David Rakofsky, PsyD

A friend recently shared something new with me. A happy-go-lucky person, he said he falls into a funk—a brief period of feeling gloomy without knowing why—once or twice a year. Each episode lasts no longer than a few days, and he asked why this occurs seemingly out of the blue. I suggested it was neither sadness nor depression. Sadness is an emotion triggered by a difficult event, experience, or situation, while depression is a recognized mental illness that makes us feel sad about everything. A funk is a temporary dip in mood that can be normal.

Funks can take you off your game and even develop into a clinical issue over time if not addressed. Here are nine ways to pull yourself out of your funk:

1. Cardiovascular Exercise

Go out for a run, jog, or even a long, brisk walk. Get your heart pumping, and focus your eyes on the beauty or novelty of the world around you. Granted, breaking a sweat and soaking up the great outdoors doesn’t sound appealing when you’re feeling listless and down, but exercising releases endorphins, the body’s natural anti-depressants. The sudden rush of these hormones can be the thing that flips your mood around.

2. Connect with People You Trust

Social connection is not only preventive of depression but can reduce time spent in your funk. Keep a short list of people with whom you are comfortable speaking openly. You can count on them to listen, and you can be vulnerable in front of them. Apply the “Fake It Till Ya Make It” technique, which is not about being false; rather, it forces you to reach out—an action that feels unnatural and dreadful in the moment—but can be therapeutic. Push past the idea of being a burden to people because that’s just the funk talkin’.

3. Eat Comfort Food

A cheeseburger and fries can help when you’re down. Citing a recent study, Psychology Today reported that food associated with good thoughts and warm feelings not only improves a sense of well-being, it also decreases loneliness.

4. Step Away from Your Screens

When you’re in a funk, prolonged exposure to the artificial examples of human success and happiness on television certainly doesn’t help. Take a T.V. break; your shows aren't going anywhere. In addition, use social media sparingly. In your current funky state you’re more likely to absorb news on your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram feeds through a #distortedfilter. Additionally, Social Comparison Theory—the idea that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others—may kick into overdrive. If you are posting and waiting for Likes and comments to fill your balloon, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. To boot, you might actually post something in this funked-up state that you’ll regret.

5. Talk to Your Doctor About Medications You’re Taking

It’s possible that side effects of your medications may be causing your funk. Consult with your doctor to rule this out. Mood alteration can be the result of sudden changes in medications regimen. Ask yourself: Have I been on anti-depressants but now take them inconsistently or have just stopped? Is this event the result of withdrawal? Do I need to consult my medical provider to revisit my dosage and consider an increase or a change of medications?

6. Meditate

Meditation is an incredibly useful tool when you’re in a funk because it can help you gain perspective and achieve a more realistic appraisal of your life. Among its many benefits, meditation can preserve the aging brain, improve concentration and attention, and reduce anxiety. It’s also free, painless, and can be done anywhere.

7. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

There may be significant temptation to self-medicate and numb the bothersome feelings, but your goal is to face these feelings, not escape them. Leaning on drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism can exacerbate your problem. For example, alcohol as a so-called sleep-inducer can actually disrupt sleep in the middle of the night. Inadequate sleep will likely extend a funk. A drug like marijuana has side effects like anxiety and depression. Continued use of drugs and alcohol can create a dependency or worse, addiction.

8. Always Have Something to Look Forward to

I call it “The Horizon Line of Good Events:” the importance of having things to look forward to in the immediate, intermediate, and far-off future.

  • Immediate future: something stimulating or exciting that is scheduled for today, tomorrow or in the next few weeks. You may be in a bad place now, but you are finally seeing Hamilton next Saturday.
  • Intermediate future: things you have planned over the next several months or year, such as a graduation party, bar mitzvah, or vacation.
  • Far off future: goals for how you envision your life down the line, like how and with whom you want to spend your retirement.

Funks can be unexpected events that bump you off course and wreck your mood. Episodes eventually pass, but these tips can help you climb out of funks faster and empower you with proactive tools to utilize in the future.

Coming Soon: The first story in our three-part series about living with depression will be available later this month.