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

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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

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

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

Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career How to Stop Being Sad and Start Feeling Happy How to Persevere (and Get Ahead) When the Going Gets Tough How To Be an Optimistic Person When the Odds Are Against You 7 Things To Remember When You Feel Broken Inside

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Published on January 18, 2022

How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

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How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

Are you sick and tired of wasting your mental and emotional energy worrying about (and replaying) events in your mind? Even sabotaging yourself, your performance, and your relationships, at times? Constantly playing the “what if” game in your mind?

Let’s be honest, feeling anxious is miserable and unequivocally sucks the enjoyment out of life. It does this because it is impossible to be in the present moment when you are constantly worried about the future or past events. Here’s the deal—it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s talk about some tips on how to stop being anxious and get your calm back.

The Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety

Feeling anxious is just part of the human experience and is a normal stress response. When the stress is removed, the anxiety usually goes away, too. With an anxiety disorder, the stressful trigger is removed but the anxiety can still be present.[1]

There are multiple anxiety disorders with varying characteristics. If you are concerned that you may have one of them, it is best to be evaluated by your doctor, especially since anxiety is very common. According to research, up to 33% of all Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.[2]

What Can You Do to Manage Feeling Anxious?

The good news is there’s a lot that you can do to stop being anxious. Science is learning more and more every day about ways we can manage feeling anxious.

I am a strong believer in being proactive and preventative. If you have a lot of stress in your life or are prone to feeling anxious, I always recommend establishing a foundation of good daily habits. That way, when something happens to poke the anxiety bear, you are already in a position to handle things.

Twenty tips may be overwhelming for some people but remember: you are not expected to incorporate every tip on this list. Look at it as a menu of potential helpful options. You can pick and choose whatever you want and leave the rest.

Here are 20 tips on how to stop being anxious:

1. Eat the Right Food

It might come as a surprise to some, but certain foods can make anxiety worse, such as sugary foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.[3]

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Here are some foods you can try instead that can help reduce anxiety: Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, Turmeric, Chamomile, yogurt, and green tea.[4]

2. Stay Hydrated

One simple tip to help you stop being anxious is by staying hydrated. Even being mildly dehydrated has been shown to worsen anxiety.[5] So, drink up! Water, that is.

3. Work Some Mindfulness Into Your Day

This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing (breathing into your belly and engaging your abdominals upon exhale) are what usually come to mind, but there are some other fast and easy exercises that can help calm you down almost immediately.

One of my favorites is called Five Things, and it’s based upon our five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It can be done in any order.

For example, you might start by picking five things you can see. As you list each item, it’s important to take in the detail of each one. Next, you pick four things you can feel, noting each item with the same attention to detail. Work your way down to one item accompanying your last sense.

4. Get Some Exercise

Completing 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week may significantly improve symptoms of anxiety. Even as little as 10 minutes has a positive impact.[6]

In one study, exercise was shown to be as effective as medication in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety, with higher intensity exercise more effective than lower intensity exercise.[7]

5. Sit With It/Observe It

Dr. Judson Brewer recently penned a book (and an app) entitled Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind in which he discusses turning toward our emotions as a way to process them rather than distracting ourselves or bottling things up (turning away).

He encourages people to be an observer of the emotional response in their bodies, almost as if conducting a research project in great detail and noting the exact location of physical sensations (stomach, right or left side, front or back) with as much detail as possible.

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6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach that utilizes the cyclical connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as a means to control unwanted (anxious) thoughts.

One exercise to stop ruminating thoughts includes picturing a stop sign in great detail, instructing yourself to “stop,” and then changing the narrative to something positive, encouraging, or even more realistic or likely.

Another CBT exercise involves challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs for validity by asking yourself:

  • Is there evidence for my thought or am I making assumptions?
  • What’s the worst that could happen? Is this likely?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • What’s most likely to happen?
  • Will this matter in a week, a year, or five years from now?

7. Realize What You Can and Can’t Control

Take action where you can. Many of us spend time worrying and feeling anxious over things we can’t control.

Figure out what you can do and take action from there. Studies show that taking action reduces anxiety.[8]

8. Gratitude

Reminding ourselves of the good things in our lives not only brings positivity to us but also reduces anxiety. This is because it is neurologically impossible for our brain to focus on negative and positive information at the same time.[9]

9. Volunteer or Do Something for Someone Else

Helping others feels good. It also reduces stress, boosts our immune system, and can help us live longer.[10]

10. Journal in the 3rd Person

The practice of journaling has long been known as a valuable tool to help us manage our emotions, and it can also help us stop being anxious and regain our calm.

Making a point to name the emotions you are experiencing (“name it to tame it”) is a principle Dr. Dan Siegel discovered that heightens the value of journaling. More recently, Dr. Kross, in his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, noted that journaling in the 3rd person (as if narrating your life) creates further value by creating some distance between you and the emotion you are experiencing, thus allowing you to breathe easier and gain perspective.

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11. Go Out Into Nature

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve attention, lower stress, improve mood, reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders, and even cause upticks in empathy and cooperation.[11]

12. Spend Time With Animals

Dogs are not only your best friend, but it turns out they are good for your mental and emotional health, too. The fact that cats just allow you to live with them as their servant doesn’t detract from the positive impact they also have on our emotional well-being.

Spending time cuddling with your pet on the couch can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have also found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.[12]

13. Get Good Sleep

Getting good sleep can be difficult when we feel anxious, but being tired can worsen the issue. Try sticking to a consistent bedtime, make your bedroom dark, the temperature cool, and limit screen time before going to sleep.

14. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcohol changes the level of neurotransmitters in our brain. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, specifically stimulating our fight or flight response, which is already more sensitive for those struggling with anxiety. Use both in moderation.

15. Show Yourself Compassion and Encouragement

What would you say to your best friend? Many times we make things worse by shaming or berating ourselves for feeling anxious because we fear it makes us appear weak or vulnerable. This makes the problem worse.

What would your best friend say to you? Stop beating yourself up and be your own best friend.

16. Spend Time With Friends

Healthy friendships make us feel included, improve self-confidence and self-esteem, and thus, help reduce anxiety.[13]

17. Create Balance in Your Life

Set healthy boundaries and priorities, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Nobody else can do this for you. Value yourself. You are worth it.

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18. Have a Plan

Another tip to help you stop being anxious is to have a plan. Knowing what you will do takes away a lot of the “what if” thoughts in your mind. Being certain about some things and managing your expectations can help give you peace of mind.

19. Remind Yourself of a Past Event

You can also try to remind yourself of a past event in your life that you were anxious about but still ended up okay. Have confidence that you will make it through this situation, too.

20. Have Some Structure or Routine in Your Day

Knowing what to expect can significantly reduce anxiety and the fear that can accompany uncertainty.[14] Give yourself as much structure as you need. You’ll thank yourself for it.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to manage feelings of being anxious. Take charge and pick a few of these to try out. Be consistent, and see how you feel.

You can always discard what doesn’t work for you, and pick something else to try. Confide in a friend that you are implementing some new strategies, and get some support.

Always tell your doctor your concerns, and don’t hesitate to get help if you are having difficulty managing things on your own. Good luck!

More Tips for Calming Your Mind

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

Reference

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