Tips for Riding Out a Blue Funk
I don’t know about you, but when I come apart, I do it with gusto. Here’s a typical scenario:
Something frustrating happens at work–a bad interaction with a coworker, or something I didn’t do as well as I could have, or just a really boring day. Which makes me wonder whether I’m in the right career, and whether I’ve made terrible and irreversible decisions in my education and job choices, and whether I’ll ever excel at anything. I invariably decide that I need to go back to school for something (usually law or business or journalism–varying based on the cause of the funk). I come home cranky and snap at my family, which convinces me that my marriage is stagnating. I despair about whichever issues present themselves in the moment…our finances, the cleanliness of our house, the contents of our refrigerator. Finally, when I’m headed into the home stretch, I get teary about how I’m old and saggy and wrinkly and my new haircut makes me look like Angela Merkel.
And usually, sometime around then, I snap out of it. At least enough to laugh at myself a little. And remember a few things:
1. There’s probably something to it—Convincing myself that I shouldn’t be upset and that there’s no cause to be so blue never works. It’s true that come-aparts do tend to coincide with certain times of the month, but woe unto him who points that out. Hormones and brain chemistry are never the whole story for me. Insufficient sleep and irregular exercise often play a role, but when I really unravel it usually means that things are out of whack outside as well as inside my cranium.
2. It might not be what I think—Here’s the tricky part, though: the root cause of a funk is not always, and maybe even not usually, the thing I’m most fixated on. I can get a major bee in my bonnet about how we need to move to a bigger house, when the real issue is that I need more challenge at work. Or I can get all mopey about how there’s no romance in our marriage anymore when what I really need is to get out more with my friends. It’s totally unpredictable. Also exasperating. Self-awareness is fallible, and even though I recognize this pattern, I can still waste a lot of energy looking at real-estate listings before I figure out what’s actually going on.
3. Now is not the time to fix it—This is the hardest lesson of all for me. With time, I always manage to sift through, figure out what’s really wrong, and make the necessary adjustments. But it is never a good idea to attempt this in the midst of the funk. By the time I’ve reached the Angela Merkel stage I’ve lost all perspective on what’s bothering me and what’s important. But the deeper I get into a funk, the more doggedly I want to fix it right now. I am oh-so-gradually learning to be more patient with myself. Silly movies are good in the middle of a funk. So are backrubs and cups of tea. Discrete, menial projects like organizing the closet are satisfying. Anything to take the mind off until the worst has passed and everything has returned to its usual order. I have found that things are always both brighter and clearer in the morning.
In case you are wondering, I’m not in a funk right now, but I did have a classic one recently. As I watched myself go through all the stages, this post started to take shape in my head. It was kind of fun, actually.
What are your tactics for coping with a funk?