The word “funk” annoys me. The phrase “I’m in a funk” bothers me even more. Maybe because the word “funk” seems dismissive, a word used to describe a bad smell – or something gross growing where it shouldn’t. Like toe jam.
With that being said, I just came out of a two week funk. Usually, I’m pretty good at pin-pointing the reason why I’m feeling less than absolutely awesome. But this time around, the funk was more nebulous, more like everything had a cloud of “I’m so sad and I don’t know why” / “everything gives me anxiety” / “waking up and getting ready is excruciating.” Funks are unfun and they make life hard to live. Not impossible, just hard. Like when you’re wearing socks that keep falling off the back of your ankle and you have to stop and readjust them constantly and you’re all “I can’t wait to go home and change this pair of socks.” Except I can’t wait to change my fucking attitude toward life.
So it was a hard couple of weeks. And I’ve been thinking of my coping mechanisms, and how they helped me to some degree of success. And since this is a safe space, I thought I’d share some of my Funk Survival Skills. I’m in no way a qualified mental health professional (no matter what the internet says about me), but I’ve had 18 or so years of dealing with mild to severe depression, I worked 3 years at a therapy center, and I spent a year and a half of twice a week intensive therapy. So I’ve had a lot of trial and error. This shit works for me.
- Talk about it. It’s amazing how much it helps just to talk it out. I can’t count how many times I’ve built an issue up in my head so much that it became the end of the world, only to talk about it with someone and realise it actually wasn’t a big deal. I’ve found that if I keep my negative thoughts to myself, I get suffocated, overwhelmed, and start to feel out of control and helpless. There’s something about verbalising your feelings. It’s like releasing a pressure valve in your Feels Grid.
- Take an inventory. I sit down and think of any outside influences that could be at fault. Is my medicine affecting me? Am I sick? Have I been drinking too much? Not getting out of the house enough? Having problems at work? Conflict with friends or family? Low blood sugar? I was nearly suicidal for 6 months before a doctor suggested the hormones in my birth control (the patch) could be sending me into a tailspin. I stopped using the patch and felt better within a week. You never know, sometimes.
- Make a list. This goes a bit hand in hand with “talk about it” and “take an inventory.” When I’m really mired in a funk and I don’t think I can talk about it yet, I write a list of “Shit That’s Bothering Me.” This list ranges from the most troubling (“I feel like I’m failing at my job”) to the most shallow (“cookies make me gain weight”) – if it bothers me, it’s going on the list. Making a list has duel benefits. 1) I’m releasing that pressure valve in my Feels Grid by letting it all out on paper, and 2) I can examine what’s wrong with me, and I can see what is and what isn’t in my realm of control. Failing at my job? In my control – I can ask for training, feedback, or guidance from my supervisors. Cookies make me gain weight? Out of my control – but I can limit how many of them I eat, and how much I exercise after eating them. It’s like making a battle plan for getting yourself back.
- Show gratitude. I like list making. After I make my “Shit that’s Bothering Me” list, I make a “Shit that’s Good” list. I think of the positive things that are happening so I keep perspective. I get as real or shallow as I need to. Previous lists of mine have included, “My parents love me”, “I kicked ass at on that email”, “I took a shower today”, and “I’m glad I like tacos”
- Indulge, but don’t binge. It’s good to take some comfort for yourself when you’re down. But don’t make your home there. It’s the difference between taking an evening to yourself to skip your shower, eat a brownie and watch Teen Mom; and calling out of work so you can eat an entire pan of brownies while watching an endless marathon Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2. Not that I’ve ever done this (twice). If your self care turns to an excuse for apathy, or “it’s just easier to do this“, it’s a red flag.
- Don’t drown yourself. This seems pretty obvious, but it took me a while to catch on: listening to sad music, watching sad movies, and reading sad words when I’m sad makes me more sad. *lightbulb* I used to love that commiseration and that charge I’d feel when an artist or a movie would channel exactly what I was feeling. Eventually, though, I learned that depression is fertile, and it doesn’t take much fertilization to make my mind a breeding ground. Now I seek out material the opposite of what I’m feeling. And I stay away from known triggers – like TV shows and movies with sentimental attachments, and basically all music. Distraction gives me a good break from the negative thoughts.
- Move. There’s heaps of science that backs up the positive effect of exercise on depression and funks. And it’s true. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, or sitting out on the balcony. Prying my ass out of bed or off the couch and into the outside world does a bit of good. And back when I was periodically active at my gym, it felt good to zone out while lifting weights. Also it makes me feel like I have control over something good happening – like I’m working out. I’m making myself do this, and it’s good for me, so that’s good. I’m awesome.
