Guiding Career + Life Transition

Tips for Getting Unstuck from the “Mean Reds”

By in Career Blog


We have all had times when we experience the “mean reds”.  In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golighty describes the “mean reds”to her love interest, Paul Varjak:

Holly Golightly:  Your know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No.  The blues are because you are getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible.  Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.  Do you ever get that feeling?

Paul Varjak: Sure.

Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and to to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away.


When we have the “mean reds”, we are not quite depressed, not the “blues”, but we seem to be unable to switch that red light feeling of being at stop to the full motivated energy of the green light. We feel low, listless and struggle to find the momentum to move forward.

Sometimes the “mean reds” are an aspect of the seasons of our life and work; the ebb and flow of the creative process. We may have been in an active, productive phase, and are now entering a time where our minds need to rest, to simmer, to re-charge.

Sometimes our experience of “stuckness” is a disconnection with what is most meaningful and important to us: we feel purposeless or unfocused.  

Here are some tips – for body, mind, feeling and spirit that may help you shake the “mean reds” and get going again.

1. Move: not necessarily out of town, but in your body.  The “mean reds” are often as much about inertia than anything else.  

Take a walk, go for a swim, a run, a bike ride.  Put on your favorite music and dance.

Movement can be an extraordinary energy activator.

2. Connect: plug in to something that will “move” you; something that can activate your sense of joy, wonder, humor, or even sadness.

Connecting with the feelings of life, by reading, viewing art, seeing a film or theatrical performance, listening to music – can shake us out of our emotional inertia.

3. Understand: the “mean reds” happen.  They are part of the ebb and flow of our life and are often a condition between those times of completion and new breakthroughs.

The sense of being at stop, often accompanies transition. Change often brings a phase of murky, foggy uncertainty – it may not be fun, but it is temporary.

Naming and mapping the experience and knowing it is “normal” can make it all much more bearable. An uneasy place in the journey, when we can remember that this too, shall pass.


Posted by: Susan Jewkes Allen, MSW, GCDF

San Francisco Bay Area Career Counselor, Career Coach at Life + Work