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Feeling a bit blah? It’s a real thing – but there are ways to beat it and find joy again

Author Tanith Carey has done a deep-dive into our ‘blah’ moods and how to overcome them. Lisa Salmon finds out more.

We all struggle to see the bright side sometimes, and even things we usually enjoy suddenly seem flat. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re depressed – just feeling a bit ‘blah’.

There’s actually a word to describe this feeling: anhedonia, which comes from Greek, meaning ‘without pleasure’.

Journalist and author Tanith Carey decided to look into it, after going through a ‘blah’ phase herself – and now she’s written a book on the subject, called Feeling ‘Blah’? Why Anhedonia Has Left You Joyless And How To Recapture Life’s Highs.

“Life’s tough at the moment,” Carey observes. “It’s not just the cost-of-living crisis – overall, modern life may be more convenient, but it can also overload our brains with more messages and comparisons with others than we can process, creating overwhelm.

“The result of this overload can be numbness, emotional flatlining and feeling ‘blah’. You may also lose motivation to do what makes you feel good, which creates a vicious circle. Even when you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, you may feel like you aren’t really having a good time, and as if you have to fake it for other people. Anhedonia is the missing word in our mental health discussion.”

Carey says that while depression is at one end of the spectrum and happiness at the other, the “grey space” in the middle, where many of us live our lives, is never discussed. “And because we don’t address it, and keep accepting it as the status quo, we get stuck in a rut in this grey middle.”

In the book, she delves into how a number of things may contribute to feeling ‘blah’ – including stress, burnout and physical health issues. It could also be a legacy of childhood experiences, where you subconsciously learned it’s unsafe to feel joy in case it’s snatched away. Our diets may contribute too, impacting gut microbes, which are recognised as being linked with brain chemistry.

“With all this to contend with, it’s even more important we find ways to beat ‘blah’, and set out to find ways to circulate feel-good chemicals again,” says Carey.

Wondering how? The author shares the following suggestions for banishing ‘blah’…

1. Take screen breaks to dial down cortisol

We need cortisol, a stress hormone, to get us going. But when cortisol is consistently high, it never gets a chance to reset – and one of the reasons for this is constantly checking our phones (a recent study by Nottingham Trent University found we check our phones an average 85 times a day).

“The deluge of notifications and messages constantly raises our levels of cortisol and tells us we need to get ready for threats, even when we’re in no immediate danger,” says Carey. “Over time, this helps dampen down the action of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.”

After a spike, cortisol levels may be elevated for around an hour, so Carey advises people reset by taking a screen-free break of this length every day to relax.

2. Always have something to look forward to

Get nice plans in the diary (Alamy/PA)

It feels good when you anticipate something you want, and then get it. Carey says this circulates the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine around the brain’s reward pathway.

“One of the key ways to boost dopamine is by looking forward to things,” she says. “So every week, have at least one activity in your diary you’re looking forward to, whether it’s coffee with a friend, or a visit to a favourite beauty spot.”

3. Write a no-do list

Carey says research shows people need two hours of leisure activity a day to be happy, and a good way of finding that time is by redrawing your to-do list. She suggests writing a list of all the things you do every week, and asking yourself if you really need to do them, or are they just expected of you? Then decide which ones to cross off and which to delegate.

“As you decide what tasks to drop, check there won’t be any negative consequences for you, or anyone else, as a result,” she advises. “But once you’ve slimmed down your task list, you’ll feel lighter and more able to enjoy your downtime.”

4. Shake it up

Is there something you’ve always fancied trying? (Alamy/PA)

The brain releases more dopamine when it’s seeking out or experiencing something new, says Carey. “As well as always having something in your diary to look forward to, search out regular novel experiences, like visiting a place you haven’t been before or trying an activity for the first time.”

5. Look around when you go for a walk

When you’re out walking, are you still checking your phone and thinking about your to-do list? Carey explains that researchers at University of Southern California asked groups of walkers to really notice nature’s details when they took a 15-minute walk once a week, and to take pictures of what they enjoyed seeing. After two months, they were found to be much happier and more socially connected than walkers who did the same weekly walk, but weren’t asked to pay attention to what they saw and were allowed to keep using their phones instead.

6. Listen for birdsong

We’re wired to take notice of the sounds of nature for our survival, says Carey. “According to a 2022 study by researchers at King’s College London, listening out for birdsong, even if it’s recorded, improves mental wellbeing in as little as two weeks.”

7. Sing along to your favourite chorus

Carey says one of the easiest ways to get dopamine circulating is to sing along to a song you love, especially if it has a big chorus. “Your dopamine levels build as you anticipate your favourite bit,” she explains. “To get the maximum effect, sing along with others too, whether it’s in a choir, at a concert or a football match – studies have found singing with others increases the release of the bonding chemical oxytocin as well as stress-relieving endorphins, for a triple whammy.”

8. Chat to new people

Having small talk with people you don’t know may sound awkward, but it helps blast ‘blah’ feelings, promises Carey. She says studies have found that although we expect to feel happier if we’re left alone on public transport, when we strike up a conversation with a stranger, the opposite is true. We enjoy our journeys much more and feel happier and more connected afterwards.

Feeling ‘Blah’? by Tanith Carey is published by Welbeck, priced £16.99. Available now.


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