Living with Depression During a Global Pandemic
It is another day of social distancing. You groan as you roll over in bed to check your phone, only to learn that another few hundred people have tested positive for COVID-19 and many new deaths have been reported. Your stomach sinks and a heavy wave of sadness runs through you. Yet another day of feeling alone, hopeless, and afraid for the future. You turn
your phone off and lay in bed dreading the day to come, telling yourself that things will never get better. This is just too much to bear.
A typical day is hard for anyone struggling with depression, and coping with the harsh realities of COVID-19 is difficult for us all to swallow. Now, imagine how hard it is to live with depression AND live through a global pandemic.
A Canadian survey found that depression incidences have doubled since COVID-19, and almost 1 out of 4 Canadians predict that their depression will worsen if social isolation continues.
DEPRESSION AND SOCIAL ISOLATION
A common sign of depression is social withdrawal. If you struggle with depression or know someone who does, you may notice that they decline social invitations or just want to be alone. This may be because they feel like a burden or have a distorted view of how others perceive them. What someone with depression needs is social contact; to feel a sense of security and connection with those they love.
So how does being forced to remain socially distant from friends and family affect someone living with depression? Well, it will likely make their feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and despair worse. It is hard for someone with depression to initiate or agree to social activities as it is. Now that we are restricted from typical face-to-face activities, it is easy to feel an increased sense of disconnection, therefore increasing depressive symptoms and severity.
DEPRESSION AND HOPELESSNESS
Often times, people struggling with depression feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. You may hear them make comments like "what's the point?" or "I'm never going to get better". These are negative thinking traps that are hard to get out of and cloud one's view of the world. It can be difficult for someone with depression to be optimistic and see a light at the end of the tunnel.
With all of the scary and negative news headlines over the past several weeks, these feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are bound to increase. Depression tends to make people gravitate towards thinking negatively and expecting the worst outcome to happen. So, even small glimmers of hope, such as the potential for a vaccination or reopening of some businesses, are bound to be minimized and dismissed.
HOW TO COPE WITH DEPRESSION
Living with depression during a global pandemic is not easy. Fortunately, there are several effective things that may be done to improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms. Here are 5 ways to deal with depression during COVID-19 (and in general for that matter!).
1. Challenge Your Thinking
What we think is not always the truth or reality, but yet we sometimes take our opinions and feelings so seriously as if they were. The problem with this is that we can get trapped in unhelpful ways of viewing the world (see examples of Cognitive Distortions here) that increase feelings of hopelessness, despair, and negativity. Try asking yourself "is this fact or opinion?" and reframe your thoughts into something more realistic and healthy.
For example, try reframing "I am STUCK at home" to "I am SAFE at home".
2. Stick to the Facts
Unfortunately, there is a lot of "fake news" out there that often does more harm than good. It is very important to stay informed on what is happening in the world, but be careful not to get sucked into misleading news articles. Often times, people who are struggling with depression get stuck in unhelpful ways of thinking, such as jumping to conclusions (e.g., "This will never end"), catastrophizing (e.g., "If I get sick, I will die") or all or nothing thinking (e.g., "I have absolutely no control"). These distorted views will only make depression worse, which is why sticking to the facts and only reading trusted news sources are essential.
3. Stay Connected
Social isolation fuels depression. Humans are not meant to be alone; we need each other for survival. When you take away social connection, for someone living with depression, their feelings of loneliness are bound to increase. It is important to stay connected with family and friends in any way possible. We are fortunate to have video calling capabilities through FaceTime or Skype that are the best substitute for face-to-face connection. Reach out via video, text, call, or even email to anyone in your social support network to combat social isolation.
If you are ever in crisis and need immediate support, contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service, go to your nearest emergency room, or call 911.
4. Do Something You Enjoy
There are tonnes of research indicating that engaging in fun and enjoyable activities can help alleviate depression. This is a form of therapy called Behavioural Activation. When living with depression, it can be hard to find motivation to do activities you used to enjoy. However, try to pick a small activity you know will help you and that makes you feel good and a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps it is going on a run or reading a book. Acknowledge how difficult it is to get motivated and try to do it anyways. You may not find enjoyment at first, but with repeated attempts at doing something you know you love, you might eventually come to want to do it again!
5. Get Outside
Fresh air does wonders for one's mood. With warmer weather upon us, there are more opportunities to get outdoors and catch some much needed Vitamin D, which has been shown to help boost mood in people with depression. Try going outside for at least 15 minutes each day, and if you can, combine exercise and outdoors to get the most out of it! Not only will this help improve mood through the release of those "feel good" hormones, but it will help decrease the impact of social isolation by being closer to those in your community.
There are more ways to help deal with depression on your own (see below), but if you need additional support, counselling with a psychotherapist is highly beneficial. Book a FREE 15-minute consultation or visit www.LaryssaLevesque.com for more information.
Canada Suicide Prevention Service. (2020, May 12). Retrieved from https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/
Depression | Psychology Today Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/depression
Leyba, E. (2020, March 29). Behavioral Activation to Prevent Depression During COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/joyful-parenting/202003/behavioral-activation-prevent-depression-during-covid-19
Nall, R. (2019, April 1). What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight
Slaughter, G. (2020, April 30). Anxiety and depression have spiked among Canadians: survey. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/anxiety-and-depression-have-spiked-among-canadians-survey-1.4919741
Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses