13 Potential Causes for "Feeling Flat"

How to figure out why you're having a low vibe day.

Posted Sep 13, 2018

Billion Photos/Shutterstock
Source: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

I recently wrote about five ways to quickly bounce back from a "low vibe day." I think of a low vibe day as a day when you're feeling flat or emotional, but nothing major has happened to trigger that. Even though you might not have experienced any major negative events, there are often subtle causes of feeling "off"  which can manifest as feeling lethargic, flat, or antsy. Understanding these causes can help you better cope with these feelings. Let's run through a checklist of causes you can consider when you're feeling low.

Potential causes of your unhappy mood.

Note that this article is focused on causes of malaise that you might overlook. If something major or tragic has happened, you're going to already know why you feel emotional. 

As you read through this list, identify the three to four factors that tend to affect you most often. Pay particular attention to any points that affect you, but that you often overlook.

1. You're doing something new and/or challenging, and are experiencing fluctuating confidence and self-doubtEven when you're mostly sure you are on the right track, coping with these emotions can be very taxing.

2. You are feeling low-level but persistent physical pain. This could be a minor injury, overuse pain, a headache, or just having slept in a funny position and woken up with an ache. Consider treating your physical pain. Minor but persistent pain can be extremely draining and make you feel irritable.

3. You're reacting to the media. The types of media that can cause low vibe days include news, dystopian literature, excessively materialistic reality TV, and anything that activates our fears of death, illness, or separation or gives us a sense of hopelessness or feeling out of control.

4. You've had a difficult, tense conversation, or you know one is on the horizon. For example, you had to convey when you were unhappy with someone else's work. Or, you've attempted to make your position clear, but it doesn't seem to have been heard or accepted, and now you need to try to again. Even minor interpersonal stress can have a large impact, especially if you're prone to ruminating or taking excessive responsibility.  

5. You're putting something off. It's nagging at you, and your feelings of stress about it are snowballing.

6. You've experienced several incidents of money stress coming one after another, like several unexpected bills.

7. You're experiencing hormone changes. You've got PMS or ovulation moodiness. Tracking your periods can help you know when this is the cause of your emotions.

8. There's something you're anxious about coming up in your life. For example, you need to have a photo taken for your company's new website, and you're hoping you don't get stuck with a bad photo.

9. You've got low iron, low b12, or another nutrient-related issue.

10. You've taken a break, and now you need to get back into work. You might be feeling post-vacation malaise, or you're returning to work after maternity leave. When you've taken a break, restarting can be difficult, and you might have lost confidence in your abilities.

11. You're going through change or upheaval. For example, your office is being renovated, or your work teams have been reorganized. Change affects some people more than others. If you're easily ruffled by change, know that this is quite a hardwired aspect of temperament, so don't be too hard on yourself about it.    

12. Something is disrupting your sleep. There might be a simple fix here. For example, you can change your thermostat's schedule if you're finding yourself waking up during the night from being too hot or cold. Or perhaps you need to use earplugs if noise is an issue.

13. You've been through a period of very hard work or stress, and you're exhausted from it. The storm has passed, but you're still recovering. A key sign of this can be if you're not enjoying things much: For example, you're not excited about food or any of the entertainment you usually enjoy. You might finally have time to enjoy those things, but they just don't feel that pleasurable. A long period of feeling like this can be indicative of depression, but a short period can happen when you're recovering from stress, and your neurotransmitters are getting back into balance. Alternatively, you might've handled something stressful and now be waiting to see how your "fix" works out. While you're waiting, you're feeling background anxiety that's draining you.

Keep in mind.

  • It's possible to overthink about potential causes of a low mood, especially if you've experienced depression in the past and are fearful of your mood funk setting in and experiencing another episode. If reviewing this list doesn't give you any insights, try not to worry too much about it. Give yourself a few days of self-care to see if you bounce back.
  • Mood dips often have several causes. Small factors can pile on top of each other when you haven't had a chance to psychologically recover from one thing before the next thing hits you.
  • Whatever causes you identify, ask yourself whether you need to ride them out, or whether you need to take some action. This is probably the most important point of this article. Some of the causes mentioned you can do something about — for instance, by taking a media break, addressing nutrient deficiencies, or getting started on whatever you're procrastinating about.
  • Recognize that being in a mood funk can make you more passive. You might find yourself not putting in place simple fixes, like adjusting your thermostat, treating physical pain, or getting something small but anxiety-provoking done and out of the way. This can create a chicken-or-egg situation where enduring these problems is both a cause and consequence of your emotions. Try improving any of the problems I've mentioned, even if you're not able to completely solve them. Learning to love incremental improvements is a fantastic way to increase your resilience.