I have written about how peace and joy are in our control. Peace comes from acceptance of reality, and joy comes from appreciation and celebration of reality. So both are technically in our mind's control, I concluded, annoyingly. 

But it isn't that simple. We are human and emotional, and life throws things at us, so it is very natural and inevitable that our peace and joy get upset. If we stay upset over multiple days, we spiral into what I call a "funk", where our upset mind makes itself even more upset. Getting into funk sucks. It means losing several days or even weeks of peace and joy and is hard to get out of because your mind is compromised. 

Why do we get into a funk

Here are some of the main reasons why I get into a funk: 

1) Overthink things out of our control

Something in the past (what-ifs and only-ifs), or something that someone else did, or some bad luck or random event upsets us. We then obsess about it and our minds tend to become negative.  We experience feelings of sadness. helplessness, regret, mistrust, or anger. These feelings build on each other and lead to more negative thinking. 

2) Overwhelmed with a tough decision or challenge 

We are faced with a hard problem that we can't solve. Or we have to make a tough decision - maybe between two options that seem equal, or where you have to do something necessary but tough like break up or take a risk. Sometimes after we have made the tough choice, we relitigate and overthink it (refer back to 1). 

3) Losing balance or routine

For whatever reason, we stop doing things we usually do, like, or keep us balanced. For e.g., COVID shutdowns upset our routines quite significantly as we spent a lot more time at home, watching a lot of breaking news, overworking, and without regular social contact, sunlight, or exercise. 

Getting out of a funk

Even for the most Zen among us, we should expect to get upset and into a funk at times. So we need a playbook to get out of the funk and move on. Over time, as we master it, the hope is that we'll be getting into funk less frequently and getting out of it more quickly.

I understand it isn't easy to do these things when you are in a funk, but just small steps can help and give you the energy to take more steps. 

Quick Fixes

1. Treat yo self! 

Do something you love. Get your favorite food or drink, visit your favorite spot, meet some good friends, take a weekend vacation, etc. It isn't going to fix your situation, but you have earned it for the rough time and it'll make things feel brighter. 

2. Move the body, move the mind 

In a funk, it can feel hard to change anything. But you still have more control over your body than your mind. 

Breathe: Smile like an idiot, close your eyes, and take deep breaths for a minute. Repeat this every hour. 

Move: Do at least 15-30 mins of exercise every day. Exercise gets your mind to the present, clears up your head, and creates some happy hormones. Even something simple - going for a walk, 

Sleep: I feel much better after a deep, restful sleep. Get 8 hours of good sleep every day, especially if you are in a funk. Give yourself all the help for a great deep, resting sleep. Go to a dark bedroom, put your phone far away, and take melatonin if you need it (not medical advice; do your own research). 

3. Return to balance and routine 

When we get into a funk, we tend to drop everything else we usually do and enjoy, and that makes things worse. In general, I think it's good to have a balanced and diverse life that keeps you at peace. I have benefited a lot from intentionally designing a well-rounded routine that I can consistently practice and enjoy. I'm working on creating many different sources of joy - family, social life, work, hobbies, music, etc. Deliberately pick some which are mostly in your control whatever happens like writing or exercise. That way, even if one thing breaks, you always have other things that you can enjoy and get you out of the funk. 

Address the problem

Quick fixes help you feel better and clear your head, but they don't make the underlying problem go away. So you need to sort them out. 

1. Talk it out or write it out 

You need to step out of the situation to think rationally about it. You can do that by writing it out, talking to yourself (rubber ducking or acting as if you are giving advice to a friend), or talking to someone else.

Writing and self-talk are always available to you - so try to practice and master them. It's also nice to find a good listening partner - someone you are comfortable with, who cares for your well-being, who can listen patiently without judgment, and who can guide your thinking. If you don't have the right friend, mentor, or partner, a good therapist or coach can help too. You can't expect people to give you answers to your life questions, but a good listening partner can be a calming sounding board and guide you to clarity. 

2. Dealing with overthinking

You have to accept reality, things you cannot change, and go with the flow. You often imagine the worst. I know that's easy to say, but with repeated practice and self-talk, it will become a habit. Internalize this - You can't change things in the past or things that are not in your control. Life is a theater, you are an actor, and all scenes and actors are interesting. Watch, play, enjoy, learn.

Be an optimist and a realist! Shit happens - you should expect that, but see the positive side and take it in your stride. You have to develop a growth mindset of learning and a "well, that happened and that was interesting. now what?" attitude.

Write down the thoughts to get them out of your head and to lay them to rest. I maintain a document with learnings and reflections that I update weekly. 

3. Dealing with overwhelming challenges and decisions

What can you do now? Take the challenges in your stride. Don't have a victim mindset. Be the actor rather than being acted on. Don't hesitate to be vulnerable and ask for help. We are all playing the game of life for the first time. If it's a challenge involving another party, try to talk it out and be authentic. Maybe they can compromise or help when they understand your situation. 

Write down your options. Talk to an expert. Then make a decision. Some tricks to make a decision: 
  • Create a table to compare: columns for each option and rows for different attributes you care about. Highlight the top 3 attributes/rows that you care about. Strike off the equal rows. 
  • Regret minimalization: Life is short and it is meant for living. Which option will you regret more?
  • Timeframes: Think about how you will feel in 5 mins, 5 days, and 5 years after the decision. 
  • Set a deadline: Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis. Nothing is certain in life - you just have to embrace uncertainty, live, and learn.  
4. Post-funk: Reflect and improve 

As I said before, we will inevitably get into a funk. The goal is that over time, we learn from them and become more resilient - get into a funk less frequently and get out of it quicker. 

For that, do a quick retrospective. 

  • Why did you get into the funk? What is the underlying cause? How can you resolve that desire and prevent this in the future?
  • Did you recognize it early? Did you act by your playbook? What worked? Any new ideas?