At the moment, many areas are under lockdown to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and no one knows when or if things will get back to normal. It’s a stressful time for everyone, especially the millions who have lost their jobs and business and are trying to figure out how to pay the bills. However, the crisis–and the quarantine–is the perfect storm for anyone with depression. It combines social isolation, long-term uncertainty, boredom, and a general feeling of helplessness. If you have struggled with depression in the past or are struggling with it now, this pandemic doesn’t have to be a personal mental health disaster. The following are some tips for coping with depression during the pandemic.
First, and most importantly, if you already have a treatment plan in place for depression or substance use, then stick to your plan as much as possible. Keep taking your medication. Most pharmacies are still open and many offer drive-through pick-up or they deliver. Keep your regular therapy appointments. Most therapists have adopted some kind of system for virtual sessions, so work out a plan with your therapist if you haven’t already. And if you don’t have a therapist, now is a great time to find one. If you’re having a mental health emergency, either call your therapist or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Staying connected and avoiding isolation is already challenging for many people with depression. Typically, the advice you get is to resist the impulse to isolate and connect socially, but at the moment, we all need to limit contact as much as possible. However, we have more ways than ever to communicate and you should definitely use some of them to stay in regular contact with the important people in your life. Dinner with friends over FaceTime is not as good as dinner with friends in person, but it’s still better than dinner alone. Try to create some regular appointments, even if it’s only a few minutes to check in with people. Not only will this keep you connected, but it will give your days a bit of structure.
When you’re struggling with depression, keeping a schedule is always a battle simply because you can’t seem to make yourself do what you feel like you should be doing. This is especially true when you’re just staying at home all day. Still, keeping to some kind of schedule is useful. It improves your sleep, it preserves a sense of normalcy and control, and it makes you feel like you have something to do. Just having two or three regular commitments can help keep you anchored.
The typical dilemma with the news is that you want to stay informed but the news is so full of divisiveness and negativity that it’s likely to make you feel worse. That dilemma has only been magnified by the pandemic. You need to know what’s going on, what action you are expected to take, and so on, but whenever you turn on the news, you also see the death toll ticking up and the political finger-pointing, and you generally end up with the sense that no one is really in charge or knows what’s going on. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to spend too much time watching the news. Turn off your news notifications and don’t go down the Twitter rabbit hole. Have a look at the CDC website now and then, and check in on your local news occasionally for specific information related to your area. Otherwise, find less nerve-wracking things to occupy yourself with.
Getting some exercise–any exercise at all–is one of the best things you can do for yourself when you have depression. Many studies have found a number of mental health benefits linked to exercise. You may be aware of this but you may also feel too confined to exercise. Most gyms are closed at the moment, so if you were going to the gym or participating in an exercise class, your exercise has probably been disrupted. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get exercise at home. It’s still ok to walk or run outside in most areas. Even areas where the lockdown measures are more severe are allowing people to leave the house once a day to exercise, so make use of that. If you are stuck inside, every trainer on the Internet is offering a free exercise routine you can do at home, so look around for something that appeals to you.
Try to reframe the situation. The bad things about it are obvious to everyone but dwelling on them won’t help you. Instead, think along the lines of “This situation is clearly terrible but if anything good were to come of it, it might be–” Make a game of it. Try to find the humor. Humor, even if it’s dark, is a healthy coping mechanism that is associated with mental toughness. The only caveat is that your humor shouldn’t be self-deprecating. In other words, make all the jokes you want but not at your own expense.
In addition to looking on the bright side, pay attention to what you’re telling yourself about your situation, the pandemic, and the future in general. The combination of isolation, boredom, and lack of reliable information can allow your imagination free rein to come up with all kinds of terrible scenarios. Every cough or sneeze might look like proof that you’re going to die of COVID-19. That’s why it’s especially important to challenge your thoughts and demand evidence for your beliefs. Especially be aware of cognitive distortions like jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, and discounting the positive. In reality, no one knows what’s going to happen. If you’re certain this will have a terrible outcome for you and the people you care about, you are probably not thinking objectively.
Finally, take it one day at a time. A lot of people are saying this is happening automatically. When life was predictable and we all could remember exactly what day it is, we could easily get fooled into thinking the future was predictable and controllable but now, more people are being forced by circumstances to live in the present. On the other hand, it’s easy to read stories about how the quarantine might stretch on for a year or more, that the vaccine is at least 18 months away, and so on and feel like you can’t tolerate this situation for that long. When you start thinking that way, do a reality check. Remember that the situation changes from day-to-day and anyway, you can only deal with what’s happening right now. It might feel scary to stop worrying about the future for even a second, but taking it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, will help you better cope with this crisis in the long run.
This is a tough time for everyone, especially people with mental health issues like depression. Sticking to your treatment plan, connecting with others, and taking care of yourself are all key components of recovery at any time and they are even more important right now.
At Hired Power, we know that mental health issues like depression are often a major factor in substance use issues and we can help you coordinate long-term care for a strong recovery. To learn more about our services, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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