Depression & Anxiety: Managing Mental Health During COVID Crisis
- Deepanwita Roy, Clinical Psychologist
- 6 Min Read
- Fact Checked
Despite the ‘unlock’ and adjusting to the new normal, coronavirus still hasn’t gone away completely from our lives. The nationwide lockdown has disrupted the lives of more than 1.3 billion, in some way or the other, resulting in mass unemployment and high levels of distress.
The biggest impact this has had is on our mental health– our sense of positivity and optimism, our productivity, and even our relationships. From experiencing immense anxiety, low moods, irritability, anger, disappointment, fear, apprehension to a significant sense of loss, and even grief and guilt, this experience has resulted in an unravelling of sorts for many of us.
Living in this altered form and format has made us vulnerable in so many ways, challenging our way of coping and adapting to difficult circumstances.
The crisis has gone on for long enough; we all ultimately have a limit to our resilience and if the stress is too much and continues for too long, we may run out of capacity to deal with it anymore. That’s exactly where we are all heading towards this aftermath as ‘social distancing’ and ‘unlocking’ are being implemented.
Being a mental health professional in the digital platform Mfine, I have come across clients all around the country undergoing some form of stress and distress. What makes this particular time unique is that all of my clients and I are facing the pandemic simultaneously. Most of them do not qualify for any diagnostic criteria of any mental health disorders or require a referral to a psychiatrist for medication. In most cases, they are seeking help to combat difficulties in their daily lives.
Here are a few snippets of conversations that I have had with my clients in the last couple of months and a few tips on how to handle specific challenges of day-to-day life and what to do about it:
“I can’t stop worrying about COVID-19. I am so anxious that I cannot sleep.”
If the constant worry & anxiety about the virus is dominating your thoughts, the first step is to reduce exposure to news and social media. While it’s important to be informed at all times, it’s also important to not be over-informed. The news puts our brain on alert and amps up our cortisol levels, our body’s stress hormone. Consider limiting yourself to 30 minutes a day or just checking the news once in the morning and once in the evening.
Similarly, the constant worry and fear about the virus are keeping people up all night! It’s important to know that while worrying, our body releases fight-or-flight hormones that make us feel agitated and hyper-vigilant and in turn, making it harder for us to enter the restful state. In order to get your brain to turn off at night, set aside some “worry time” each day.
Here’s how to fix it:
- Schedule a worrying time. Pick a 15-minute timeframe to sit and worry.
- Worry during your worrying time. Write in a journal, talk to someone about it, or just think about all the things you have to worry about.
- Stop worrying when your time is up. When your time ends, get up, and do an activity that distracts you from those worries.
- Defer worrisome thoughts to your worrying time. When you find yourself worrying outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself it’s not time yet and that you’ll worry about it later.
It may sound counterintuitive to schedule a time to worry but several types of research show that scheduling time to worry can be an effective way to contain it to a limited time period.
Further, don’t forget basic sleep hygiene: Maintain a routine that keeps you occupied throughout the day, avoid taking afternoon naps, put away screens at least an hour prior to your bedtime, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and keep your bedroom cool and dark.
“I feel sad, demotivated, lonely. Am I depressed?”
A lot of people these days feel sad, for no good reason, and that doesn’t mean you have depression! It’s important that you give yourselves permission to mourn the things you’re missing– eating out at restaurants, travelling, spending time with friends, and so much more.
Signs of clinical depression include feelings of persistent low mood, disturbed sleep & appetite, lack of energy & motivation, feelings of helplessness & hopelessness, and social withdrawal for at least two weeks. While the fear of contracting the virus dominating our thoughts every day, the fear of being depressed may also follow; avoid self-diagnosis and rather reach out to a mental health professional to get assessed.
To lift your mood, try to get outside each day. Sit on your porch, or take a stroll, remembering to keep the proper distance from others. Researches have shown spending time outdoors and getting sun on your face are closely linked with happiness. If you can’t actually go outdoors, research says that even looking through a window at nature or looking at virtual photos of nature can be helpful.
Try to schedule a variety of activities each day so you have things to look forward to, and find ways to connect with friends and family members. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other forms of self-care can also boost your mood.
“I have been managing work from home since the beginning of March 2020 but how many more months do I continue like this?”
Raise your hand if you have thought of the same at least once in this period! Probably, we all have…
Instead of thinking yourself as trapped, try to change your mindset, and consider this a time to focus on yourself and your goals. Can you learn a new instrument to play at the next house-party that you have? Have you always wanted to learn a language? The possibilities are endless. If that’s overwhelming, start with small, achievable daily goals, like listening to an audiobook for 30 minutes, exercising for just 10 minutes every day, or reorganizing one drawer at a time. It’s important for you to feel like you’re doing something meaningful. Then you can slowly build on it.
Also, there are probably people in your orbit who are lonely. Reach out and give them a call. There is nothing more important for their mental health– and yours – than social support.
“I’m mad at my parents (or, someone else) for not taking social distancing seriously. How do I control my anger?”
It can be maddening to see others ignoring health guidelines when you’re doing everything you can to stay safe. It’s especially upsetting if your older parents are the ones taking unnecessary risks since their generation is the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Still, when you talk with your parents, try not to sound bossy, demanding, or judgmental. Instead start a conversation from a place of love by saying something like, “I’m concerned about your health and well-being.” Then see if you can find out what’s behind their reluctance. Maybe they’re afraid of being lonely or disconnected or don’t want to burden you with running errands for them. Or, perhaps, they don’t know how to do online ordering, and you can help with that.
If they’re still not receptive, it’s important to try to let go of some of your anger. Being angry is just going to deplete your own emotional resources, and it’s not going to change their behaviour. Acknowledge that the only thing you can control is yourself. If you feel your frustration building, try taking slow, deep breaths- breath in for a count of 4, hold on for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 4.
“My spouse is driving me crazy.”
Living with someone else always requires some give-and-take, but that’s particularly true if you’re stuck in the house all day while social distancing and your spouse is the only person you see. Sit down with your partner to establish boundaries and a basic daily schedule. Make sure you include uninterrupted alone time for both of you. Try to create space for yourself, too, by going outside or into another room and put on headphones.
If you or anyone you know is stressed, anxious, experiencing any such symptoms, or relate these, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional to initiate timely counselling sessions. No matter who you are or what you do, when we all are in the middle of a pandemic, let’s pledge to stay with each other, let’s take care of each other and hope for the world to heal soon! .
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