“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness,
and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning
if it were not balanced by sadness.”
I am generally a fun, positive person. This usually pisses people off.
This is generally a fun, positive set of articles. This usually ensures a more focused readership devoid of trolls (thank you, faithful few).
But I am human, and I too get in funks. I found myself in a funk on Monday, and I thought I would depart from the usual article format and give you more of a live journal of my journey of defunkification.
Please feel encouraged to use this framework in your own fight against personal, seasonal or general funkiness—or flat out depression. This is a more over-the-counter version of a blend of therapies which I use with my patients.
Day One: Know Your Enemy
So, I treated myself like a patient and asked myself one of my most annoying questions, “Look inside, where is your heart at just now?”
The answer which I gave myself was shocking. My heart is just not in it. Not in anything right now.
I did gave myself an exercise. Normally I would have these cards with faces on them which describe individual feelings. I encourage my kids to pick three that they’ve been feeling often over the past few days. I picked three.
Anxious. Sad. Scared.
Then, the contextual definitions:
I’m anxious because I don’t feel that I have control of much in my life right now.
I’m sad because I have a sinus infection and I’m physically weary; I have no more in the tank, but I also have no end in sight to the work that has to get done, or the things which I can’t control that I simply must endure.
I’m scared because when I dig deep, I find very little desire to keep up the fight. I’m caring less. This is a frightening thing for me because it’s quite rare. Hope, perseverance and tenacity were my watchwords. Now I feel like a wet newspaper after three days on the curb.
Day Two: Flipping Out
Next we flip our emotions and find our contributory thoughts.
Anxious flips to Faithful. It’s my word. You pick your own. I’m a spiritual guy and faith mixes hope with trust, and that’s the opposite of anxious to me.
Sad flips to Zesty. Yes, Zesty in the “an enjoyably exciting quality…keen enjoyment: relish, gusto ‘has a zest for living'” way, not in the “a piece of the peel of a citrus fruit (as an orange or lemon) used as flavoring” way. (Webster, 2012)
Scared flips to Invested since that is the root of the fear; my lack of caring. Invested isn’t the most evocative feeling word, but I see it like playing Texas Hold ‘em; I’m all in.
Next is to identify the basic negative thought-life attached to these feelings. These are the things I’ve been thinking about my life or myself in my down moments, they are unhealthy and irrational, and they need to be brought out into the light to be shrunk down to size.
Anxious thought: “You are powerless.”
Sad thought: “You are used up, weak and can’t make it.”
Scared thought: “Just give up, it’s over.”
Seeing them there is a powerful thing. Already it’s shocked me and given me a bit of spunk, a bit of “Hey, screw you negative thought life!” Now to flip the thoughts.
Faithful thought: “I have some immediate influence, but God is all powerful, and I have a relationship with him that I trust.”
Zesty thought: “I’ve had the strength to come this far! The ride has been up and down, but exciting, and the ride is the destination!” Zest speaks in exclamations, of course.
Invested thought: “I’m not giving up because I care too much to disappoint myself and those I love. It’s not over.”
The last step of Day Two is to print out this page and read it two or three times a day. This will begin to shift the thought life. I will also tack on an inspirational reading to add outside fulfillment. I will keep this up until I begin to feel an emotional and personal benefit, then I will decrease it to once or twice a day.
Day Three: Change it up
Making small immediate changes—a tactic which I featured in more detail in this article—can be employed here for some serious funk busting. We are not wired for drudgery. As British osteopath Donald Norfolk discovered, stress can be caused by “too much change or too little change.” (Norfolk, 2012) For those of us grown ups, especially those with children, the latter stressor is probably truer. Look at your life, if you see a lot of stress and not a lot of change, then you know which category you’re in.
For me, I know that I’ve led a very structured, regimented life for the past six months. More than that, I’ve structured something that I used to run wild with, food, and regimented something that is uncomfortable into my life, exercise. So, maybe there’s been a lingering pleasure deficit which is now rearing its head.
So, changes. Small and immediate. Hmm.
