Post to Twitter

For about the past two weeks I’ve been feeling funky.  You know that feeling of unspecific, background anxiety that you can have, but that doesn’t have a clear source or cause? That’s what I mean by funky. Sort of an ongoing buzz of low-level anxiety and reduced motivation.

I don’t have anything particularly evident to point to as a cause.  Even the economic junk hasn’t directly personally affected me as much as many other people; it affects me more through family and friends.  Perhaps I’m absorbing it from the environment?

Actually, writing this post helped me clarify where I feel it comes from, a light form of burnout…keep readin’…

The irritation of trying to fix it & traditional self-help wisdom

As a good ol’ American problem solver, I’ve been trying to fix this “problem” (in parentheses, because it might not be a problem). I’ve been doing yoga, running, prioritizing, meditating, sharing with people, blah blah blah blah…and I’m still feeling funky.  In fact, it I just get more irritated because although those activities do help for a few minutes, or an hour…nothing’s really changed!

Also, traditional wisdom in the self-help/empowerment world is that you need to “get into action!  Live life every day! If you’re not living powerfully today then you suck!”  (Gah, sounds exhausting.)  Anyway, that traditional thinking just adds to my irritation. Also, I do now have a theory about my funkiness, including why, ironically, the harder I try to “do stuff to fix it” the more it persists (heard the phrase “what you resist, persists”?)

Overdoing it as a well-trained capitalist; a natural action-recovery cycle

I also went through a similar funky anxious/demotivated period early in the summer, and now realize it’s happened regularly in the past, although I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time to myself and my moods, so I wasn’t as aware of it.

Now, I feel that it’s part of a regular action-recovery cycle.  I, as a good as-yet-unreformed American capitalist, overdo my ‘action’ for long periods of time without enough mental or physical rest, and I always pay for it at some point with periods of that background anxiety and lower motivation.  Like now. Theoretically, if I could perfectly tune my daily action and rest, I’d never have the funky downtime, but perfection’s a journey, not a destination.

The low energy, funkiness, was a way for my body and unconscious mind to try to slow myself down and force myself to rest, recover and re-energize.

Weekly/monthly cycles

My natural inclination, i.e. cultural training, is to be ‘in action’ for months or years without enough daily or weekly rest.  I remember days that I’d work 8-12 hours straight through (by choice, including when working for myself), forgetting even to take a lunch break, leaving me “brain-fried” at the end of the day.  Nights or weekends often became more about dead-rest (uncreative, just plain tired) than active-rest (being creative, ‘nice tired’ or going out & having fun).

At some point the intense exertion at work over several months catches up with me, and I’d get tired or funky for a couple of weeks as a recovery period (if I let myself recover).  I didn’t notice it at the time, but now it’s clearer, looking back.

A clue from Ironman training

Another clue that led me to my current thinking comes from my time training for an Ironman triathlon in 2002, during which we’d sometimes swim/bike/run for 15-20 hours per week.  About every six weeks, I’d wake up to some day totally physically exhausted.  I’d stay in bed for a day, and then would feel ok again – so I thought – and would keep going. Until six weeks later.  And after the Ironman race, I was wiped out for a month+, as the year of training and the race all caught up with me.

Yearly cycles

At an even higher level, I used to work intensely for 2-3 years and then would need to take a year off before I was ready and excited to commit to a full-time, long-term career move again. I think there’s something to that ratio. Maybe I need to spend about as much time recovering as I do working (including during each day, week, month, year, decade…)  That’d imply several hours of space-creating time per day, meditating, drawing, napping, seeing friends and the like, which is a routine I’m working on now.

It’s like fractals. I’d bet people with enough decades could see a decade-ish cycle too.

“Healthy Hyperproductivity

I have been paying attention to this in more carefully in a rough way for more than a year, and keep sporadic notes on my pebblestorm wiki at “Healthy Hyperproductivity“. It’s a search for a sustainable (as in decades, not years) productivity-health-energy pace and routine.  I’m not anal enough to measure my daily or weekly activity levels, energy and moods, to see if there’s some sort of regularity or seasonality to my periodic funk cycle, but it’d be an interesting experiment I’d volunteer for if someone else ran it!

Meditation Retreat

I’m testing out a rest routine to see if it fits within a yearly cycle. On November 12 I head out for a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in North Fork, CA, which will be an interesting adventure! No talking for 10 days“Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.” Now that they have cel and internet even in the small towns of Africa, It’ll be the first time in years that I’ll be totally without phone/email, since I did a 28 day survival trip in the Utah desert with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School.  Cool.

Just be with it – sometimes there’s nothing to fix

So, sometimes when you’re feeling down or low energy, it’s actually a sign to pay attention to that you should slow down and rest.  Do less. And it’s not just resting for an hour, it might be for two weeks.  Or a year 🙂  Everyone’s different, but fundamentally, the more intense and longer your work, the longer the recovery you’ll need.

There’s a judgment call here as to whether you need to be active or rest during these periods. I do agree that smiling, getting into action, taking charge, etc. can be very valuable when you’re in a rut.  But getting into action all the time can distract you from being aware of what you really need – such as rest!

