Dealing with Depression as Coronavirus Continues
The virus surges. The quarantines, social distancing, and avoiding social situations drag on. Restaurants are closing again, and the kids are back to remote learning. Hospitals are filling up to capacity, and they still don’t have all the supplies they need to keep us safe.
We have heard news of a vaccine, but it’s not here yet and probably won’t be for a while. So as the world faces increases in cases and the dawning of a dark winter, we, once again, find ourselves locked down. And we are feeling the pain of this pandemic more than ever.
With COVID-19 fatigue being a very real thing while facing more lockdowns, more deaths, more loss of businesses and livelihoods, this time in our lives is overwhelming, a bit scary, and downright depressing.
And because of everything COVID-19 is laying upon us, we are now in the middle of a mental health crisis. Increases in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness are setting in even more as we lose our jobs, our way of life, our celebrations, and for many of us... our loved ones.
Even introverts with social anxiety, like me, who prefer to stay home and avoid the chaos of social situations, are being hit by the isolation and the need to just get out and have at least some normal experiences.
But the virus is surging, and it continues to affect millions of people and take the lives of so many who may otherwise have had a long and healthy life. So, we have to do what we can to ensure we get through this time as safely as possible. Unfortunately, that means more staying home, more lockdowns, and more avoiding the people and places we love.
But it also means we, especially those of us who experienced depression before the pandemic, need to be extra vigilant in taking care of our mental health. We are truly facing a dark winter, and we’ve got to find a way to make sure it does not consume us.
Even though it all seems dark and overwhelming, there are a few important things you can do and keep in mind so depression and anxiety do not get the best of you.
Realize and Accept the Loss You are Experiencing.
Allow yourself time to grieve, to be sad. It is not just the loss of lives or jobs we are experiencing. It is the loss of life as we know it, the loss of time, the loss of holidays and celebrations, and the loss of certainty. These losses are enormous and traumatic for many of us. So give yourself permission to feel what you feel and time to process it.
That means cry if you need to, let yourself be angry for a while. It is of the utmost importance that you know it is okay to feel what you are feeling. But if you are consistently trying to push on, resist or ignore how you feel, it will be to your detriment. Resisting your emotions only serves to feed your depression and helplessness.
As the pandemic and increased isolation continue, you may notice that you have an array of different moods or frequent mood swings. Ranging from feeling grateful you are not sick to fear of what may happen to you or your family to feeling angry, overwhelmed, and out of control. Having a range of conflicting moods and experiencing mood swings is normal during times of crisis. And that is exactly what this is; a prolonged crisis affecting the entire world. But that also makes it more important to accept and process your feelings rather than fight against them.
So take the time to recognize what you are experiencing and how it makes you feel. Find a healthy way to express those emotions often. Such as writing in a journal, talking it out with someone you trust, or even telling your favorite pet all about it as you give them a good head scratch. Otherwise, your emotions may take over and dominate your life, even after the virus has passed.
Don’t Dwell on the Moment.
Although you do need to allow yourself time to grieve and process all your emotions - at the same time it is important not to dwell on or ruminate about the negative thoughts and emotions that come up for you. Recognize all your thoughts and feelings, then find a way to let the bad or self-defeating ones go.
What makes this more complicated than an average episode of depression is that it is so big. It is affecting everyone, and that can make us feel very small – and very helpless. Negative thoughts and feelings of powerlessness emerge simply from the nature of the situation.
Every time you think about visiting a friend or going out to dinner, you are reminded that you can’t do the things that normally make you feel good. It is a double whammy. Many of your usual distractions and coping skills are not available. Now it is the thought of the very things that usually make you feel better, contributing to thoughts that make you feel powerless.
This makes it all too easy to get caught up in unproductive negative thoughts and feelings. Which inevitably end up dragging you down the spiral of depression. Even if you previously had it under control.
It may take more effort than usual, but it is just as important as ever that you don’t dwell on the negativity of your situation. Remind yourself that this will not last forever. Humanity has been through this before and survived.
Be Mindful of Your Self-Talk.
If you have to spend a lot of time alone or away from your support system, your self-talk can begin to get the best of you, especially since you have no one around to help you keep the negativity in check.
So be aware of what you are saying to yourself as much as possible. Spend time intentionally focusing on the positive and uplifting aspects of your life right now.
I know this is often easier said than done when stuck in the grips of depression. But try not to let that be an excuse to beat yourself up. Just because focusing on the positive aspects of your life doesn’t seem easy right now doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Give yourself the space and time you need and keep intentionally focusing on anything positive at all.
Once you make up your mind to do it, it is easy to be mindful of and pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. When you notice you are being harsh, critical, or too demanding of yourself, simply take a deep breath and say something nice to yourself.
You can also make a positivity list. Write down everything you can think of that makes you happy or feel good. Add to this list often and refer to it whenever you feel consumed by negative thoughts. You may find it helpful to look at this list every day, such as first thing in the morning and just before going to bed.
Some things to include in your positivity list are:
- your positive thoughts
- things you are grateful for
- your dreams and goals
- everything you like about yourself, such as your skills, talents, and personality traits
- and what is good or going well in your life right now.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do as we get through this pandemic is to have hope. Look forward to and imagine the possibilities of an amazing future for yourself and for all of us.
Rather than dwelling on what you can’t control, allow yourself to dream. Use your imagination and creativity to figure out how you can accomplish your dreams in the future. Make plans for what you will do and what steps you will implement once the virus has passed.
Have hope and allow that hope to motivate you to accomplish amazing things. As you are dreaming, planning, and putting the ideas in place, you are being productive and helping your future self. You will be getting through this unpreceded moment in history with grace, dignity, and the beginning of making your dreams come true.
