Years ago, I went to the doctor because I felt like crap, and I wanted to feel better. But I wasn’t sick. I just wasn’t myself, and I wasn’t operating at full potential. Not even close.
That doctor visit (and the one after it) had a profound effect on the way I deal with my own emotional health and that of my clients. When I went in to talk to the doc that day, I thought I might be suffering from depression.
It was more than what one of my clients calls a “funk.” A funk is when you’re not in your normal groove for a few days, and it’s uncomfortable.
A Funk is Uncomfortable, But Not Serious
We’ve all been in funks before—nothing too serious but still something you want to remedy.
You know what I’m talking about. A funk is when you feel a little flat, a little off. It’s when you feel a little moody, or you have no energy. Your “get up and go” has gone.
Perhaps you’ve overdone it with sugar over the past few days, and now you’re paying the price physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Or maybe your thoughts are looping around a particular worry. There’s a situation in your life that’s keeping you up at night.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The great news about being in a funk is you can usually take a few steps and feel better almost immediately.
9 Steps Out of a Funk
For a funk, you don’t need a doctor; you need an action plan. Here are the steps I recommend to feel better fast (24 hours or less).
No sugar or flour for at least 24 hours. The goal here is to stabilize your mood by stabilizing your insulin level, especially if you’ve been eating poorly. Focus on consuming clean, nutrient-dense food, including moderate protein and plenty of good, quality fats (e.g., coconut oil, avocados, nuts, etc.). Stay away from processed foods today, and stick with non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits such as berries.
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water today. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly.
Do some form of exercise for at least a few minutes today. Don’t overdo it! Just move. Try turning on your favorite music and dancing to it for a few songs. I’ll bet you’re smiling and sweating pretty quickly.
If possible, go outside and take a brisk walk in the sunshine. Both walking and sunlight are known to increase your levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
Create a gratitude list on paper and read it to yourself. Post it where you’ll see it a few times today. This shifts your perspective from negative to positive, helping you focus on what’s going right in your world.
Breathe deeply (from your belly) at least 10 times, slowly and mindfully, several times today. Deep breathing helps relieve stress and anxiety by inhibiting stress-hormone production and by triggering a relaxation response in the body.
7. BABY STEPS
Accomplish something today. Create a list of baby steps, and do them. This releases the hormone dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with motivation and focus. Lack of dopamine is associated with fatigue, apathy, difficulty focusing or concentrating, sugar cravings, and insomnia.
Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep tonight. Again, regulating your hormones depends on getting adequate sleep. Just one night can make a huge difference in your sense of well-being.
These nine steps should put a big dent in your funk. Once you’re feeling better, you can make additional decisions about your own self-management and self-care.
What If It’s More Than a Funk?
If you do the steps above with no real sense of improvement, or if you can’t even make yourself do the steps, the question becomes are you experiencing something deeper than a funk?
And if it’s something deeper—how deep is it?
There’s an important distinction you must make when you feel crappy and want to feel better: Do you need professional help, or is this something you can self-manage?
Let me make this simple for you.
Signs You Need Help Now
If you are feeling hopeless, desperate, or in crisis; if your condition is impairing your ability to function in daily life; if it’s been going on every day for two weeks or more, then stop reading this, and pick up the phone. It is time to get help. Begin by contacting your doctor or a mental health professional to get back on track.
You might also need a counselor or therapist to deal with issues from your past that need to be addressed and resolved before you can genuinely feel better and move forward.
Go ahead and do it. Invest in yourself.
On the other hand, if what you’re feeling is more than a funk but less than a clinically diagnosable disorder, where does that leave you?
How Stress Nearly Did Me In
It may leave you where I was when I finally went to the doctor all those years ago. I didn’t know at the time that what I was facing could have been self-managed. I didn’t know then what I know now about brain science and rewiring my own brain.
You see, at the time, I was incredibly stressed out.
I was putting together plans for my coaching practice. The financial risk was high, and going into business for myself with two teenagers at home and college fees looming was scary. But I loved coaching and felt absolutely called and equipped to take on the challenge. You’d think I’d be focused and energized, right? But I wasn’t.
Instead, I couldn’t gain traction. I needed to take consistent, massive action, and, instead, I was easily distracted and confused. I completely stalled out. And I let negative thinking and fear take over. These evil twins just about did me in.
Pretty soon, I was questioning everything. My confidence was shot. Despite my love for coaching, I couldn’t gin up the energy and enthusiasm I needed to properly build my business. What was going on?