I will go to bed 15 minutes to ½ hour earlier this week, because I no-doubt need more rest and always short myself on rest.
I will read the issue of Wired (a magazine which I’ve never read) that I brought into the house as a way to stimulate my brain.
I will keep Wired in my car and do it during a 5-10 minute break between work and picking up my daughter. This is something I used to do to depressurize which I’ve gotten away from over the past year.
That’s only twenty to forty minutes worth of change in one long day. Will it make the difference? We’ll see.
Day Four: Exit is Not an Option
We all know president smarty-pants was criticized for not having an exit strategy. In terms of defunkification, it is more valuable to have assessment and adjustment strategies. Exit is not an option; adjustment is the goal, but to do that we need to evaluate our progress.
In Day Two I agreed to read my new, healthier thoughts two or three times a day, and keep going, though at a lesser degree, once I begin to feel an impact. I can say, check. Working well, feeling better.
In Day Three I set my small changes goals.
Reading Wired and increasing my stimulation? Check.
Going to bed earlier? Check. Thank you, Presidential Debate for making that easier.
Taking 10 minutes of reset time in between Keith the Therapist and Keith the Husband/Dad lives? Hmm. Only one out of two days.
A result of three out of four objectives met fully. Not bad because the goal was to demonstrate that my life was changeable, not static. But that reset time is crucial to lowering stress related funk.
Adjustment: When I cannot pause and read for 10 minutes, I will pause, shut my eyes, breathe and clear my head in the daycare parking lot, once I know I’ve made it there on time. The race against the clock (at $15 a minute past Six PM) is the reason why I ditched this goal.
Day Five: And Now You Get Stuff
Let’s talk rewards.
When you achieve something, there should be a good thing at the end. This is like pressing the send key to your medial forebrain bundle—the reward center of the brain which re-enforces behavior. (Bozarth, 1994) Therefore, if you want to keep this party going, you gotta get this party started.
The reward should have two components; it should happen after a discernable, structured level of success and it should be something that feels good to you. Anything that gives you the “heehees” or the “Ahhs.” A bonus component is that it should relate back to the defunkification in some thematic way.
My reward is taking a half day off work today. This triggers both my “heehees” and my “Ahhs” plus a large part of my funk was that I was physically exhausted by a cold and mentally exhausted by a number of demands. Bonus.
Internet, I am much less funky now, and I thank you for your support. Whew.
“However long the night, the dawn will break.”
When you find yourself getting into a funk, here are the steps I followed.
1. Identify two or three emotions which you’re feeling often, and then write down a one sentence reason as to why you feel this way. The reasons should describe how you are currently seeing your life, your world or your problems.
2. Without worrying about the sentences, identify personally opposite feelings to the negative feelings. Write them down.
3. Create new, positive sentences that are already really true—like “feel it in your heart, know it in your head” true—but are hard to hold onto in the face of present stress or hardship.
4. Two or three times a day, get alone and rehearse those new positive sentences. This should be a reminder of those things you know that are true. As you begin to feel relief, relax it to once or twice a day, but don’t stop until you’re certain they’re more a part of your perspective than the negative thoughts.
5. Identify two or three small changes which you can make to increase the feeling of mental, emotional and physical enjoyment or well being in your life and do them.
6. Reflect on your plan and adjust it for success, don’t recriminate for failure.
7. Set a natural deadline, a day or two if the funk is quite intense, a week if you’re in the pre-funk phase. Reward your success in an awesome way.
8. Repeat as needed.
Bozarth, M.A. (1994). Pleasure systems in the brain. In D.M. Warburton (ed.), Pleasure: The politics and the reality (pp. 5-14 + refs). New York: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from http://wings.buffalo.edu/aru/ARUreport01.htm
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. (2012) Zest. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zest
Norfolk, Donald.(2012) How to Harness Stress and Make it Work For Your Advantage. Retrieved from http://www.donaldnorfolk.co.uk/stress-management/how-to-harness-stress-and-make-it-work-to-your-advantage/