Reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
A funk is a great way to describe a period of depression, because it captures the uncertain nature of depression perfectly. You might ask yourself: “Am I depressed, or just going through a difficult time?” “Are my symptoms chronic, or do I just feel sad from time to time?”
Whatever it might be — you’re probably wondering how to get out of that depression funk.
Many people who are depressed can’t identify the first day they felt depressed, or the cause of the onset of depression. They may not even notice the symptoms of depression they’re struggling with. For many depressed people, it’s just a sudden realization that they’ve been in a depressed state for some time — a funk.
Good news: Depression funks aren’t forever — or at least, they don’t have to be with the proper treatment.
Read on to learn more about depression, why you might be feeling in a ‘funk,’ and how to best get out of it so you can feel like yourself again.
First things first: There’s no official medical definition for a depression funk.
It’s important to understand that a diagnosis of depression means that someone has experienced sad or hopeless thoughts regularly or daily for a period of time, typically several weeks or more.
More than that, though, to receive a formal diagnosis of depression — those depressive feelings need to go so far as to impact a person’s life: potentially hindering work, relationships, or happiness. Activities like dating are already hard enough but dating with depression can be even more difficult.
A funk, then, is a catch-all term for a period of off-feelings, and research shows that the term “funk” is often used to describe the early feelings that something is “off” with mental health.
A 2013 study on teens found that the subjects experienced the “funk” as the result of a slow-growing period of mental distress, just before they begin to consider whether or not they have some form of clinical depression. In this usage, the “funk” could be considered early stage depression, or ‘pre-depression,’ depending on the individual.
Someone might describe themselves as in a funk when they’re actually experiencing a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which tends to affect people during the coldest and darkest months of the year: winter. For these people, the funk might be the depressive period itself, given that the onset is correlated with a season of dreary weather.
Someone might also call it a funk when they experience major depression. Major depression is a moderate to severe, sudden period of depression, and unlike chronic depression, it lasts a shorter amount of time (typically about two weeks) but with symptoms far more debilitating.
It’s also possible that a person with chronic or persistent depressive disorder might characterize regularly occurring bouts with mental illness as “funks,” seeing the undulating dips and falls in their quality of life as chronic funks, which may continue to occur over the course of two years or more.
Will the “funk” last forever? Probably not. In fact, it will likely either go away on its own, or become worse, necessitating professional mental health support.
Research shows that describing mental distress as a funk tends to be temporary, and that after people in a funk see a mental health professional, they tend to be diagnosed with depression and accept ‘depression’ as a helpful label.
In other words, you can think about a funk as a sort of limbo between an “off week” and a diagnosed mood disorder.
So what does a funk feel like?
People in a funk are aware that they’re experiencing some degree of distress, though they may not fully realize or acknowledge that it represents depression. Nevertheless, they may be experiencing the wide range of symptoms of depression, including:
Poor decision making
Unfortunately, some people may see these signs of depression and still not seek support, and they may continue to refer to their condition as a funk even as their mental health and quality of life deteriorates.
Refusing to get help when the funk has gone on for more than a couple of weeks isn’t smart, because untreated depression can have some serious long-term effects on your mental and physical health.
Even if someone isn’t willing to call their experience “depression” by name, they can still suffer the effects of it. That’s why addressing your needs at the first signs of depression is so important.
Addressing your mental health needs doesn’t have to mean immediately jumping into daily therapy or heavy doses of medications. Modern mental health care isn’t about aggressive treatment unless conditions are severe.
In fact, you may not need therapy or medication at all, especially if your “funk” hasn’t become debilitating.
There are a variety of things you can do to improve your own mental health right now, including:
Just 30 minutes a day of something like walking can boost your mood and improve your mental health according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the best part is that you don’t even need to do all 30 minutes at the same time. You can exercise in small chunks throughout the day.
Getting enough water is crucial to your mental and physical health, and you can count water, tea, coffee and many other beverages toward that goal.
A balanced diet is crucial for stabilizing your mood and energy levels, and for giving your body the fuel to get through the day and feel accomplished and in control.
If you’re able to build yourself a good sleep schedule, the benefits are incredible for your physical and mental health. People who prioritize sleep are at lower risk for certain diseases and health conditions, and lower risk of both depression and anxiety, too.
Taking time for relaxing activities is crucial to your mental health. Think of it like letting your computer sleep after a day of opening hundreds of tabs. And a lot of activities fit the chill bill, from puzzles and journaling to breathing exercises and meditation.
Expressing a little gratitude isn’t just about how it makes other people feel, or about being humble: It’s a great way to reframe your world view in terms of positive experiences.
Journaling about gratitude can help you remember that having friends, family, a roof over your head and food in your fridge is a lot — even if you forget sometimes.
Reaching out to friends and family with your problems is a great way to get support, but even chatting casually about your day can strengthen those connections and prevent feelings of isolation. Stay in touch to stay mentally healthy.
Depression funks can also have a negative effect on dating. You can read our blog on dating with depression for some of our tips.
If the home remedies and self-guided treatments for your funk aren’t working, it may be time to seek professional help and depression treatment through a healthcare professional.
Depression is a dangerous condition to leave untreated for a significant period of time, because it can begin to reshape your whole world view to fit those negative, hopeless thought patterns, eroding your joy and purpose as time passes.
Treating depression with professional mental health help may take one of a few forms:
Antidepressant medications modify your brain’s levels of certain brain chemicals to help balance your moods, effectively regulating your depression. They may do this in several ways, either by affecting the serotonin levels or other neurotransmitters.
The most commonly prescribed (and most effective) antidepressants on the market are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have been shown to have the fewest side effects in a comprehensive study.
Talk to a healthcare provider about your options.
Therapy is an effective way to analyze the way you think about things with professional guidance, for the ultimate purpose of rewiring your brain away from depressive ways of thinking.
This is just one of many types of therapy that may help you take control of the way you’re seeing the world, and reformat your perspective to something more positive and healthy.
A funk might simply be a bad mood for you, and if that's the case, tomorrow might be a better day. But if you've been saying tomorrow will be better for a couple of weeks with no results, it might be time to take this funk seriously.
Mental health is not the same from one person to the next, and no two experiences of depression are alike, so if you're struggling, there's nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help.
The best part is that, today, you don't need to leave your computer to get professional help — online psychiatry is just a click away.
If this is bad day number ten, get the mental health help you need. Funks are preventable, and you deserve to be out of it as soon as possible.