It’s not an easy time for people with depression right now (namely, me). Not like it’s ever easy, but living through a pandemic where there are so many uncertainties, coupled with the isolation of shelter-in-place orders, makes everything a whole lot harder.
Mental health professionals agree: this is a rough time for those with mental illness. “Whatever a person’s circumstances are during quarantine — accessibility to a person’s typical routines, interactions, and social opportunities have decreased,” says Hilary Weinstein, LCSW. “The combination of this with the increased time that many people have alone with their thoughts can exacerbate negative self-talk and cognitive distortions.”
Madison Marcus-Paddison, LMSW adds, “There’s a ton of research that supports that isolation and lack of activity promotes feeling fatigued, disengaged, and withdrawn from the environment. When people do less, they often feel worse, which leads to them doing less. It’s a vicious cycle of avoidance.”
8 Ways to Manage Depression During COVID-19
So, what’s a depressed person to do? How are we supposed to keep our mental health in check and get back to feeling more like ourselves? Maybe, we can come out even stronger than before quarantine. Try these eight tips from experts and be ready to tackle the post-quarantine world — whenever it is that we can leave our homes again.
1. Continue treatment or services from mental health professionals
If you were in therapy, taking medications, or both before this all began, make sure you keep up with your treatment regimen. Pretty much all mental health professionals have moved their practices online to video calls. Alternatively, you can try out an online therapy platform like Talkspace. If you take meds, ensure that you get refills on time. You may even see if your pharmacy can ship the meds so you don’t have to risk going out.
2. Give yourself permission to feel and grieve
In a sense, many people are grieving right now — andnot necessarily the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s a job, social event or an active lifestyle, or inability to do your favorite things. Allow yourself to feel this sadness. Give yourself space to process it. Remember: you don’t need to minimize what you’re feeling.
Weinstein says, “My favorite quote right now is by a marriage and family therapist, Vienna Pharon. ‘Your situation does not need to be the worst situation in the world in order to give yourself permission to feel, to grieve, to notice.’” So yes, absolutely, your situation could be worse. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a big ball of positivity. Just because you aren’t experiencing the worst of the pandemic, it’s still valid to feel crappy and upset.
3. Don’t give in to social isolation
Yes, you’re physically isolated from people because of stay-at-home orders, but that doesn’t mean you can’t speak to anybody from the outside world. Marcus-Paddison and Weinstein agree that it’s crucial to have some kind of human connection. It can be difficult at times for depression sufferers to instigate or commit to plans. Many feel like a burden to friends and family, or have a distorted view of how others perceive them. But, according to Weinstein, this time can be a great opportunity to challenge those negative thoughts. She says, “When a person gets the positive response of somebody continuing the conversation or saying yes to a FaceTime or Zoom plan, it’s a piece of data that shows just maybe the negative thoughts are not accurate.”
Marcus-Paddison acknowledges that while phone calls and FaceTime are certainly not the same as in-person interaction, it’s still important to hear others’ voices and see them and their body language. Plus, you know you’ll have at least one thing in common to talk about: quarantine!
But, these social interactions don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) be all about venting. Schedule Zoom happy hours with colleagues who you might’ve gone to in-person happy hours with, or get your extended family members from across the country together for an epic reunion. Make sure you’re incorporating fun and uplifting conversation into your interactions, instead of wallowing — there is a healthy balance to be struck. Marcus-Paddison says, “Scheduling game nights that you can play through video chats with friends (i.e. the Houseparty app, Jackbox Games, Netflix Party, charades, etc) can be a great way to ensure you have something to look forward to.”
4. Identify your support network
Amongst your friends, family, and partner (if you have one) identify a few who are extra trustworthy and understanding. Weinstein says you should choose people who make you feel safe. “Make sure to reach out and maintain contact with them, especially in moments of vulnerability when support is most needed,” she says. Marcus-Paddison adds that those who you choose to rely on should be non-judgemental, non-demanding, and people who won’t immediately try to jump in and problem-solve.
5. Limit social media usage
With a lot more free time on our hands, it can be extremely tempting to spend hours aimlessly scrolling through social media. However, using social media in excess can be bad for our mental health and self-esteem. Not to mention, social media these days is flooded with a lot of negativity and stressful news headlines.
Marcus-Paddison says, “Being constantly force-fed fearmongering, guilt-provoking political propaganda isn’t going to help anyone feel better, and when someone is already in a vulnerable state, it can really pour gasoline on the fire.” So, instead of “socializing” (read: scrolling and double tapping) on social media, have meaningful conversations or “hangouts” with your true friends as recommended above.
6. Have some sort of routine or structure
People who are newly working from home or freshly unemployed might be struggling with loss of routine. Structure can often be beneficial to those with depression, and spending all of your time at home doesn’t mean you can’t have some structure. Weinstein acknowledges that it can be very tempting to sleep in much later and wear the same sweats day in and day out, but she suggests allowing for some healthy balance with at least some structure — even if it just means having daytime work sweatpants and nighttime relaxation sweatpants!
She advises making the effort to make your bed, have breakfast, and do some mediation or movement. “These actions can go a long way and make the difference between feeling disheveled and overwhelmed, versus feeling some semblance of a sense of agency and calm,” she says. Other ways you can add structure is by sticking to normal work hours and keeping work-life balance, having standing weekly FaceTime calls with someone in your support system, or scheduling workouts.
7. Practice ‘behavioral activation’
According to Marcus-Paddison, behavioral activation (BA) is a therapeutic approach that can be very helpful for depressed people. She explains, “This approach says that by doing things (even when you don’t want to, because you are operating on a low reservoir of energy and motivation) that are positively reinforcing (i.e. setting your alarm and getting your day started, showering, walking the dog, preparing a nutritious meal, calling a friend, etc.) you will experience a change in mood.” This can go hand in hand with the tip about creating some structure.
Start small and work your way up. For example, if you’re struggling to get yourself motivated to do your piles of laundry, start with washing and putting away just your socks. If you’re looking to get more active, start with the simple goal of a short walk. She says when we have more experiences that are positively reinforcing, even just a little bit, we will have a sense of accomplishment, more motivation, and hopefully, a boost in mood.
In case you forgot, physical activity is great for mental health. Scientific research has proven that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, can be beneficial for depression and anxiety. Exercise releases feel good hormones and lowers your stress hormones. Plus, it can act as a great way to blow off steam if you’re feeling some pent up aggression. It can also be part of your behavioral activation plan! Again, start small and work your way up. Since you can’t go to the gym or fitness studios, try online live streams, YouTube workouts, or use equipment you have at home. Going for a run or cycle are options too, as long as you stay a safe distance away from others passing by outside.
If you are feeling suicidal or dangerous to yourself or others, do not hesitate to reach out for immediate help. Some crisis resources available 24/7 are:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 or do a Live Chat online
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
- Disaster Distress Hotline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
Following these tips and sticking to your treatment with your mental health providers, will help keep your depression in check. If you’re looking to get started with treatment for your depression, online therapy is a safe and convenient way to start feeling better. Dealing with depression during a global pandemic isn’t easy, but as you probably already know, fighting depression always takes work! We’ll get through this together.