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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Help Yourself When You’re in a Mental Funk

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How to Help Yourself When You’re in a Mental Funk

At various times of my life, I have found myself in a state of just feeling out-of-sorts. I am not depressed, but I have these feelings that are associated with listlessness, lack of purpose, and lack of motivation. I feel flat, empty, disconnected. When I am in this state, I feel unpleasant and I feel the need to help myself.

I usually feel like this when I have worked hard on a project and it has come to an end. I am exhausted and emotionally drained, and I am at a point where I don’t know what to do next.

COVID-19 has also created a lot of situations for me where I have had to work really hard not to stay in a mental funk longer than I should. With so much disruption and uncertainty in our lives today, we need to be extra vigilant so we don’t want to fall into the trap of continuously living our lives in a state of a mental funk.

What Is Mental Funk?

The first step to getting yourself out of a state of mental funk is to understand what a mental funk is all about. If you don’t know what you are dealing with, how would you know how to work your way out of the problem?

There are many definitions given for a mental funk. However, the definition given by the Urban Dictionary for Mental Funk resonates with me:[1]

“Temporary sadness. Feeling sad and down and not knowing why. No motivation to do anything and always tired. Almost like you’re missing something but not know what it is. Like a small phase of depression that only lasts a couple of days or weeks.”

There is science behind mental funk. In fact, there is a science behind our moods and feelings. They don’t just come out of nowhere. If you are in a mental funk, you are not going crazy—there is a chemical explanation behind why you are feeling the way you do.

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When you understand the science behind your moods, you are more informed about how you can snap out of your mental funk a lot quicker.

The Chemistry Behind Our Moods

Different chemicals affect our moods. Sydney Sprouse explains how we can harness these chemicals where we are in more control of our feelings rather than our feelings controlling us:[2]

“Hormones and neurotransmitters (those important chemical messengers) work in the limbic system and throughout the body. They generate the emotions you experience throughout the day. These compounds work in tandem with the events in your life to trigger your many types of mood.”

1. Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps us feel relaxed, balanced, and contributes to our well-being or state of calm. When your serotonin is out of whack, it feels like everything is out of whack in your life.

When your body is low in Serotonin, you are more susceptible to feeling sadness, lethargy, and sleepiness. When there is plenty of serotonin in your body you are more content, alert, and energized.

When you are feeling listless, low in energy, or emotional, you need to give your Serotonin levels a boost. One of the best ways to this is by journaling. This simple act of reflecting on your past achievements or thinking about positive memories produces Serotonin.

The secret ingredient for journaling to work, however, is that you have to commit to it regularly or else, your mental funk will keep appearing and will hang around for a lot longer.

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2. Dopamine—The Feeling of Pleasure

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we feel pleasure. It is a chemical that makes us feel like it is our birthday every day, and it is very important in helping us regulate our emotional responses.

If you have been in meetings all day or had a long day at work, you will feel drained and tired. The more we feel like this, the more “blah” we feel about life and our mood becomes “blah” as well. This is a sign that our Dopamine levels are low and we need to give it a boost.

This chemical is essential as it is the chemical that gives us a feeling of hope. It will help us fight our bad moods as long as there is plenty of Dopamine around.

To boost your Dopamine levels, you have to create pleasure for your mind and body. There are many ways to do this. You can pamper yourself, plan a holiday, create a bucket list, catch up with old friends, or reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

The key thing to do to boost your Dopamine levels is to take action. If you are not taking action and trying new things, this very important chemical will not be able to help you fight off your bad moods!

3. Oxytocin—The Feeling of Love

Oxytocin creates feelings of love and trust. That’s where the name “love hormone” comes from. The presence of this hormone in your blood helps you form emotional attachments to loved ones—friends, family, even pets.”

—Sydney Sprouse

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Oxytocin is the love hormone that makes us feel love and connection. Oxytocin is crucial to understanding our moods as our mind and body work together to find connection with others.

If you are feeling disconnected and alone, then your level of Oxytocin is low and you need to give it a boost. The best way to do this is to call in your support network. Do you have a friend who is a great listener or a person or relative who makes you laugh? These are the people who will help you boost your Oxytocin levels to an all-time high.

4. Endorphins—The Feeling of Excitement

Endorphins are a significant chemical that helps us to manage our levels of anxiety, stress, and physical pain. Endorphins are pumped through our bodies when we are active. This is the reason why going for a run or a workout makes us feel euphoric or as if we are on a high.

The best way to give your Endorphins a boost is to get active and go exercise. Do any activity where you can get your blood and endorphins pumping!

