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Published on September 22, 2020

How to Get Out of a Funk When You’re Stressed Out

How to Get Out of a Funk When You’re Stressed Out

Life seems like it’s getting more and more stressful. Natural disasters, pandemics, and political events can really bring us down, to say nothing of all those day-to-day stressors like long to-do lists and cloudy weather.

We might feel as if we are “supposed” to feel happy or as if feeling sad or anxious means something is wrong with us. The reality is, every single person on the face of the earth knows what it feels like to be in a funk. From actors and comedians to bestselling authors, CEOs, and meditating monks, we all know what it is like to feel sad, stressed out, overwhelmed, and emotionally stuck and have no idea how to get out of a funk.

Right now, more than any other time in history, we need to be there for each other. If you are in a funk, it can be helpful to remember that there are lots of people, even people you have not yet met, who deeply care about your well-being and want nothing more than to know that you are okay.

The 3 Zones of Emotional Life

Pema Chödrön, the meditation guru and best-selling author, teaches that we experience three emotional zones throughout life.

Zone #1 Comfort

The first one is the comfort zone. This is the zone we all want to be in, but that isn’t necessarily what is in our best interest. In this zone, we experience a sense of security and pleasure, but little emotional growth happens. It’s like being on vacation rather than in real life.

Zone #2 Growth

The second zone is one of emotional challeng. Because most of us haven’t trained in how to hold space for challenging emotions, we often want to resist or avoid this zone and head back to the comfort zone.

The more we resist our uncomfortable emotions, the greater the chance is that we will feel stuck in them, rather than the exhilaration that can come from learning and growing.

Zone #3 Trauma

The third zone is one of trauma. We enter the trauma zone when our well-being gets jeopardized in some way. Perhaps there is a traumatic event affecting us, or our stress levels have reached a level that feels overwhelming. Our mind may seem as if it is on a hamster wheel, and our thoughts may be making things worse.

We may also enter the trauma zone when we are triggered, perhaps without even realizing it, and re-experiencing emotions from a traumatic event that happened long ago. Whenever we are in this zone, it is extremely important to reach out and get support.

Regardless of which zone you are in right now, here are some ideas on how to get out of a funk and support ourselves.

17 Ways to Get Emotionally Unstuck

1. Reach Out

If your emotions are too big to handle on your own or you think you may be in the trauma zone, it is very important to reach out for help. Especially during these challenging times, we need to check in with each other, be available for a chat, and be willing to reach out.

Reaching out for help can take different forms. We might call a trusted friend or family member,  physician, therapist, coach, or help lines like suicide or mental wellness hotline.

Asking for help is a sign of true inner strength. As humans, we were made to collaborate, brainstorm, and invent in the community. When we talk to others about our problems, we usually see solutions and answers and gain insights we never could have discovered on our own.

2. Talk to Yourself (Lovingly)

Another helpful tip is to pay attention to that little voice in our heads, making meaning out of what we experience. What stories are you telling yourself about what is happening in your life? Are you putting a positive or negative spin on what you are experiencing? Is there another way to look at things?

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It can be very helpful to have someone who is willing to stay with us through difficult emotions without trying to change or fix us in any way. Whether or not we have someone like that in our lives, it is essential to learn how to be that type of person for ourselves.

Sometimes we feel like we are in a funk because we believe the negative stories about something that may or may not be true. Could there be a reason to hope right now instead of feeling discouraged? Could something good come out of what is happening, even if it is your own personal growth? What is the silver lining?

We can learn a lot by paying attention to our self-talk. What would the perfect coach, parent, or friend who loved you unconditionally and believed that you were inherently good, innately wise, and perfectly okay no matter what say to you right now?

How about something like:

“You’ve got this.”

“You can get through this.”

“You are so wonderful and resilient.”

“Just focus on the present and be here right now.”

The more we can connect with that loving voice that truly believes that we are perfectly loveable just the way we are, the more confidence we will have when facing tough times.

3. Change Your Speed

Our bodies and minds are so connected. Sometimes, when we are feeling anxious, we move quickly but don’t really accomplish much. If this is happening to you, try moving slower. Sit down. Rest. Go outside and lay on the ground. Take a few nice, long, slow breaths.

Remember to connect with your loving inner voice and say, “You are doing great. Whatever you are feeling is completely okay. You are going to get through this.”

Similarly, when we are depressed or in a funk, it can help to move more quickly. Take a brisk walk, even if it’s just around your house. Play an upbeat song you love and dance, even if it feels silly at first. Do a few jumping jacks. Twirl in a circle.

