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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Help Yourself When You’re in a Mental Funk

How to Help Yourself When You’re in a Mental Funk

At various times of my life, I have found myself in a state of just feeling out-of-sorts. I am not depressed, but I have these feelings that are associated with listlessness, lack of purpose, and lack of motivation. I feel flat, empty, disconnected. When I am in this state, I feel unpleasant and I feel the need to help myself.

I usually feel like this when I have worked hard on a project and it has come to an end. I am exhausted and emotionally drained, and I am at a point where I don’t know what to do next.

COVID-19 has also created a lot of situations for me where I have had to work really hard not to stay in a mental funk longer than I should. With so much disruption and uncertainty in our lives today, we need to be extra vigilant so we don’t want to fall into the trap of continuously living our lives in a state of a mental funk.

What Is Mental Funk?

The first step to getting yourself out of a state of mental funk is to understand what a mental funk is all about. If you don’t know what you are dealing with, how would you know how to work your way out of the problem?

There are many definitions given for a mental funk. However, the definition given by the Urban Dictionary for Mental Funk resonates with me:[1]

“Temporary sadness. Feeling sad and down and not knowing why. No motivation to do anything and always tired. Almost like you’re missing something but not know what it is. Like a small phase of depression that only lasts a couple of days or weeks.”

There is science behind mental funk. In fact, there is a science behind our moods and feelings. They don’t just come out of nowhere. If you are in a mental funk, you are not going crazy—there is a chemical explanation behind why you are feeling the way you do.

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When you understand the science behind your moods, you are more informed about how you can snap out of your mental funk a lot quicker.

The Chemistry Behind Our Moods

Different chemicals affect our moods. Sydney Sprouse explains how we can harness these chemicals where we are in more control of our feelings rather than our feelings controlling us:[2]

“Hormones and neurotransmitters (those important chemical messengers) work in the limbic system and throughout the body. They generate the emotions you experience throughout the day. These compounds work in tandem with the events in your life to trigger your many types of mood.”

1. Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps us feel relaxed, balanced, and contributes to our well-being or state of calm. When your serotonin is out of whack, it feels like everything is out of whack in your life.

When your body is low in Serotonin, you are more susceptible to feeling sadness, lethargy, and sleepiness. When there is plenty of serotonin in your body you are more content, alert, and energized.

When you are feeling listless, low in energy, or emotional, you need to give your Serotonin levels a boost. One of the best ways to this is by journaling. This simple act of reflecting on your past achievements or thinking about positive memories produces Serotonin.

The secret ingredient for journaling to work, however, is that you have to commit to it regularly or else, your mental funk will keep appearing and will hang around for a lot longer.

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2. Dopamine—The Feeling of Pleasure

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we feel pleasure. It is a chemical that makes us feel like it is our birthday every day, and it is very important in helping us regulate our emotional responses.

If you have been in meetings all day or had a long day at work, you will feel drained and tired. The more we feel like this, the more “blah” we feel about life and our mood becomes “blah” as well. This is a sign that our Dopamine levels are low and we need to give it a boost.

This chemical is essential as it is the chemical that gives us a feeling of hope. It will help us fight our bad moods as long as there is plenty of Dopamine around.

To boost your Dopamine levels, you have to create pleasure for your mind and body. There are many ways to do this. You can pamper yourself, plan a holiday, create a bucket list, catch up with old friends, or reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

The key thing to do to boost your Dopamine levels is to take action. If you are not taking action and trying new things, this very important chemical will not be able to help you fight off your bad moods!

3. Oxytocin—The Feeling of Love

Oxytocin creates feelings of love and trust. That’s where the name “love hormone” comes from. The presence of this hormone in your blood helps you form emotional attachments to loved ones—friends, family, even pets.”

—Sydney Sprouse

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Oxytocin is the love hormone that makes us feel love and connection. Oxytocin is crucial to understanding our moods as our mind and body work together to find connection with others.

If you are feeling disconnected and alone, then your level of Oxytocin is low and you need to give it a boost. The best way to do this is to call in your support network. Do you have a friend who is a great listener or a person or relative who makes you laugh? These are the people who will help you boost your Oxytocin levels to an all-time high.

4. Endorphins—The Feeling of Excitement

Endorphins are a significant chemical that helps us to manage our levels of anxiety, stress, and physical pain. Endorphins are pumped through our bodies when we are active. This is the reason why going for a run or a workout makes us feel euphoric or as if we are on a high.

The best way to give your Endorphins a boost is to get active and go exercise. Do any activity where you can get your blood and endorphins pumping!

Beware of Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

To understand how Cortisol affects our moods, we need to understand stress. Not all stress is bad for us—in fact, good stress (Eustress) keeps you alert, goal-orientated, and focused. However, the problem is that we can let bad stress (distress) take over our lives. This is when Cortisol kicks in and has a huge influence on our moods and how we feel.

The triggers for bad stress can vary from personal tragedy, bad relationships, job loss, etc. With the increase of the stress in our lives, the feelings of uneasiness, tension, and anxiety accompany a rise in cortisol levels.

There are ways to manage the cortisol levels, but exercise and connection with others are by far the most effective. These activities can combat the anxiety and fatigue caused by distress and help you to move forward.

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There are a few more chemicals and hormones that can influence your mood swings, but I have selected the key chemicals that have the most significant impact on how you feel daily However, if you do want to get out of your Mental Funk quickly, here are 3 actions that you can do that will sort out your Mental Funk instantaneously!

  1. MeditationMeditation creates the space for you to give your thoughts some peace and quiet
  2. Laughter – Laughter brings you joy and creates a positive mindset. The more you laugh, the happier you feel about life. Set yourself a challenge to smile and laugh at least 10 times a day! If you do this, your mental funk will disappear completely.
  3. Get 8 hours of sleep every night – Your body and mind need rest and to replenish. The best way to do that is by regularly getting a good night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

We can’t prevent our feelings of malaise (Mental Funk) from happening, but we can tap into our power of choice and take action to move our feelings and thoughts into a more positive and optimistic mindset.

The more we know about what causes our mental funk, the easier it is for us to choose to do something about it!

“You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.” —Roy T Bennett

More Tips on Mental Wellness

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Urban Dictionary: to be in a funk
[2] Ask the Scientists: Master Your Mood: The Science Behind the Types of Mood

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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