Beware of Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

To understand how Cortisol affects our moods, we need to understand stress. Not all stress is bad for us—in fact, good stress (Eustress) keeps you alert, goal-orientated, and focused. However, the problem is that we can let bad stress (distress) take over our lives. This is when Cortisol kicks in and has a huge influence on our moods and how we feel.

The triggers for bad stress can vary from personal tragedy, bad relationships, job loss, etc. With the increase of the stress in our lives, the feelings of uneasiness, tension, and anxiety accompany a rise in cortisol levels.

There are ways to manage the cortisol levels, but exercise and connection with others are by far the most effective. These activities can combat the anxiety and fatigue caused by distress and help you to move forward.

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There are a few more chemicals and hormones that can influence your mood swings, but I have selected the key chemicals that have the most significant impact on how you feel daily However, if you do want to get out of your Mental Funk quickly, here are 3 actions that you can do that will sort out your Mental Funk instantaneously!

  1. MeditationMeditation creates the space for you to give your thoughts some peace and quiet
  2. Laughter – Laughter brings you joy and creates a positive mindset. The more you laugh, the happier you feel about life. Set yourself a challenge to smile and laugh at least 10 times a day! If you do this, your mental funk will disappear completely.
  3. Get 8 hours of sleep every night – Your body and mind need rest and to replenish. The best way to do that is by regularly getting a good night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

We can’t prevent our feelings of malaise (Mental Funk) from happening, but we can tap into our power of choice and take action to move our feelings and thoughts into a more positive and optimistic mindset.

The more we know about what causes our mental funk, the easier it is for us to choose to do something about it!

“You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.” —Roy T Bennett

More Tips on Mental Wellness

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Urban Dictionary: to be in a funk
[2] Ask the Scientists: Master Your Mood: The Science Behind the Types of Mood

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Published on August 23, 2021

Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

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Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

If you suffer from depression or suddenly experience bouts of sadness that seem to come out of nowhere, you probably wonder why this is happening. The truth is that there are several possibilities, and you aren’t alone. According to the World Health Organization, in January of 2020, more than 264 million people were diagnosed with depression and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.[1] In this article, I will answer the question: why am I depressed if my life is fine?” I will discuss what depression is and what the possible causes of depression are. Additionally, I will offer some solutions to consider as you navigate the depression you are experiencing.

The question of why you are depressed if your life is fine is one that I can personally identify with, as I can remember a time when I went through an intense depression even though, in many ways, my life couldn’t have been much better. I was financially secure, had a good family, lived in a beautiful place, had a pretty adventurous and exciting life, but none of that could have prevented a serious and prolonged battle with depression.

Given that you are here reading this article now, you will hopefully be able to identify the problem early and get the support you need to fend off any significant depressive episodes, as this can make a huge difference in your battle with depression.

Furthermore, you don’t have to live with depression! Despite the debilitating effects of depression, with the right treatment and support, it is also one of the more “curable” mental health disorders and you can overcome it.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, and in the worst cases, despair and suicidality.

Depression from a clinical perspective is classified into a few distinctive categories, two of the more common categories are; major depression and dysthymia. According to the DSM 5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—which governs the diagnosis of psychiatric and mental health disorders—major depression is classified as experiencing five or more symptoms in the same two-week period and must include a loss in pleasure as well as a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.[2]

The criteria are:

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  • Loss of pleasure or joy
  • Intense feelings of sadness and depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
  • Difficulty sleeping or disturbed sleep
  • Change in appetite (increased or decreased appetite) and a 5% change in body weight
  • Difficulty focusing, poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation or slowing down
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Persistent thoughts of death, dying, and suicide

Dysthymia is an ongoing or persistent depressed mood for a period of two years where you feel sadness more days than not. It will include at least two of the following symptoms when depressed:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (having more sleep than usual)
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling of hopelessness

The above symptoms of dysthymia can coincide with the symptoms of major depression.

Causes of Depression

Depression happens for several reasons that I categorize into three: biology, environment, and situation. Depression also tends to occur in more sensitive people, tend to overthink, and get stuck in their thoughts, which—more times than not—are negative.

Biological causes of depression are related to how your body produces neurotransmitters that impact your moods, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Some people might have a biological predisposition for depression and never experience any significant symptoms but when confronted with a challenging life situation, such as a loss or disappointment, it can send them into a tailspin of despondency and intense feelings of low and sad mood.

Depression caused by one’s environment is more about those you might have grown up with, your family, and your home environment, which could also be connected to heredity. Regardless of your biological predisposition, you learn how to handle challenges in life by observing those around you.

Adults, in particular, are role models for children and will likely deal with life in similar ways as to what they observed. For example, a child who grows up witnessing partner abuse between their parents is at increased risk of either being a victim or perpetrator of violence in an intimate relationship as an adult.[3]

Situational depression, as I mentioned above, can be seen as more of a cause-and-effect relationship. When you are confronted with a particular life challenge or change, such as job loss, geographic relocation, or family and financial stress, these situations can cause you to fall into a temporary or prolonged depression.

