When asked the all-too-common nicety, “How are you?” my usual response is some variation of “I’m good!” After all, I love my job, I’m surrounded by a loving family, boyfriend, and wiener dog, my ride-or-die girlfriends fill my cup, and I have my health. What’s not to be happy about, right? But some days, there’s no better way to honestly answer the polite greeting than with “Meh.” Some days, I find myself taking the place of Bill Murray as the starring role in Groundhog Day, and I’m left with an inexplicable feeling of being in limbo between not being depressed but not jumping for joy either.
If that sounds familiar, we’re not alone. Trust me: I have five mindfulness experts to back me up (and they all assured me there’s a light at the end of the tunnel). Ahead, read for their best tips to guide us back on track to feeling refreshed and inspired. “Meh,” who?
What are common causes of feeling “meh?”
Between always being plugged in, the social media comparison game, and the everyday pressures of work and relationships, there are countless reasons why we are feeling stuck in a listless, in-between stage. “We tend to get our measuring sticks out and compare our lives to others, which can lead us to feel a lack of motivation or helplessness,” said Molly Zive, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and podcaster. “We carry beliefs consciously and unconsciously about ourselves, such as ‘I’m worthless’ or ‘I will never be good enough.’ These beliefs can interfere with your ability to live the most aligned life if you feel like you’re constantly struggling to prove yourself to others.”
Not being in alignment with your values and desires can largely affect your mental health. “When we’re not in touch with ourselves, we might be making decisions that are objectively good—earning a certain degree, pursuing a promotion, or going on a trip with a friend—but are not the right decisions for us personally, leading to no sense of fulfillment, happiness, or inspiration to connect with life deeper,” said Dr. Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac., a mindfulness expert, doctor of Chinese medicine, and the author of Myung Sung: The Korean Art of Living Meditation.
On the other hand, when we are mindful of our actions—from how we spend our time to who we spend our time with—we can realize our purpose and be in the moment to fully enjoy it. “Mindfulness brings us back to our slower, relaxed rhythm, which is where we actually find joy, peace, creativity, and fulfillment in our lives,” explained Kimberly Snyder, meditation teacher and author of You Are More Than You Think You Are.
What is mindfulness, and how can it help you be happier?
We’ve all heard of the buzzword “mindfulness,” but what does it really mean? “Mindfulness is a state of focused yet relaxed awareness,” Snyder said. “It is being more aware of sensations, thoughts, and feelings, and yet not being attached to them, letting them rise, fall, and pass through.” Before you judge yourself for falling short of the definition, let go of your inner critic. Mindfulness is a judgment-free zone. “When being mindful, you are noticing whatever it is that you are experiencing with compassion and acceptance instead of with judgment, which can easily be a default habit,” said Joree Rose, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, mindfulness and meditation teacher, author of A Year of Gratitude, and podcaster.
In our fast-paced, go-go-go culture, we’re either going full speed ahead or on autopilot. Rose explained that practicing mindfulness is having intention to respond rather than reacting to what life throws at us and knowing why we are doing what we are doing. In other words, when we are mindful, we become the drivers of our own lives. Instead of just going through the motions, we are intentional in our decision-making.
So how do you start practicing mindfulness?
While we all want to be happy and perform at our best 24/7, it’s not possible or realistic (and that’s OK!). So when life throws you a curveball, having a few go-to mindfulness tools in your back pocket means the quicker you can recognize the limiting thought or feeling and turn it around. “The simplest way to begin practicing mindfulness is to learn how to pause,” said Nicole Griffin, a mindfulness coach at Calm and Aura. “For many people, taking a deep breath is a helpful way to create a pause; for others, maybe it is taking a walk or a warm bath, placing a hand over the heart, or saying some kind words to ourselves.”
Zive echoed Griffin, suggesting four rounds of deep breath—paying attention to how the air feels as we inhale through our nostrils and take a deep exhale through our mouths—and seeing what we notice. “Are your thoughts racing around or are they easy to bring into this moment?” Zive asked. “What sensations are you feeling in your body? Without judgement, just notice what is happening with curiosity.”
Another buzzword vying for our attention (some would say the MVP in self-care) is none other than meditation. “The foundation of a mindfulness practice is meditation, as meditation helps wire the brain toward cultivating new habits and patterns,” Rose said. “Meditation can be done by simply creating the space to slow down for stillness and silence, connecting with your breath, and observing whatever is arising without judgment.” And contrary to what most people think, you don’t have to meditate for hours on end to reap the benefits. If all you have time for is 10 minutes, and it varies what time of day, great!
