5 Instant Ways to Pull Yourself Out of an Emotional Funk

Self on 06.11.13
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Do you feel cranky more days than not? If so, you’re not alone: psychologists have discovered that it's human nature to discount all the good things that are happening around us while we try to predict what could go wrong.

If you’re feeling distressed, read on to learn five instant ways to pull yourself out of your funk.

1. Catch yourself when you start complaining.

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The other day I was chatting with a friend who was getting ready to go on a luxurious tropical vacation. Over the course of our conversation, she stressed about whether she was packing the right items and she worried and complained quite a bit about travel, even though she’s flying first class both ways. I couldn’t help myself as I said to her, “You sure have a knack for focusing on the negative!”

But we all do. Psychologists call it the Negativity Bias. Humans spend most of their time looking for what might possibly go wrong, rather than appreciating all the good things right under their noses. The next time you hear someone complaining, remember, it’s science!

If you remember that we’re wired to see the negatives, it becomes easier to catch yourself in the act when you find yourself complaining. Instead of giving in to the Negativity Bias, take a moment to collect yourself and appreciate the sunny side of the story – for my friend, it would be the fact that she’s going on vacation!

2. Problem solve.

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Speaking of the Negativity Bias, when we’re faced with a problem, it’s quite common to paint the entire scenario with one brush – we think the whole kit-n-kaboodle is nothing but lousy. When we look at issues this way, we limit our ability to solve problems quickly and effectively.

The truth is, no issue is all good or all bad. When you have a problem to solve, examine the scenario in full. Ask yourself what you like about the situation; look deeper, because there’s probably at least one factor that’s not all bad. Rather than tossing the whole scenario out the window, figure out how to get more of what you want, and less of what you don’t want.

3. Give and ask for help.

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Recently I was feeling completely in the lurch. I have more work to do than hours available to me. At first I started looking for summer camps for my daughter, but she’s too young. I thought the situation was hopeless. But then inspiration struck. Ask my mother-in-law for help! It’s a win-win: she gets a couple more hours per week to play with her granddaughter, and I get a couple more hours to work.

There might be someone out there who can help you too. If you’re afraid of taking without giving, then mine your rolodex, make connections for others or look for other ways to offer help, and then call in favors later. Helping others is just a great practice to take on to enrich your life and help you feel more connected to others -- no ulterior motive necessary.

4. Relax into your life, even though it will never be perfect.

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I’ve spent much of my life trying to get all the rough edges smoothed over, improving this or that, striving for the moment when everything will finally be “done” or perfect. Now that I’m a mother, I realize this is a really common syndrome among moms. Take all of your own personal projects and foibles, all the uncompleted photo albums and all the dirty laundry – literally and figuratively – of our lives, and then multiply that by even more peoples’ stuff to take care of.

It’s easy to start feeling like we’ll never dig ourselves out and never earn the right to relax. If you’re ever going to enjoy yourself again as long as you live, you have to finally throw your hands in the air and say, “I love my life, even though it will never be perfect.” The secret I’ve found is to be purposely aware of our tendency to think we can start enjoying life but only as soon as the conditions are perfect. We have to realize that perfect conditions are never forthcoming and resolve to embrace life in all its messy imperfection.  

5. Anticipate the future with excitement.

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Remember how when you were a kid, you focused on all the cool things you’d be able to do when you were just a little older? You were pulled into the future with a sense of happy anticipation. Each year you looked forward to the holidays and your birthday and the milestones you’d reach.

At some point, as adults, we stop doing that and instead, thanks to our old pal the Negativity Bias, we start to only focus on the bad parts about the passage of time and we concentrate solely on the pain points of aging. No one seems to say, “Oh goodie, I can’t wait to get my AARP card.” Why do we dread the passage of time so much as adults?

Elizabeth Lesser writes in her book Broken Open about learning to enjoy the passage of time:

Instead of freaking out about how my face was beginning to sag, I’d look in the mirror and say, “Wow, life is interesting when everything changes.”…I reverse the wheels of worry, and tip my hat to the never-a-dull moment nature of time.

We’re going to think about the future anyway, and when we do, it’s just plain better to be hopeful about it. Think about the wonderful things that will happen. If thinking about your kids getting older makes you feel sad, then think about the delicious unfolding of each stage. Every stage of childhood has good and bad. What’s wrong with looking forward to the good parts?

While it is human nature to get more negative and fearful over time, when we’re mindful of that tendency, it makes it much easier to nip it in the bud and to stay more hopeful, joyful, connected and happy as life evolves.

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