Focus on Your Self-Care.
Take care of yourself. Ensure you are doing all the usual self-care such as eating well, spending time outside, and getting in some physical exercise. But also, do something every day that makes you feel productive.
During lockdowns and quarantines, it is all too easy to get bored and start doing mindless things to fill the time. Unfortunately, mindless and unproductive activities can make feelings of depression much worse.
So avoid getting caught up in meaningless activities and spend some time every day working on a project or activity that makes you feel productive, accomplished, and good about yourself. It doesn’t have to be much. Even keeping up with household chores or cleaning out an old closet is enough to create feelings of productivity and accomplishment.
Try making a daily schedule and sticking to a routine. That includes time for rest, self-care, and time to feel like you are accomplishing something.
Having a productive hobby is a great way to keep the COVID blues away. Perhaps one that contributes to society, helping someone or something, or puts you on the path to reaching a dream or goal. Such as this nine-year-old from Erie, Colorado, who started crocheting and now has his own business.
Taking time to meditate each day is another excellent way to be productive. Take five to ten minutes a day to clear your mind and focus on your breathing as a way to let go, relax, refocus, and strengthen your mind. In addition, daily meditation provides a much-needed mental escape from the worry and stress many of us are experiencing during the pandemic.
Speaking of much-needed escapes, be sure to include relaxing and enjoyable activities into your self-care routine. Activities, such as taking a bath or reading a good book, are great ways to ensure you feel relaxed and refreshed enough to manage everything else going on in the world right now. These self-care practices are critical if you are experiencing worry, anxiety, or symptoms of PTSD, in addition to feelings of depression.
Stay in Touch
How we stay in touch with friends and loved ones might be slightly different from usual, but it is still vital for our mental health. Especially if you are feeling lonely. Feeling lonely for long periods of time is a surefire way to induce depression and a lack of hope. So make sure you stay in touch with others.
Use the telephone or video calls to talk to your friends and family. This is a good way to get the support you need. But you also want to stay in touch to offer your support to others. All of us are going through isolation and loneliness, and we need each other. Providing support to a friend or loved one is a highly effective way to feel productive, helpful, and needed. Which, in turn, helps you manage your own depression.
You can also have a virtual movie or game night. You don’t have to just talk while virtually staying in touch. Consider having a group of your friends all log into Netflix or another streaming service while on video chat and watch a movie together. Check out this website where you can cast what you are watching and have your friends join you. Or make it a regular thing and get together a few times a week to watch a TV series together. Alternatively, on some nights, you can play an online game together. Or perhaps find a recipe you can virtually make at the same time while in video chat.
Follow Your Depression Checklist and Use Your Depression Action Plan.
For those of you who have read my book, From Pacifist to Warrior, you may be wondering if you can still use the techniques to find answers, solve problems, and use your depression to feel better. The answer is a resounding yes.
Experiencing depression due to the pandemic is not different than any other time you experience depression. Since the pandemic is an external force, you may feel more helpless. As though you can’t do anything to solve the problem because it is so big. But is that not ultimately how you feel every time you experience depression? As if the situation is dire and that you are helpless to do anything about it?
When experiencing depression, it is the feelings of powerlessness that take over and eventually convince you that there is no hope. But just like any other time you experience depression, the negative and painful feelings that emerge during this pandemic are your mind, body, and soul calling your attention. They are letting you know there is something you need to think about and work through.
Sure, you do not have the power to solve this crisis. You can’t speed a vaccine through, and you cannot fix the economy, but there are things you can do. You can work on yourself, and you can prepare for what will come next. Use your natural problem-solving super-hero skills to find creative, unique, and novel solutions to whatever problem you are facing. The answers you need reside inside of you. It may seem distant and impossible right now, but you’ll never know what you can come up with unless you give it a try.
So you definitely want to continue following and using your depression checklist. And be sure you are keeping up with your daily action plan. Utilize your depression action plan on days you are struggling with feelings of depression. It may be necessary to update your action plans because the isolation and social distancing changes things, but you can do that with just a few adjustments, right? 😉
Finally, be sure you are listening to your inner-selves and conferring with your inner-warrior about what you need to do to get through this time as effectively and with as much positivity as possible. Make a plan, set your goals, and follow-through. You got this.
Get Help if You Need it.
If you continue to feel depressed and nothing seems to be helping, be sure to find help dealing with it. You don’t have to get through all of this and deal with your feelings on your own. Find an online counselor or join an online group or forum to get help from someone who can understand what you are going through. Don’t forget we have The Depression Warriors forum right here. Even though there are very few members at the moment, I am still here to talk to.
If your feelings of depression are getting out of control or you feel like hurting yourself, you can reach out for help from:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
If you are outside of the United States, do an internet search for “Depression Help.” It should list resources in your country that can help you.
In conclusion, as we know it, life has changed. And there isn’t any going back. Even once there is a vaccine, and everything fully opens again, life will be different. And adjusting to our new normal will be a process. So take all of this one day at a time. We will get through it, and we will adjust. Humans are adaptable. We are survivors. And you are a warrior.
As a final thought before you go: keep in mind that we do not know what the future will hold. Even though change and the unknown can be scary, it is also an opportunity—full of potential. Who knows, maybe we will come out of this a little worse for wear but somehow find ourselves in a better place. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, we all need to do what we can to get it going on the right trajectory.
I’m sending a ton of love to you and anyone reading this. Thank you for being here.
How has the coronavirus impacted your life? Do you have any coping skills or ideas that have helped you through COVID fatigue and continued lockdowns? Let us know in comments or forum.
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