it and accept it, it will move us some, but then deposit us back or close to where we began – none the worse for wear.
So go ahead and watch that sad movie or listen to a sad song. It’s perfectly OK to nurture yourself for a few days while you work through whatever it is that you’re feeling. Take the time to feel cranky, sad, frustrated or just plain weird. Doing so doesn’t mean that you’re weak, it means that you’re human and you’re acknowledging yourself.
Getting out of a rut
There are five main pillars that Brodsky recommends focusing on when you’re feeling off or not like yourself:
- Connection. As humans we’re social animals. We need some degree of interaction with others to feel our best. Whether it’s a phone call to a friend, meeting your parents for dinner or simply waving to your neighbor – connecting with others helps us feel more fulfilled.
- Movement. It’s important for our mental and physical health to move our bodies, but it doesn’t mean you have to put yourself through the most intense and vigorous workout of your life. Movement of any kind is beneficial. It could mean dancing to the radio while you make dinner, taking a yoga class or playing with the dog on the floor.
- Healthy eating. Our mood and belly are connected, so it’s important to eat whole foods and watch our sugar intake, especially when we’re going through a hard time. It’s also wise not to reach for quick fixes like alcohol to feel better. Alcohol is a depressant, which could negatively impact your mood days after consuming it.
- Focus on good sleep. Sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Poor sleep negatively affects our health in so many ways. From low energy, to forgetfulness and weight gain. Lack of sleep is serious and you should consider it a priority, especially when you’re not quite feeling like yourself.
- Manage your exposure to social media and news. We’re bombarded with 24/7 news coverage and constant access to social media. (This is especially true during the coronavirus outbreak when the news can be overly dramatic and we have nothing better to do than mindlessly scroll.) Brodsky recommends limiting media consumption to no more than twice a day, for 15 to 30 minutes.
Sometimes, distractions and self-care can be the best ways to help us work through ruts. And while you’ll want to try to work through your emotions, there are a few ways to speed up the process so you can start feeling like yourself again:
- Take a break from your own thoughts. If you haven’t downloaded a mindfulness app yet, going through a rut is the perfect time to do it. There are great resources available to practice mediation or guided imagery. Pausing your thoughts with meditation is like a mini vacation for your brain, says Brodsky. Often times we experience anxiety when we’re worrying too much about the future and we feel depression when we’re too concerned about what happened in the past. Focusing on the here and now can become more apparent when we quiet our minds through meditation.
- Create something. Some people aren’t very verbal, so when they feel down it’s hard to communicate. If you’re experiencing this, focus on creating something instead. Try journaling or starting a daily gratitude list. Or honor your feelings through painting, drawing or gardening. Look for a new class to take online or find a recipe that you’ve been meaning to make. Creating something engages our brain and helps us feel productive.
- Clean or rearrange your surroundings. There’s something to be said about the feeling you get after a vigorous cleaning session! Vacuum your room, tidy up or completely overhaul your living room and rearrange the furniture. The change and refresh might be the jolt you’re looking for to snap you out of your funk.
- Create a playlist. Brodsky recommends creating a playlist of 10 to 13 songs that lifts your mood. This usually comes out to about an hour’s worth of music and you can turn to this playlist whenever you’re feeling down.
- Take some time off work. A day or two off work might be your perfect reset when it comes to getting out of a rut. So if you think turning on your out-of-office and silencing the notifications will help – by all means do it! But sometimes when people are going through a funk or hard time, work is a good distraction and can actually make them feel better and more productive. This is another reason why getting out of a funk isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription. Not everyone copes the same.
- Get outside in nature. The sights, sounds and smells of the woods can help our brains stop anticipating or worrying. At the very least, step outside for a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air.
- Plan a trip. The idea of anticipating an upcoming trip or event can help inspire you. Plan a weekend away with the girls, take a drive to visit family or talk to your boss about attending a work conference.
- Pamper yourself. Enjoy a nice, hot soak in a bubble bath, do a face mask, schedule a haircut or get a massage. You can even host your own DIY spa day by lighting a candle, giving yourself a pedicure and using your favorite lotion or beauty product.
When is not feeling like yourself something to be concerned about?
Most funks are short lived. A couple bad days here and there is really nothing to be too concerned about, says Brodsky. It’s when the bad days or negative feelings seem to be lasting longer and longer.
A telltale sign that you might be dealing with something less serious is the ability to have breakthrough moments of joy. You might feel sad, but you find that talking to a friend or grabbing a coffee at your favorite cafe helps to perk you up. Try to identify moments of your day where you feel OK and take note of how long it lasts.
An indicator of something more serious is the inability to identify happiness or good times in your past. It might be cause for concern if you have the sense that things won’t ever get better or if nothing improves your mood.
“When we’re dealing with clinical depression, at times the person is not able to identify happy moments from their past,” explains Brodsky. “It’s when you think that you’ve felt this way forever and it’s starting to really impact how you function or your obligations.”
Clinical depression looks different on everyone, but hallmark signs include changes in appetite, feeling tired or exhausted all the time, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed or even physical pain or achiness.
If you’re not experiencing any little joys or breakthrough moments of happiness, it might be time to reach out for support. A mental health expert can help you work through and manage your feelings.