To be human is to get into a funk from time to time. Experiencing brief periods of feeling low, gloomy, or dispirited isn’t always cause for alarm. Here, we’ll explore what it means to be in a funk, how it’s different from depression, and effective ways you can get out of a funk in general, at work, and in relationships.
Action beats funk. This might seem like a cruel truth, because when you’re in a funk you likely don’t feel like doing anything. However, action comes before motivation rather than the other way around.8 Instead of waiting until you feel up to doing something, choose a tip from the below list and dive in. As you take positive action, no matter what that action is, you’ll gradually notice your motivation and energy returning.
1. Nurture Your Whole Self
A funk is all-encompassing, affecting what we think, how we feel emotionally and physically, and the way we act. Therefore, to beat it requires an approach that nurtures your entire being. In their book The Healing Self,9 Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi use the term bodymind for this powerful system of ours, explaining that referring to the mind-body connection is inadequate because that implies that mind and body are two separate entities. Instead, body and mind are one and work together. When we nurture one component, we heal others. In tending to your whole self, you more thoroughly pull yourself up out of the funk.
Chopra and Tanzi recommend important ways to do this:
- Getting adequate sleep but not oversleeping. The Mayo Clinic recommends that the average adult sleep for seven to nine hours each night for optimum physical health and mental performance.10
- Eating well. Proper nutrition is essential for optimal brain and body functioning. Avoid processed, junk, and fast foods and eat plenty of plant-based whole foods.
- Exercising. Movement is crucial for wellbeing, including getting yourself out of a funk. The “right” type of exercise is the one that you’ll do and enjoy enough to stick to. Choose exercise that elevates your heart and respiration rates to get the blood and oxygen flowing through your system.
- Managing stress. Take breaks, do pleasurable activities (even if they don’t feel pleasurable right away because of the funk), and make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
- Meditating. Meditation offers numerous health benefits, both mental and physical, and can help reset your bodymind to release you from your funk. If you find it difficult to sit still, try a movement practice like yoga.
2. Seek & Create Meaning
The late psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl developed logotherapy, or meaning-based therapy, following his harrowing experience in Nazi death camps. Frankl lost his family in the camps, and he witnessed unspeakable horrors. While there, he noticed that some people withered while others thrived despite the atrocious conditions and occurrences. He realized that the key was in finding and creating meaning.11 When we live a life that is full of meaning and purpose, we don’t eliminate problems, but we make them more bearable. In the words of Frederich Neitzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Perhaps your funk is rooted in a lack of meaning or sense of purpose. Reflect on your values, those ideals you hold most dear. Are you living in accordance with them? If you discover that you’re just moving through life detached from them, design small action steps you can begin to take, starting now, to live with greater intention and purpose.
One way to start living with greater purpose is to create and engage in simple, meaningful rituals. You might start your day by quietly journaling, or take a break every afternoon to enjoy a mindful cup of tea (more on mindfulness next). Little acts like these help us pause and reflect on what is important to us one moment at a time.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a way of being with yourself and in your life that involves using your senses to live fully in each present moment. When we’re in a funk, we’re typically stuck in our own thoughts about how we feel, what’s wrong, and why we’re experiencing it. Mindfulness offers a vacation out of your head.
Better than a mere vacation, though, mindfulness is a permanent destination. When you live mindfully, you pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and sometimes taste right now, as you’re living in this moment without judging it.12 Sometimes, becoming untangled from our thoughts and immersing ourselves in what we’re doing and who we’re with offers joy and freshness and helps pull us out of our funk.
4. Appreciate Beauty
This is an extension of both mindfulness and meaning. Being in a funk can make you feel like you’re living in an empty coloring book. Everything seems hollow, gray, and incomplete. When we focus on this sludge, this is what we notice. Appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of 24 character strengths that researchers in positive psychology have identified in all humans, and taking time to seek and appreciate beauty can be uplifting and boost your sense of well-being.13
Try going for a mindful walk and purposefully looking for things that you find beautiful and inspiring. Studies have shown that spending time in nature, including appreciating its beauty, yields numerous mental health benefits.14 If you can’t get outside, find beauty wherever you are right now. Find beauty in your own home, and look through magazines and photo albums, pausing to appreciate things you find beautiful.
