We’ve all been there, had those days. Days when we just felt blah. A dark mood seemed to settle over us, and nothing seemed able to shake it – not reading a book, nor nibbling through an entire bar of chocolate, nor watching some Netflix. Nothing, nada, zilch.
Sometimes you do know what’s got you into a funk. You can virtually add up the sum of its parts: you slept through your alarm, woke up to find you’d run out of milk for your coffee, knew you were going to have a lousy commute to work in the driving rain, remembered there was a looming deadline awaiting you at your office desk. You knew you were sinking into a bad, bad day.
At other times, you may – surprisingly – find yourself feeling listless and disconnected immediately after you’ve successfully reached a goal – say, just after you’ve completed a challenging project. By rights, you should be feeling upbeat and actualized. Instead, you’re feeling totally exhausted, in need of a break, and your spirits are feeling at an all-time low.
Sometimes, as we all know, a funk resolves on its own, given time. But there are a number of steps you can take that can often speed it on its way. Here are 9 mood makeovers that don’t take more than a few minutes to start working their transformative effect.
These moves are not a substitute for taking important steps in your life such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment for your repeated spells of dizziness or taking an overdue vacation, but they do come in handy in a pinch.
Don’t try to stiff-upper-lip a foul mood. The first step to getting out of a funk is to admit that you’re in one. If you try to stiff-upper-lip a foul mood, chances are it will only intensify. So, instead of “just be positive” (a template that can actually drive you up the wall when you’re in a foul mood), try “just be honest”. Accept that you’re in the kind of mood that sometime or the other happens to everyone, and that you will engage with your feelings in a mindful way. This does not mean passively allowing yourself to slide into a slump, thinking that the bad mood will persist. Knowing that it is transient, and that there are things you can do to speed up its resolution, can help to prevent it from swallowing you up whole.
Honour your emotions. Contrary to conventional belief, our emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”. They are all part of the human experience, and they are all valuable because they are all trying to tell us something (if we’d only listen). In other words, emotions provide information. Being able to correctly identify the emotion(s) you are experiencing when you’re in a funk often shows you the way through it. Anger, for instance, means that some boundary has been violated. How can you restore that boundary? Jealousy points us to something we want for ourselves, something that someone else has and we don’t. People who can clearly identify their emotions at times when they’re feeling grouchy gain access to information that can be used as input to manage problems, make judgments, and progress toward meaningful goals. Distress then becomes the springboard to action that will get you out of that funk.
The facts, please. Downward spirals are often provoked by jumping to the worst-case conclusion. You make a beeline from your department head’s critical e-mail straight to "I'm going to be fired." Or, you take a friend's failure to call as a sure sign that she doesn’t care anymore. But an e-mail grouse is probably just business as usual; the friend may be simply preoccupied with a problem in her own life that has nothing to do with you. So, before taking a flight of bad fancy, re-read the e-mail more carefully (you may be surprised to find positive comments you hadn't noticed before), and review all possible explanations. Who knows, maybe your department head was just stressed out by her own boss.
Sing! “Some days, there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” So said Emory Austin, a leading motivational speaker. But there’s more to that urging than just stage patter. Singing has been scientifically shown to uplift mood and relieve anxiety. And it does this by releasing two feel-good chemicals in the brain – specifically, endorphins, which are associated with feelings of pleasure; and oxytocin, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. So, even if you don’t really feel like singing, and even if you’ve never sung on key in your life – sing, anyway.
Move it. Another science-backed approach to boosting mood is a short bout of moderate exercise. You don’t need to hit the gym or jog for an hour. Even a 10- to 20-minute walk, or playing Frisbee with your dog, can elevate your mood for up to 90 minutes afterwards, research shows. Once again, that mood-altering effect happens because getting your heart pumping also puts your endorphins into high gear.
But, apart from sparking the release of feel-good chemicals, exercise does something more: it helps you feel like the captain of your own ship. By clearing your mind and making you feel more energized, its cumulative effects can help take you over that roadblock of a crabby mood.
Whine (within limits). This one is more likely to appeal to women. Men call it complaining, but women call it debriefing and letting go. To practise it, call a friend and tell her you’re feeling down (or stressed or angry) and need about two minutes or so to unload. Just to have someone listen without interrupting is cathartic because it allows you to unburden.
Psychologists, however, caution against sharing your anxiety or grumpiness with a hyper-positive person. A person imbued with inveterate positivity is likely to insist on reassuring you that the situation will turn out okay, or will try to pump synthetic positivity into you (“C’mon, snap out of it!”) – which is unlikely to make you feel better or understood. Positive people seem unable or unwilling to engage with difficult emotions. Researchers who have studied this subject suggest that perhaps it takes more sacrifice to ‘drop down’ and focus on another person’s high-intensity negative emotions, and this may be particularly difficult to do for positive people. So, instead of seeking out a “positive” person, seek out someone who’s a good listener.
Make a connection. The socio-biologist, E.O. Wilson, wrote, “To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain.” So the next time you are in a foul mood, even if you don’t want to talk about your mood or the problems that are causing it, reach out and “just connect” to someone you love. Text a friend, call your mom, or cuddle with your dog. You don't have to dump your mood on them or spill your guts if you don’t want to. Just the simple request for a connection can be like a balm for an irritated state of mind. It helps to remember you’re not in a lonely struggle as you try to get through that funk.
Put your gripes in writing. If there’s no one you can think of to talk to, or if you’re just not in the mood to talk, try writing instead. Writing allows you to express the frustration or grumpiness you’re feeling, and that can be cathartic, too. You do not need to be eloquent or skilled in crafting a document, you simply need to express how you feel from a subconscious level and let the thoughts flow from your mind. Sometimes, a bad mood is brought on by something you cannot seem to wrap your head around. The use of expressive writing allows you to fully express each fragmented thought, looking upon the situation in an orderly fashion. The mind works better and problem-solving is facilitated when thoughts are ordered and coherent.
When you’ve run through a few paragraphs giving full rein to your gripes, change tack 360° and write down three things that have gone well for you so far on that day, no matter how trivial. Try to be as descriptive as you can. You’ll feel increasingly mindful of how much control you do, in fact, have over the bright spots in your life.
Get back to nature. The key to beating the blues may be just outside your door. A stroll in nature confers many benefits, according to research – one of them being that it decreases rumination (the tendency to dwell on one’s problems) and lowers activity in the area of the brain that regulates negative thoughts. How does this happen? When we are in the outdoors, taking in the beauty of all life, the majesty of creation, being a part of a sunrise or a sunset, listening to the sound of running water, even if it’s just the trickle of a tiny spring, before we know it we begin to feel a connection to this endless circle of life, a part of Nature’s enduring mysteries and miracles. Even without our conscious awareness, our pettish mood begins to recede and we start to feel uplifted.
The bottomline about a funky mood. Being in the dumps is not a pleasant feeling, but it’s not “bad” – for, if we never experienced the sloughs, we’d never be able to enjoy the highs as much. As Dolly Parton said, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
A word of caution. Long-lasting lows that are affecting your sleep, appetite or relationships might be more serious. If you think that you might be experiencing depression, seek the help of a medical doctor.
(The author is a former editor of 'Health & Nutrition' magazine, and now works as a counseling therapist)
Read more: Heal Thy Self