The common theme here? Breathing is something we do automatically without much—if any—effort and thought, but it’s an effective tool when we’re intentional about it. By simply focusing on the breath, we leave behind any wandering thoughts and bring ourselves back to the present. What’s more, centering ourselves with breath can help regulate mood, attention, and body awareness.
What to do to get out of a “meh” funk
1. Reprioritize your daily routine
It goes without saying that what we do (or don’t do) day in and day out affects how we feel. And when we’re in a state of “meh,” Zive suggested evaluating our daily regimen. “Make a list of things that make you feel your best in your daily life and make realistic implementations,” she said. “What feels good for you today may not be what felt good a few months ago or a year ago. It is important to meet yourself where you’re at now.” Perhaps you’ve found that limiting your exposure to social media to weekends helps keep the incessant scrolling and inferior thoughts at bay. Or maybe you want to try incorporating journaling to understand and work through the negative emotions you’re experiencing. Bottom line: Only activities that make your “meh” days (mostly) a thing of the past are welcomed.
2. Tune in to your true self
There’s no one who knows you better than yourself. And when you align with your true self, you’re well on your way to getting back on track. “The true antidote of getting past feeling meh is to connect to the true self, which is within all of us,” Snyder said. “It is the core of who we all are, beyond the fear and the mind chatter. It is the consistent source of unconditional love, peace, creativity, confidence, and joy.” Take time to reconnect with yourself, reflect on who you are today and who you want to be, and stop a few times throughout the day to check in with your body and mind—especially when you fall into the self-doubt trap. Treat yourself like the inspiring, well-rounded, and beautiful person you are!
3. Practice self-compassion
As the saying goes, you’re your worst critic. We beat ourselves up if we don’t get the promotion, fall short of looking a certain way, or miss a family dinner instead of giving ourselves grace and celebrating our wins. When we feel out of sorts or suspended in an in-between phase, it’s especially important to show ourselves kindness. “Feeling in a funk is something all humans experience, and it can be a great learning opportunity if we are willing to slow down and listen,” Griffin stated. “Consider how you would treat a close friend or loved one who is feeling stuck and what you would say to them. Then, say those same words to yourself,” she added. Whether it be “This feeling is temporary, and it will pass” or “Recognizing and processing your emotions is something to be proud of,” giving yourself a pep talk will go a long way.
4. Incorporate meditation
There’s no magic formula when it comes to wellness (a girl can dream!), but calming the mind, moving the body, and nourishing both with whole foods comes close. Dr. Kim affirmed that meditation, movement, and medicine help us feel more connected to ourselves, our purpose in life, and the natural energy that exists all around us. There’s the common misconception that meditation is limited to sitting still and in silence, but Dr. Kim counts any intentional activity done to calm the mind—dancing, calligraphy, or painting—to be meditation. You can also turn anything into meditation by being intentional and focusing on breath, like walking your dog or folding laundry.
5. Get moving
There’s nothing like a good workout to get you in the right mindset. If you think a vigorous HIIT or strength-training session is the only way to go, think again. “Any form of movement will help improve the flow of energy in your body and help you break free of feeling in a slump,” Dr. Kim said. “Regular and consistent movement that stretches and awakens your whole body can be more beneficial than stressful exercise if you’re looking to restore your health and improve your mental state.” Stroll around the block a few times a day in between meetings and phone calls, roll out the yoga mat and strike your favorite poses, or jump it out on your rebounder.
6. Use food as medicine
There’s no denying that food is medicine. Dr. Kim suggested eating a nutritious diet, staying well hydrated, and adding in specific herbs, natural supplements, or teas to help support your mental and physical health, improve your mood, provide mental clarity, and give you a boost of energy.
7. Express gratitude
IMO, giving thanks should be a must 365 days of the year, not just on Thanksgiving. When we practice gratitude, we hone in on the positive. “The more you focus on the good, the easier it is to find, and then it becomes easier to access,” Rose said. “This will help rewire your brain, helping you to be happier and healthier.” Getting in the habit of being grateful for what you have will serve you well, whether you’re in a season of hardship or everything’s coming up roses. And remember, nothing is too small or mundane to be appreciative of.
This article is intended to inspire you to live your best life, not to serve as mental health treatment. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or chronic stress, it’s important to reach out and get help. See your doctor, get in contact with a therapist, and/or talk to a close friend or family member. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, get help immediately.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Crisis Text Line: text CONNECT to 741741