Get The Funk Out!


by Steven Reeder, ACC


We've all been through it at one time or another: sometimes you just get into a funk. You may not know where it comes from, or what to do about it, but one thing is for sure: there's definitely ways of getting around it.

You can find a hundred ways to power through a funk. You can work harder and put in more hours at the office. You might take a vacation, get out in the world, and get some fresh air. You might exercise and start a workout regimen. Sometimes it calls for going out for some drinks with friends. Or it may be just as simple as "retail therapy."

All of these things are earnest attempts to light a fire and stay focused, productive, and active. And yet sometimes, it's still not enough. What could that nagging feeling be that keeps coming in and putting out the fire?

Here's one possibility: it's a feeling, but one that we rarely identify. It's a feeling that can come when we're not expecting it. If it's not processed and expressed, it compounds and creates a cumulatively negative effect. However, since we've not been taught to recognize it, we've adopted tons of coping mechanisms and quick fixes that try and make it go away.

The feeling I'm describing is grief. It may not be the feeling that you were expecting, and that makes sense for some very good reasons. In our culture we barely know what to do with grief, for two major reasons.

The first reason is that we often misunderstand what grief is. Specifically, grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.

Most people associate grief only with a death of someone we love. However, we all experience change and loss many times in our lives. So any and all of the following (and more) events could bring on grief:

Death of a loved one; Death of a "not-so-loved" one; divorce; serious injury or illness; leaving a job; starting a new job; retirement; imprisonment; marriage; pregnancy; sexual difficulties; moving; loss of health (your own or someone else's); change in financial state (loss or gain); mortgage; empty nest; trouble with in-laws; trouble with boss; change in work hours or conditions; graduation; starting school; holidays; loss of trust; loss of approval; loss of safety; loss of control; loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations. Besides bringing big changes to our normal routine, these kinds of events also have potential to create conflicting feelings that don't reconcile. Graduation means both "hooray, I'm finished," and "Wow, what do I do now? With this free time? With this diploma? Where do I get a job now?" Divorce can be both heartbreaking and a relief, and can also instill doubts and fears onto future intimate relationships. Moving often means giving up friends, support systems, and familiarity, as well as offering exciting potentials of a new life, and fears about the same.

Many of us have been there. We might even think we're going crazy. "This can't be normal; there must be something wrong with me." "I shouldn't feel this way, I'm ________." (Insert: a man, a grown adult, a manager, a PhD, an executive, made of tougher stuff, immune to feelings, etc.) Yet grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder, because it comes from these conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. Human emotions are completely natural, if not always comfortable.

When it's not a life-and-death situation, we often dismiss the pain as "just part of life" and move on as quickly as possible. We try to let time "do its job" and eventually forget what triggered the pain, not realizing how many small, compounded grief events can cumulatively affect us at once.

We power through that nagging funk of "not feeling right," and hope it goes away with enough comfort food, enough drinks, enough cigarettes, enough prescriptions, enough working, enough workouts, enough shoes, enough concerts, enough game days, enough video games, enough web surfing, enough arguing, enough hot dates, enough hookups, enough binge TV. (None of these things are inherently bad. However, none of them ultimately address the root of the unresolved grief.)

Even if we know we're dealing with grief, we're often at a loss on how to proceed. The second reason we barely know what to do with grief is because much of what we've been taught about addressing grief can do more harm than good.

The standard practice in our culture is to try talking us out of it. Phrases such as, "Don't worry, it will get better," "It could be worse," "Aw honey, don't cry," "She had a good, long life," "He's in a better place," "You can get a new dog," "Just give it time," "C'mon, get over it," or "You've got to be strong now," shift from emotional truth to an intellectual position that attempts reduce, alter, or dismiss the reaction to the loss. However, the shift from heart to head often prolongs the suffering, and causes the griever to feel their grief is somehow inappropriate.

As well-meaning as we try to be, we can sabotage - ours and others' - efforts to get genuine feelings up and out. This conditioning starts at a very early age, when we're taught — in the most well-meaning fashion — how to "act in public." We're taught to suppress or mask feelings that are deemed either inappropriate or uncomfortable for others. These patterns are ingrained, and the end result is avoidance and shut-down of natural human feelings.

This behavior is key to understanding the effect that "just a little grief" can have. If you attempt to shut down one feeling, you shut down all feelings because you're shutting off the ability to feel. Shutting off sadness also means shutting off joy, curiosity, optimism, and hope. When you put a cork in a pressure cooker, your choice is to either let the pressure out (in outbursts or through explosion) or live under constant pressure.

As painful as it might sound, the healthier approach to grief is taking the time to experience and express the feelings of loss, whether you've lost a person, or hopes and dreams. "Feel the funk??" Yes! Even the word "emotion" comes from the Latin emovere: "to move outward." Emotions are not meant to be stored away and static.

How do you begin? The first key is to acknowledge your own experience. If many small grief events occur over a short period of time — like having a health crisis, changing jobs, moving, and starting a new relationship — few people make the connection to just how much they've been through in a short time. Acknowledging the scope of your stress and practicing self-care are places to start. "I'm in a funk, dammit! Now what?"

The simple act of being heard can also go a long way. Once you've acknowledged your grief for what it is, you might feel you need a witness to be properly heard. Depending on the severity or nature of your grief, you might want that witness to be "a heart with ears (but no mouth)." That means someone else listening with their heart — not their head — and giving no feedback or advice.

This can seem awkward; we all want to connect with another person. Yet consider the relief of expressing yourself without judgment, criticism, or analysis. It's a freeing act for you and the listener. The listener is then a witness, not a fixer; thereby releasing any undue expectations on that person to have answers. No one knows better what you need than you (whether you realize it or not), so be your own best advocate.

"But what if the feelings that come up are negative?" Well... yeah! That's why they're so painful and even harmful to stuff away. On the other hand, "negative" is a judgment; when in fact the feelings may be nothing more than "honest." Getting those feelings up and out in a healthy way might be exactly what you need to release the funk.

Another solution is partnering with a trained coach or grief specialist. Often the challenges that come up in life are just symptoms of an underlying cause. Working on the symptoms can give you short-term relief, but fails to provide meaningful, long-term solutions. The Core Energy Coaching™ process I practice with my clients gets to the root cause of what's holding you back, whether it's unresolved grief, overwhelm, limiting beliefs, or self-critical behavior.

Many people feel it's easier to stay where they are versus take an overwhelming step into something new. We've all felt that anxiety at one time or another. Maybe you've just gotten really good at tolerating the status quo. And yet, if one year from today, you are in exactly the same place you are right now, how will you feel then?

There is an old Chinese proverb which says, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." How long will you put off planting the seeds for your future? Go to www.stevenreeder.com/funk to get started today.