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In some cases, depression can be a combination of all of the above.

Examples of Causes of Depression

Below are some examples of situations that might lead you to experience a prolonged period of depression.

Grief

The loss of a loved one, especially when sudden and traumatic, can bring about intense feelings of loss and sadness, which can lead to clinical depression. This includes the death of pets.

Medical Issue or Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a medical issue, especially if chronic and progressive, is much like any other loss you might experience. It represents the loss of a life you had. Very often, there will need to be changes made in one’s life that will not allow for a lifestyle previously enjoyed.

A Feeling of Failure or Perceived Shortcomings

As I mentioned, people who experience depression tend to be sensitive and self-critical. You might be struggling with not getting a job promotion or failing to progress in the way you imagined for yourself, but this doesn’t mean that you are not progressing in some other way.

Sudden Life Change

Changes—even good changes and welcomed changes—are hard. Sometimes, these changes can have an impact on your role and status in society like marriage or parenthood, which are both wonderful changes yet fraught with many challenges and new social roles.

Feeling Trapped or With Limited Options

Having options is both a blessing and a curse. We know that the more options we have, the less happy we are and the more anxious we might tend to feel, wanting and needing to make the right decision. However, on the flip side, the idea that you don’t have any options can also lead to feeling trapped and feeling that your life circumstances are already written in stone.

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Burnout

Job stress, being overworked and underpaid, or the lack of fulfillment in your profession can lead to depression, which might also coincide with the feeling of being trapped and feeling as though you don’t have many options in your life and career.

What Can You Do If You Experience Depression?

It may sometimes feel as though, out of nowhere, that you are hit with depression, and this is true for many people who have a biologically based depression. However, I would argue that whenever there is something like depression or anxiety—which are defense mechanisms—there is something in your life that is not 100% congruent with who you are and where your life is at or going.

This essentially means that it’s time to take a step back and reassess a few things in life. It doesn’t mean that you will be able to wright the ship entirely. However, you might be able to make some small changes that will help you feel more in control of your life and the direction that you are going in.

1. Consider Therapy

Therapy will help you take stock and think about what is happening in your life and where you might be able to make some changes. Needless to say, you will also have the support you need to embark on making those changes. It could also be a chance to identify what it is in your life that is causing the depression. A therapist can also help you connect to other supports that might help you as you work through this period in your life.

2. Group Support Network

Processing hurt and pain through the group experience is a powerful method of connecting with yourself and others who might be experiencing similar challenges. Part of the value of group experience is knowing that you are not alone and that you have support not just from professionals but also from other people just like you.

3. Self Assessment

Self-assessment involves assessing where you are in your life in relation to your life goals, your relationships, and the direction that you are headed. Maybe it is time to make a pivot and change course, which could be a very scary thing. Bringing this kind of information to therapy will be very valuable and will assist you in the therapeutic process.

4. Take Some Time Off

Taking some time off will be and can be helpful in many ways. If you are experiencing burnout, this will give you more time for self-care and help you give yourself a break. Moreover, taking a time off gives you more time to do some of the things I described above in therapy, group work, and self-assessment.

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5. Are You Bored?

Sometimes, when we lack stimulation or work in a job for which we are overqualified, we might find ourselves feeling underutilized and as if we are not meeting our potential. This would, hopefully, come out in a self-assessment and could indicate the need to make a change in your work life.

Depression and Suicide

Depression is a serious mental health disorder. Thirty to seventy percent of deaths by suicide are attributed to major depression or bipolar disorder.[4] If you or someone you love is experiencing depression and expresses thoughts or statements about death and suicide, consult with your medical professional or mental health counselor. People who receive treatment for depression have an 80 to 90% rate of success from therapy and/or medication.

Suffice to say, if you get the treatment you need for depression, your chances of recovering skyrocket. Again, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to live with depression. Get the right treatment,[5] and you can have a whole new lease on life.

Final Thoughts

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness for a long period of time. Many people throughout their lives will experience some depression in varying degrees. If you notice that what you are experiencing resembles any of what I have described above, please know that you can make changes and you can live a life free of depression. Getting help, support, and treatment is essential to addressing the depression or changes in your life that might need to be considered.

More Tips on Coping With Depression

Featured photo credit: Paola Chaaya via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The World Health Organization: Depression
[2] NCBI: The DSM-5: Classification and Criteria Changes
[3] OASH: Office on women’s Health: Effects of domestic violence on children
[4] Mental Health America: Suicide
[5] Upside Down Flan: The Best Treatment for Depression

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