My kids also needed my attention, but I was preoccupied with my own anxiety. So I’d fake it, smiling and nodding at them as they talked but inwardly feeling inept and sure I was the world’s worst mother.
I Wired In a Habit of Escape
In those days, I was only beginning to learn about the brain, the mind, and how thoughts produce emotions and can impact all of life. All I knew was that I was losing ground.
More days than not, I used television and sugar as my anesthetic. I didn’t want to feel the unpleasant feelings of anxiety and depression; I didn’t want to feel stressed and pressured. So I didn’t. Instead, I numbed out.
I didn’t realize I was wiring in a habit of giving up, slinking to the couch, and using food and mindless television to avoid pain. The more I thought scary thoughts about the stress I was under, the more I felt anxious, and the more I resorted to my escape—the habit pattern I was adopting.
The results: My business and my emotional health were sinking.
Why Couldn’t I Fix This?
It took a lot of courage for me to finally tell my physician I needed help. Revealing this was uncomfortable on a lot of levels.
For one thing, I’m a pretty devoted Christian and active in my faith. Why couldn’t I pray my way out of this? For another, as a new coach, admitting I couldn’t manage my own emotions felt somehow fraudulent, as if I was an imposter.
And finally, I had and still have a core belief that I should be able to maintain my health with proper nutrition and exercise, or with some other natural approach. So why was I failing so miserably?
Defeated and strongly encouraged by a family member to go to the doctor, I finally made an appointment. Once there, I explained my symptoms and that I believed I was depressed.
The Pharmaceutical Approach
At first, my physician was reluctant to give me an antidepressant, which I appreciated. She talked about other things to try first—counseling, for example. She was not half as reluctant to give me drugs as I was about taking them. I let her know that in no uncertain terms.
Funnily enough, as soon as I started talking about NOT wanting drugs, she became insistent that I needed them. Well, that was confusing. But effective. If she was convinced, maybe I should be, too. I took the prescription.
And it helped a little, for a while. The SSRI prescription, while helpful to some, only gave me a gentle lift for a short period of time, then seemed to stop working altogether. My doctor’s suggestion was to increase the dose. But that didn’t work either. In fact, it made me feel worse.
Thank God, it was about that time that I discovered the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology specializing in Neuropsychology. Her approach changed my life and has strongly informed the development of my coaching practice.
The Brain Approach
Dr. Leaf is the one who taught me the undeniable power of my thoughts on my physical and emotional health. And knowing that has made all the difference in my own approach to wellness.
Letting those scary, negative thoughts (Dr. Leaf calls them “toxic thoughts”) about business and my insecurities as an entrepreneur remain unchallenged produced a network of neural pathways in my brain that had become “wired in.” Those negative thoughts became automatic, almost undetectable.
With each scary thought came a dose of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone, giving me a sense of general dread and anxiety. I was literally scaring myself with my thoughts.
Dr. Leaf teaches that we actually damage our brains when we ruminate on pessimistic, negative thoughts.
Her work highlights the differences between the brain and the mind, promoting the idea that we can change the biology of our brain (our brain health) with our own thoughts and decisions.
Dr. Leaf doesn’t agree with simply labeling anxiety and depression as diseases caused by chemical imbalances and then treating them with medication. She does believe in doing the hard work of rewiring your own brain.
And now that I’ve rewired my own brain, I agree with her.
Rewiring My Brain for Emotional Health
Nowadays, when I’m in a funk, I pay greater attention. Yes, the nine steps described above do help, and I use them. But I’ve learned to look behind the funk and strategically examine my thought life.
Behind a funk, there is always—always—some stinking thinking. And I no longer leave that unchallenged.
Moreover, I’ve learned to play offense when it comes to my thought life. I apply daily, practical methods to intentionally create the thoughts, decisions, emotions, actions, and results that serve me well.
“Behind a funk, there is always—always—some stinking thinking.”
By properly managing my thought life, I am becoming the best version of myself. In this version, I am able to take on the things I believe I was put on this earth to do. Not perfectly, of course, but with steady progress and joy.
Life Without Pharmaceuticals
That antidepressant prescription is a thing of the past for me. It took me months to get off of it safely, under a doctor’s supervision. (Never stop taking a prescription drug without your doctor’s help. It is dangerous.)
Now, I rely on the tools I’ve created in MasterPeace Living. Learning to manage your thoughts is central to proper self-management and crucial to healthy mental and emotional health.
If what you’re dealing with is more than a funk, but less than a diagnosis, go grab my Guide to Better Self-Management, the freebie I give away on my website. It gives you four exceptional tools you can begin to use immediately to feel better in the next seven to 10 days. Enjoy!