How do you know what to do?  There’s no ‘answer’ – start with awareness

Practice awareness.  Pay attention to yourself, listen.  First let go of what you “should” be doing, so that you can get a better sense of what you need to be doing – or not.  What’s your intuition say?  Also, activities like meditation, writing, play or sketching could help your discernment.

Three lessons in avoiding burnout

1. SLOW DOWN: it’s impossible to be self-aware if you’re rushing around all the time.

2. CREATE SPACE: Before immediately reacting to a feeling or state of energy such as tiredness, sit with it first.  Do you feel like it’s something to move through, or something to be with?  Create some room for this in time and space, either through meditation, play, creative activities, travel…

3. FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY: Pay attention to the longer cycles of your energy and productivity / lack thereof.  What is a sustainable pace or routine you can establish keep up your energy and creativity?  Which will be different for your than for others.

Subscribe to the PebbleStorm blog by email

8 Responses to “3 lessons learned from feeling funky (as in “blech”)”

  1. 3 lessons learned from feeling funky (as in “blech”) « PebbleStorm: CEOFlow Says:

    […] For about the past two weeks I’ve been feeling funky.  You know that feeling of unspecific, background anxiety that you can have, but that doesn’t have a clear source or cause? That’s what I mean by funky. Sort of an ongoing buzz of low-level anxiety and reduced motivation. I don’t have anything particularly evident to point to as a cause…Full post on 3 lessons learned from feeling funky (as in “blech”) […]

  2. Lynn Higgins Says:

    Aaron- great post! Awesome! I have begun to believe that when I get into the ‘funky-zone’ of ‘resting with guilt (as I call it), that it IS supposed to be a time to just BE and allow myself to not feel that restlessness. Sometimes I think life puts into those ‘funks’ to sit in our awareness! I also began to use this time to meditate (with the help of a teacher)-I hope you write about your upcoming meditation retreat! Interesting to hear if it clears your need to ‘fix it”! Namaste!

  3. Olivia Kuhn-Lloyd Says:

    Aaron, dynamite post and so true. I know I’m overworked and overstressed when I wish for a sick day just to slow down.

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve become better at identifying my feelings instead of just experiencing them. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for experience, just that I can now say, “Oh, this is just a phase and it doesn’t have to have a cause and it will pass and the world as I know if isn’t coming to an end.”

    I happened to run into Aaron on the street last week and when I asked him how everything was going, he said he was in a funk. We talked about that for a while and I told him how much I admire that candor and truthfulness. Isn’t it great that we can be real with each other and that we don’t continually have to put a brave face forward?

  4. Brynne Betz Says:

    thanks….wise words. I hope you are resting right now after such a long and in-depth article (:

  5. Lori Erwin-Johnson Says:

    Oh yes. That “funky feeling”. I know it all too well. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. When I felt that feeling before my diagnosis, I chalked it up to my inability to cope (in other words, I was being a big baby…work through the pain, etc.) What was happening was that I was coping too much, working through too much pain, and ignoring what was going on. I do believe that the body will smack you down when you ignore for too long.

    As you also pointed out, I tried to be proactive about solving the fatigue issue. I also tried yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and so on. But I have to say, the best advice I ever received was from my acupuncturist and Chinese medicine doctor. I had been seeing him for my migraines on a regular basis and it was helping a bit, but I just wasn’t feeling better overall. I asked him if he could give me advice on how to relax and explained all the ways I was trying to get to that point. He looked at me (and sort of snorted) and said, “You shouldn’t work to relax, you should just do it.” I hadn’t realized that relaxing was becoming a job in and of itself (Way to add more stress.)

    It sounds so funny that you should just let relaxation happen. Don’t you have to work for such things? I have been taught that nothing comes for free. One of the hardest things to do is to unlearn bad habits and reprogram yourself.

    That is what I had to do with my fatigue. I had to learn to slow down, find my own pace, and accept that it is what it is. When I feel better, I need to stay with my natural pace and not push ( the first thing you want to do is to get everything done because you have been so tired and have become so behind…yada, yada, yada). Finally, remember to listen to your body and act accordingly. If you feel good, then bask in it. Feel how good it can be. I try hard not to rush, ever! I am not designed for it.

    Pay attention to the “funky” feelings that you get. It may be the body sending you a gentle nudge before the pending smack down.


  6. Aaron Ross Says:

    @ Brynne – yes, I actually snapped out of my funk on Friday 🙂

    @ Lori – you are exactly right! “work through the pain” is a great phrase I should add to a follow up post.


  7. Cheryl Miller Says:

    Been there, done that. Your post speaks to all of us. As far as the sustainability piece – I think I have an insight.

    In my coaching practice I show people how to sustain their healthy choices by setting up personal environments. Environments are basically all the systems and routines you put in place around you (in every aspect of your life) that make life easier. Environments that are designed elegantly just for you provide a pull so that you don’t have to push.

    When I get to feeling funky, I look at my personal environments and see which ones need tweaking.

    Keep up the fabulous posts. I LOVE them. Cheryl

  8. My freak-out moment of Skin Cancer, Superheroes, Seminar, Sales Book & Skipping Town | Pebblestorm Says:

    […] Lessons Learned From Feeling Funky […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.