5. Find Flow
Flow is another concept that comes to us from positive psychology. A funk involves being mired in the negative. Taking action—opposite action—by purposefully seeking and focusing on the positive and meaning in each moment is what ultimately beats a funk. When we’re in a state of flow, we’re fully engaged in something we enjoy so that all other thoughts and feelings drop away.15
Sometimes, we get in a funk because we’re bored and unchallenged. If you feel that this might be the case with you, experiment with finding activities that you find engaging and enjoyable and put you in a state of flow. Flow requires that an activity be neither too easy nor too frustrating, because in both cases the mind wanders and pleasure decreases. Recall past hobbies or activities that you used to find fun, or look into taking classes (in person or online) that excite you. Engaging in things that put you in a state of flow is a surefire way to get out of a funk. You can’t experience funk and flow at the same time.
6. Hone a Sense of Gratitude & Express it
When we’re in a funk, not only is everything dull and lifeless, but life can seem pretty awful. It’s hard to see the good in our lives when we’re encased in the nutshell of funk. Peer through the crack of your shell and find the good, even if you have to look really hard.
Studies indicate that seeking things for which we are grateful boosts happiness and decreases depression.16 Expressing gratitude in writing or with words can make the experience even more powerful and meaningful. You might try writing in a gratitude journal once per day (turn your journaling time into a meaningful ritual by creating a special place and making it cozy and comfortable, using a special pen, and/or sipping hot tea from a favorite mug while you do it).
You can simply jot down a few things for which you are grateful (a smile from a stranger, healthy food easily accessible in your kitchen, playing catch with your child—the simple things (rather than big, spendy, temporary things like a trip around the world or a shiny new car) are the stuff of life and what makes us truly grateful and funk-free.
Sometimes, the feeling of funk is vague and seeps to permeate all areas of our lives. The above six tips can work well when that happens. They also can apply to specific situations, such as a funk at work or in relationships. It’s important, for example, to have a sense of meaning in all that you do, and seeking things that make us grateful is important in all realms of our lives.
When it comes to being in a funk in a specific area of your life, you can also tailor your actions and perspectives to meet the given situation. In addition to applying the six main tips for getting out of a funk, here are some more quick tips for dealing with a funk at work or in relationships.
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What Is a “Funk?”
A funk is “to be very unhappy and without hope.”1 A funk isn’t the same as clinical depression, but it definitely is depression-like, being described as “state of depression, bad mood, a low, down in the dumps, the doldrums, a blue funk.”2 It’s been described as feeling blah, just going through the motions, being in a rut, having an “off” time (a day, a few days, a week), and a disconnection from people or your life in general.3,4
When you’re in a funk, you simply don’t feel like yourself. You might not know what you feel like, but you do know what you don’t feel like: happy, energetic, grateful, positive, like a superhero—or even like a regular person. In a nutshell, a funk feels like being closed-in, trapped, tucked away from everyone and everything. When you’re in a funk, you might not even be sure if you want to come out of the cozy little shell that has you blanked in near-misery.
It’s important to know that a funk is an entirely normal part of being human. Everyone goes through a funk from time to time.4 It’s also relatively short-lived, lasting anywhere from a day to about a week.3 A funk shares some qualities like lack of motivation or laziness with depression, but it isn’t the same thing.
What Is The Difference Between a Funk vs. Depression?
When you’re in a funk, you might be concerned that you are clinically depressed because some of the feelings are similar. Yet there are important differences.
To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, someone must experience at least five major symptoms most of the day, almost every day, for at least two consecutive weeks.7
Symptoms of major depression include:
- Depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
- Decreased interest or pleasure in almost all activities, even things you once really enjoyed, most of the time
- Appetite changes leading to unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Fatigue, loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and/or making decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, with or without a plan to complete suicide
A funk, in contrast, doesn’t always involve all of these symptoms. Further, the duration and intensity are different. A funk can last for days or even a week or so, but it is fleeting and even during a funk, your mood may improve temporarily depending on what you’re doing. Also in clinical depression, the symptoms must significantly disrupt aspects of someone’s life, causing problems in relationships or making it difficult (or impossible) to work. When you’re in a funk, you’re more likely to be able to function—you just don’t want to.
While everyone gets into a funk sometimes, not everyone experiences clinical depression. Approximately 7% of adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode.5 About one and a half percent of American adults had persistent depressive disorder (dysthymic disorder) in the past year according to survey data from 2001-2003.6 If you feel that what you are experiencing is more than a temporary funk, it’s important to see your primary doctor or a mental health professional. Like a funk, depression isn’t permanent. It does, however, typically require some extra help such as therapy, medication, or both.
How Do You Get Out of a Funk at Work?
Being in a rut at work can create dissatisfaction that worms its way into your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Use these tips to jump out of the rut.