If you are feeling angry, find creative ways to get any negative energy out of your body in a way that is safe for you and others. Find a stick and beat an empty box or a pile of pillows. Go for a sprint in an open field. Punch a punching bag. Jump up and down. Scream. Talk about it. Do whatever you can to get grounded and start to feel safe again.

4. Go Outside

Research has shown that being in nature directly improves our emotions. Head outside and pay attention to the small details around you. Finding something good in the present to fully enjoy and appreciate can help so much. Sit in the sun and feel it on your face. Treat yourself to a blast of vitamin D. Breathe in the fresh air deeply.

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Notice what you are experiencing with all five senses. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste? How about your intuition? There are so many gifts in the outdoors waiting to be discovered. What do you notice in this moment? Can you find anything beautiful or that you appreciate while you are outdoors?

5. Eat Healthy Foods

Sometimes we fill up with empty calories, sugar, or caffeine that causes an emotional and energetic crash later, especially when you are feeling difficult emotions or feeling exhausted.

Try eating small, healthy snacks that are high in protein, like nuts, meat, nut butter, or something filled with antioxidants like organic fruits and vegetables frequently.

If you are craving sugar, reach for fruit. We often forget how delicious, sweet, and satisfying fruits can be. As you put good food into your body, try to bring your full attention to how it tastes and what it feels like to fully receive the gift of healthy food.

6. Drink Water

When we feel overly anxious or depressed, we might find we have forgotten to care for ourselves and give ourselves the basic things we need, like sleep, food, and water.

Being perpetually dehydrated can lead to other health problems, prevent us from feeling our best, and cause us to feel emotionally and physically stuck in a funk.

Challenge yourself to drink a certain amount of water every day. You might want to start slow, increasing eight ounces a day until you get to 64 to 80 ounces. Try to really enjoy the water as you are drinking and imagine it hydrating, cleansing, and refreshing all of your cells and your frame of mind.

7. Scan Your Body

Sometimes, our moods drop because of physical rather than emotional reasons. Set a timer for three minutes and scan your body, bringing your awareness to whatever you are experiencing with kindness and compassion.

Rather than trying to change anything, just gently send yourself love and acceptance as you slow down your breath and bring your attention to your body. Notice whatever you are feeling with gentleness and awareness, knowing it is all okay.

You might want to stretch, rub your neck, hands, or feet or hug yourself. Or, simply rest.

8. Help Someone Else

One gift that comes as a result of feeling difficult emotions is that we know what it feels like to need support, and so we have a greater ability to be present with others and offer real empathy and compassion.

How can you be of service to others? You might listen to a friend’s sharing or struggles from a place of deep understanding or maybe do a simple task that will really make a difference. You could also drop off food to someone living alone, buy flowers or run an errand for another person, volunteer at a local charity, or offer to help a friend with a carpool and childcare.

Furthermore, perhaps you could be extra friendly with the people you meet. It’s amazing how a friendly smile, eye contact, and a kind heart can shift our whole outlook and realize how much we really matter, even if it’s from a stranger. You can be that person for someone else.

9. Tell Someone “Thank You”

When we are depressed or in a funk, we are very focused on ourselves. When we find ourselves feeling grateful for something that another person has done for us, our brain shifts from a negative groove to a more positive one.

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We step out of our own experience a bit and see a bigger picture. This can set off a flow of endorphins and positive chemicals in our bodies that help us feel better.

Saying “thank you” can take the form of a letter of appreciation, quick email, text or voice message, or just a smile and a word of thanks to a complete stranger for something like bagging our groceries. (Sometimes, the thank you letter we most need to write is to ourselves!)

10. Make a Gratitude List

Another form gratitude can take is making a daily list of things for which we are grateful. Share what you are thankful for with a friend or post photos on social media with the hashtag #grateful.

If you find this difficult to do, think of the love of a pet or a favorite flower or the feeling of the sunset or the ground under your feet. Better yet, spend some time with that pet or appreciate that flower or sunset in real time if possible. Or, take a moment and remember what that might feel like.

You might make a list of the good things in your life and remind yourself about them over and over again. Put them on post-it notes or decorate your refrigerator, computer monitor, or bathroom mirror with your gratitudes.

11. Let Yourself Feel

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to really give in to the emotion. If you feel sad, let yourself cry. Tears can be very cleansing. Sometimes we feel stuck because we are afraid to feel a specific emotion. However, really feeling and moving through a feeling will get us to the other side.

If you feel anxious or fearful, notice where that feeling is in your body. Breathe into the feeling without trying to change it or chase it away. (If it doesn’t feel safe to do this, or you feel too fearful, trust your instincts. Simply reach out by calling a helpline or contacting a professional like a physician, therapist, spiritual teacher, or coach to help you feel your emotions safely.)

