Some days, maybe most days lately, you’ve been feeling blah. Maybe you’re going through the motions. You aren’t particularly excited about your day. Maybe you’re frustrated or lethargic. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected. Maybe you’re moving about your days like a zombie.
Maybe you find yourself telling others that you’re simply in a funk, or you don’t care about anything right now. Maybe you say, “I did nothing this weekend but sit on the couch and binge watch TV — again!” According to therapist Chris Kingman, LCSW, these are other ways of expressing the same thing: Your blah feelings.
Whatever the specifics, you’re left wondering: What is going on with me?
“A case of the blahs is actually a powerful emotional response to life,” said Kingman, who helps individuals and couples manage emotions, improve relationships, navigate transitions, and stop self-destructive behaviors. He calls it a “system shut-down” — an automatic defense mechanism that protects us from uncomfortable, vulnerable feelings. Because it’s so much easier and safer to tell someone you feel “blah” — instead of admitting the truth, even to yourself.
And what is this truth?
The truth might be that you are feeling sad or lonely. The truth might be that you are feeling insecure or hopeless. The truth might be that you are disappointed or hurt or anxious or embarrassed. The truth might be that you’re feeling ashamed.
The truth might be that you’re minimizing, avoiding, or ignoring core parts of your identity. “Sometimes, clients inadvertently lock themselves into what they think is socially acceptable or appropriate, ignoring who they are… usually out of fear of suffering the consequences of being judged,” said Darcy Lawton, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, relationships, career guidance, motivation, self-esteem, and the performing arts.
When you’re feeling blah, the first step is to be still and compassionately self-reflect. As therapist Christine Vacin, LCSW, said, “self-awareness is a necessary foundation to discover what interventions contribute to a healthier life.”
Kingman suggested asking ourselves: “What’s happening to me, in my life or in my heart, that could be stirring up uncomfortable emotions today?”
Vacin likes the acronym HALT, which stands for: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. It’s a quick way to assess your feelings — and pinpoint what you need. Another technique is a body scan, said Vacin, who’s passionate about helping clients become their best selves by working through past and present issues. She also emphasized that feeling blah is our body’s way of communicating a much-needed need.
The next step is to be patient — because you might not get clear answers, Kingman said. “The trap most people fall into is to get frustrated with [themselves], which just exacerbates the negative feelings, which then leads to numbing the feelings or acting them out in self-defeating ways.”
The third step is to ask yourself this question from the Buddhist tradition: “What’s my next right action?” Kingman said. Your next right action might be to “move a muscle, change a thought.” This might mean changing your environment and your energy; kickstarting a project that feels productive; or tackling a task you’ve been putting off, he said.
Your next right action might be to tap into your senses — sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing — to fully appreciate your life. If you’re feeling blah because nothing new or exciting is happening in your life, you might minimize or not see the good that is present, Lawton said. “If we find ourselves projecting too far into the future to things we might want but currently do not have, we might unknowingly be canceling out the positive themes that are surely active in our lives.”
You next right action might be to call a friend, see a therapist, or attend a support group. It might be to sit with your feelings, and keep journaling about your pain to better understand it.
Kingman likened our blah feelings to an iron deficiency or oxygen deprivation. “If we humans are not getting sufficient iron or oxygen, then the pain that ensues is a signal, telling us we need to do something. In a similar way, when we’re not getting what we need emotionally or existentially we experience symptoms—which are signals from the body saying, ‘Hey, there’s a problem.’”
Your sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, or insecurity are symptoms or signals that reveal that an important part of your life requires attention. Just like we need iron and oxygen for our physical health, Kingman said, we need caring, safe relationships, and a sense of purpose for our emotional health (among other things).
Which part of your life requires your attention?