- Confront your anxieties. You know what makes anxiety 800% worse? Avoiding it. I think I’ve had the same anxiety since I was a kid – something will happen, it will be my fault, and I’ll get yelled at. Seriously. I can trace most of my anxiety attacks back to the initial fear of “I’ll get yelled at.” sounds silly, until I’m shaking at my desk having heart palpitations with a red face and vomit rising in my throat. If I think I’m going to get in trouble, or in a situation where I might be talked sternly at, my first instinct is always to do everything in my power to avoid it. But, therapy helped me learn that confronting whatever is giving me anxiety is so much better than leaping to the worst conclusion. Problems at work? I’ll convince myself to ask questions about it until I understand and feel good about it. Stressed because you don’t have money to pay a bill? Call the company you owe and see what your options are. Feeling like you have a million things you want to do and not enough time? Write it out in a list and prioritize it. Think your friend/parent/family member/co-worker/facebook friend is mad at you? Ask them about it.Think your friend/parent/family member/co-worker/facebook friend is treating you badly? Say something about it. Dreading opening up your junk drawer or junk room because it might be out of control? Just open it. Take a small pile and work through it, one pile at a time. I’ve learned that no matter how hard it is to confront your problems, it’s much better than holding it inside and worrying.
- Take a super shower. Literal self care: when I’m in a funk, showering is the first thing that falls to the wayside. I’ll sit in a dirty funk forever with absolutely no concern for myself. So I’ve found that taking a Super Shower – an extra long shower where you not only shampoo, rinse and repeat, but you also scrub, exfoliate, polish, use the loofah, use the pumice on your feet, shave, use body oil, use every toiletry and indulgence you have. Take the time to wash and pamper what usually gets a quick scrub in a morning shower. Then, dry off, lotion up everywhere, comb your hair, and put on clean clothes (or pajamas). I follow this up with mascara and eye liner, and blow drying my hair straight. It makes me feel human on the outside, even if I’m feeling like pudding on the inside.
- Get dressed. If I have to go to work while I’m in a funk, going in unshowered and dressed with no effort makes me feel a million times worse. If I take a shower, get dressed with a purpose, and put on make up, I can trick myself that I’m in control and that my life doesn’t feel like a complete mess. But, I’ll admit that I usually talk myself out of this because I want to stay in bed for the 30 minutes it takes me to shower and blow dry my hair. You can’t win them all.
- Do something. I’ve been trying harder than ever to funnel funk feelings into productivity. 90% of the time this means baking. I do my best baking when I’m in a funk. It’s a nice distraction/respite from being mired in the shit. I feel productive and in control, and after all is baked and cleaned and put away, pretty satisfied. And when the treats come out amazing, it’s not bad on the ol’ self esteem. I also like to write, draw, obsessively sort, re-organize or clean. Anything to keep my mind occupied and my ass moving. Except vacuuming. Vacuuming is the bane of my existence and is guaranteed to make my funk worse.
- Be kind to yourself. This is the most important lesson I learned in therapy. Being kind to myself means listening to what I really need, be it alone time, sleep, help, a tantrum, or a hug. It also means reminding myself to think positively in the midst of all the shit. “This too shall come to pass” is one of my mantras. I remind myself of all the other times I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and how it I’m still here. Don’t belittle or hate yourself because you’re down. Give yourself the time, the space, and the encouragement to get through it. I’m my harshest critic, judgiest judger, and worst nightmare. It’s taken a lot deliberate action on my part to change the way I think about myself, but I’m glad that I did – and even more glad that I can enact positivity now.
Basically, the only way to get through a funk is to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself physically, as well as emotionally. Be encouraging, be honest, and be open to those you trust. And above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help – asking for help is much easier than you think, and much better than suffering. And anyone who tries to tell you different is a dick. True story.
It gets better. And there are always good things happening. Like tacos.
Just remember that.
One thought on “12 Tips for Surviving a Funk”
” I used to love that commiseration and that charge I’d feel when an artist or a movie would channel exactly what I was feeling. Eventually, though, I learned that depression is fertile, and it doesn’t take much fertilization to make my mind a breeding ground. ”
So much yes.
It seems to me that the thing about depression and funks is that they rob you of your sense of agency, that you can do things. Anxiety is more a sense of agency on overdrive: that I can or do control every event and every outcome of everything…and it’s all going to fail. For me, it has been very helpful to learn to separate the things I am responsible for versus what I am not responsible for. And surprise, surprise, I am only responsible for myself and my actions and reactions, not anyone else’s.
I am curious about your experience in Australia and if it has been helpful. I am thinking that America is a nation of control freaks (ie if I just do everything right and work hard enough, I will achieve everything I want, the American dream). The reality is that we can only control our effort, not the outcomes.