1. Seek New Ways to Use Your Strengths
As mentioned above, we all possess 24 character strengths, but we have them in different proportions. We thrive when we are in an environment where we can use those strengths, and we can feel like we’re in a funk when we can’t draw on them. Take the free character strength assessment from VIA Character, and once you’ve identified your top strengths, consider how much you’re able to use them at work.
If you aren’t using your strengths to contribute to your workplace, you might talk to your supervisor and brainstorm ways you can change your responsibilities. If that’s not possible, a job or career change may be in order. If that isn’t realistic, consider ways you can volunteer your time outside of work in ways that you can use your strengths.
2. Bring Natural Beauty to Your Work Space
Give yourself beauty to appreciate at work, and bring a bit of nature inside to boost your spirits. Decorate your work area with plants, flowers, or even photos of outdoor places you love.
3. Seek a Mentor
Identify someone at work whom you admire, ideally someone who’s been there longer than you have and has weathered the ups and downs of the setting. Invite him or her to coffee or lunch, or ask them to go for a walk with you during lunch breaks. As you nurture this connection, you’ll likely gain valuable insights about not just work but life in general, insights that can boost your mental health and help break you out of your funk.
4. Be a Mentor
Helping newer or younger employees can benefit both of you. Feeling needed brings a sense of purpose and meaning, and it allows you to draw on your strengths for the benefit of others. Often, expanding our world to reach beyond ourselves goes a long way in reducing a funk.
3 Tips for Getting Out of a Relationship Funk
No matter how much we love and care about our partners, family, and friends, there are times when we get into a relationship funk, especially when we spend a lot of time with someone. Routines are good and healthy, but they can become boring. Before you take steps to end a relationship (romantic or friendship), pause and consider whether the relationship has really gone bad or if you’re simply in a funk. If you conclude that you do care about the other person and typically enjoy the relationship, try these tips for getting out of the funk in the relationship.
1. Spice Things Up (Literally or Figuratively)
This is similar to finding flow. Doing the same things for an extended period of time can get boring. Discover fun, challenging, and exciting new activities to do together. Add some spice literally by creating new meal plans and making new dishes together. Join a book club together, or take a class to learn something new to both of you.
Mix up daily routines, or simply change the location of where you do things. Making little changes and adding new activities to your life can make your relationship seem fresh again.
2. Create a Jar of Appreciation
Often, we begin to take friends and loved ones for granted, overlooking the little joys they bring to our lives or the small things they do for us every day. Renew your sense of appreciation for each other by creating a jar of appreciation. Select a large container (it can be a cookie jar, kitchen container, or a box that you decorate together), and keep it in a prominent place. Next to the jar, keep a pad of paper and a pen.
Begin to look for little things about each other that make you smile or feel loved, jot them down, and toss the paper into the container. Once a week (or at other intervals that suit you), sit down together, grab the jar, and read the notes together. Not only will you begin to appreciate your loved one more deeply, you’ll begin to feel appreciated, too. These new feelings of gratitude can add enough depth of meaning to your relationship to break you out of your rut.
3. Accept That Relationships Change & Embrace the Progress
All relationships, romantic or otherwise, are exciting when they’re new. Eventually, though, the newness wears off. Rather than seeing this as a bad thing and a warning of impending boredom or doom, recognize that this is a healthy and normal progression of a relationship.
Accepting that newness wears off can allow you to experience your relationship mindfully, being in each moment without judging it. Then, with this perspective, you can implement the other tips to avoid feeling like you’re in a funk from which the only way out is to end the relationship.
Being in a funk is a normal part of life, but you can use the strategies here to get out of your funk. Remember that everyone experiences a funk from time to time, so know that you’re not alone and that there’s nothing wrong with you. You can take action, such as using the tips mentioned above, to more quickly get out of a funk. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to funk-busting, however. The best way to feel better and move forward is to personalize your plan. Find ideas that resonate with you, and focus on those.
Don’t do something just because it worked for someone else. Also, resist the temptation to implement too many changes at once, as this can be overwhelming and cause you to give up. Choose the one that speaks to you the most and stick with it to give it a chance to work. In a few days, replace it with a different one or keep it and add one more. Listen to yourself, honor who you are, and not only will you find that your funk lifts, but perhaps you’ll have created a new approach to creating your quality life.
For Further Reading
For more information about being in and getting out of a funk, consult these resources:
- 15 Best Books on Positive Thinking
- The Jefferson Center (a mental health non-profit organization)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health
Get Out of a Funk Infographics