In a funk? Break out with these experiments.


Try something that worked before—or something completely new

When you feel really down, even a single positive change can make a real difference. “But if you experiment with three small changes in one week, you may raise your chances of lifting your spirits even more,” says Jennifer McClure, PhD, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

Here’s a list of activities that have helped others move in a positive direction:

  • Get physically active (like walking, swimming, or an exercise class).
  • Accomplish something you’ve been putting off a while (enroll in a computer course).
  • Connect with others (call a friend you haven’t seen lately).
  • Seek pleasant experiences (take a long bath, get out in nature).
  • Do something creative (music, drawing, writing in a journal).
  • Do something playful (games with your children or relatives).
  • Seek escape or a change of pace (watch a movie, read a funny or inspiring book, make breakfast for dinner).

Ask your best friend: “What activity
do you think I should try again?”

Something tried and true: What’s worked before?

If you’re like most people, knowing what’s worked in the past can be helpful. Consider what lifted your mood or lowered your stress before. These questions can get you started:

  • What activities have you enjoyed the most at other times?
  • What would your best friend suggest you try again?
  • What have you done that you’ve felt most proud of?
  • What activities have helped you to feel more confident?

When you’re getting started, it’s best to focus on activities you can complete in a short time. Make a list of three or four things you can start right away to give yourself an immediate lift. Then choose one or two things that appeal to you best. Focus on the actions that you can make happen during the next week.

What about something completely different?

Feeling really “stuck” can sometimes mean that it’s time to do something really different, or even a little radical—something you’ve never tried before and wouldn’t usually think of trying.

Brainstorm activities you might try that are completely new—things that don’t fit with feeling depressed. If you can’t help smiling or laughing when you imagine yourself trying one of these things, you’re headed in the right direction.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Imagine doing things that don’t match your idea of what a sad or bored person would do (like dressing in the brightest colors you can find, taking yourself out to lunch, singing out loud in your apartment, going to a store and trying on clothes you would never ever wear).
  • Find people having fun and do the same, even if you don’t feel like it (play mini-golf, chase your kids at the playground).
  • Think of activities that will make you smile at yourself; things that make it hard to take yourself or your situation so seriously.
  • Think of actions that might really surprise people who know how you’ve been feeling lately.



Paul's story

Paul had always had trouble meeting new people and being around strangers. Lately, the problem was getting worse. In almost any social situation, he’d feel nervous, then ashamed about feeling nervous, and then worthless about feeling ashamed about feeling nervous. He felt like he was sinking lower and lower every week.

When he couldn’t handle his granddaughter’s wedding, he felt like he’d hit bottom. Then he remembered one of his aunt’s favorite sayings: “Sometimes the only way out is through”—and he decided it was time to push through feeling nervous and ashamed. His wife suggested they join a local “mall walkers” group together. Paul liked the idea of getting some exercise, but at first he was reluctant to go. He was nervous about meeting new people and even unsure which clothes to wear, but he agreed.

When Paul showed up for the first walk he still felt timid and unsure. He cringed when one of the regular members of the group spoke to him—and felt sure no one would like him. But after going a couple of times, he started to feel more comfortable. He even met another man from his hometown. He knew he’d never be “Mr. Outgoing,” but it felt good to get regular exercise and to meet someone who shared a common background.