The more we are able to accept our emotions and really feel them, the more we also learn to accept all of ourselves, just as we are.

12. Write About It

Write in a journal or notebook about what you are feeling, thinking, and what is real for you in this moment. Imagine describing how you are feeling right now to a completely loving parent or friend who wants the very best for you and will not judge you in any way.

You might also audio-record yourself talking about what you are feeling and thinking. Then, listen to it with real compassion. Pretend you are a loving friend who loves everything about you, even the tough stuff. Relief comes when we can be a loving witness.

What do you notice? Do you have any new insights or words of wisdom? You can delete the audio-file when you are done. As you do, imagine letting your stories about your experience go so the only thing left is the present moment.

13. Get in “Flow”

Try to get yourself in that magical state of flow where you lose track of time and space and are just doing what you are doing, just for the fun of it. Take time to play.

You might want to sketch, color, or paint. Take some photos. Play an instrument. Write a haiku. Create a collage. Paint. Get out crayons or magic markers.

Set a timer for three minutes and doodle. The end product doesn’t matter. Just let yourself feel the joy of being in flow.

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14. Listen to Upbeat Music

Music has a way of directing our moods. Choose music you really like and listen to it or have it playing in the background as you work.

Try humming along. If you can, try blasting music and making your house your personal dance floor. If you are driving, play the radio and sing at the top of your lungs.

15. Accomplish Something Small

Sometimes, our stuck feeling is a message from our intuition, telling us that we need to do something different or are ignoring an important task. What is one thing that you really need at this moment?

Maybe it’s drinking water or going for a short walk. Perhaps it’s doing that one small thing you’ve been procrastinating. Ask yourself what you really, really need in this moment, the way a friend would.

Take a moment right now to do that thing that is in your best interest. After it is completed, ask yourself again. It’s amazing how we can tend to ourselves one step at a time.

16. Clean Something

There is something very energizing, invigorating, and symbolically powerful about clearing, cleaning, and letting go. Clean out your refrigerator or junk drawer. Throw away 20 things. Wash a window or mirror. Keep it small and doable. When you finish, cheer!

17. Smile and Breathe Deeply

Tell yourself you are lovable, wonderful, and perfect just as you are. At the end of the day, the greatest cure for any emotion that feels too big to handle is love. Send love to yourself and tell yourself that no matter what, whatever you are feeling is perfectly okay, and so are you, just as you are.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember about being in a funk is that you are not alone. We all experience difficult emotions. Accepting them and letting go of our expectations about how we are supposed to feel is the key to emotions shifting instead of staying stuck.

The next most important thing is to reach out. Get support. Imagine connecting with others all over the world right now that would want you to be safe and well if they knew you were struggling. Remember everyone who, at this very moment, is experiencing a funk, too. We always have more support than we know.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that we are each far wiser, more resilient, and more capable than we realize. You are completely capable of growing, expanding, and connecting with the inner peace, compassion, and goodness that is who you really are. You’ve got this!

More Support

I am sending you lots of light and love. Here are some more articles and resources about navigating difficult emotions and finding peace even in the face of tough times.

Tips for Overcoming Tough Times

Emergency Resources

Featured photo credit: Kinga Cichewicz via unsplash.com

More by this author

Laurie Smith

Inspirational Writer. Coach. Healer.

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money[1].

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”[2]

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation[3]. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it[4]:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation[5].

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point[6].

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”[7]

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

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6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982[8]. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do[9].

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

    It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills[10].

    Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

    You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

    2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

    Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

    And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

    Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

    “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

    Inspirational, isn’t it?

    Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

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    3. Volunteer

    Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism[11].

    When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

    4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

    A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it[12]. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

    But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

    Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

    For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

    Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

    5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

    The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci[13]. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation[14]. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

    There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

    If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

    All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

    6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

    Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically[15].

    The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

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    A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

    The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

    And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

    Final Thoughts

    Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:[16]

    “If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

    Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

    Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

    In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

    And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

    Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

    More Tips to Boost Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Juan Ramos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research
    [2] Contemporary Educational Psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [3] Scientific American: The Science of Lasting Happiness
    [4] The Guardian: Is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?
    [5] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Employee Motivation on Employee Performance
    [6] Adam Grant : Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance: The Effects of Contact With Beneficiaries on Persistence Behavior
    [7] Grand Valley State University: The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
    [8] Encyclopedia Britannica: Albert Bandura
    [9] Pinterest: Self-Efficacy Theory
    [10] Educational Psychologist: Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning
    [11] University of Minnesota: The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
    [12] Harvard Business Review: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
    [13] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [14] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being
    [15] Nick Tasler: How some people stay motivated and energized at work—even when they don’t love their jobs
    [16] Harvard Business Review: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

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