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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Handle Pandemic Depression and Take Care of Yourself

How to Handle Pandemic Depression and Take Care of Yourself

Are you, or someone you know, struggling with pandemic depression? Do you often find yourself wondering if you’re the only one grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and how you can turn things around?

What you’re going through isn’t as uncommon as you might think[1]. According to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, depression has been three times higher during this pandemic than it was previously [2].

Infographic: Pandemic Causes Spike in Anxiety & Depression

    The researchers also discovered that lower income groups had an increased risk of getting depressed compared with higher income groups.

    This puts more pressure on those who are already worried about, or dissatisfied with, their professional lives, a vicious cycle when we’re all trying to balance our personal and work lives with our mental health.

    The Slippery Slope That Is Depression

    Perhaps it started out with you feeling a bit more tired than usual. At some point, maybe you started to lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Perhaps you’re having trouble sleeping or, on the flip side, you’ve started sleeping more than you used to.

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    Depression can manifest in different ways[3]. People can also experience it differently during this pandemic. While some might feel overwhelmed and become increasingly anxious, some might think they’re handling things relatively well, only to find that they can’t focus on simple tasks.

    There is a whole range of physical, emotional, and mental changes when you’re experiencing pandemic depression. One crucial thing you must do is to pay attention to these changes and be ready to take action.

    What’s the Best Way to Deal With It?

    Regardless of the everyday pressure we need to deal with in our personal and work lives, we have to remember that human beings have needs that must be fulfilled in order to function. This means that you must identify and acknowledge what you must do in order to thrive—not just survive—in this pandemic[4].

    You might have heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work[5]. Maslow’s theory included “self-actualization,” or needs that help us achieve our full potential through personal growth.

    More recent research by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has redefined self-actualization as exploration, love, and purpose[6]. A good approach to adapting to the new abnormal is evaluating your life through the lens of these needs and ensuring that you can still satisfy them.

    A large part of the depression that people may experience in this pandemic comes from refusing to recognize that our needs have changed. The previous way we fulfilled our needs do not work during our current environment, so changes need to be made.

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    Our needs for exploration, love, and purpose remain urgent and paramount, but we need to address these in ways that take into account our current limitations.

    Here are some ways we can effectively tackle and meet our needs:

    Exploration

    We have a need to explore, learn, and understand the world. Exploration in this sense is driven not by fear and anxiety—such as the watching of regular news briefings on the pandemic—but by the thrill of discovery and curiosity about the novel, the challenging, and the unknown.

    While you might be restricted by staying mostly at home, depending on the COVID-19 guidelines in your state[7], you have a universe of information available for exploration through the internet.

    One such area is embarking on virtual experiences, which you can safely enjoy even while you’re restricted to being at home. Virtual tourism[8], though not a new concept, has truly taken off during this pandemic[9] because of people who want to travel but are trying to avoid contracting the virus.

    You can even sign up for interactive virtual experiences to explore hole-in-the wall locations, take virtual classes for many topics and hobbies—from cooking to arts and crafts—and even go shopping while taking a virtual tour. You can also interact with tour guides, teachers, and even other virtual explorers from the safety of your home.

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    Exercise is another avenue you can explore. Studies have shown that physical activities can help ward off depression[10]. You can sign up for online cardio, strength training, or yoga classes, depending on your preference.

    If you want to exercise outdoors and have access to places where you can maintain social distancing, you can also look into exercising in green spaces. These can include urban parks, nature reserves, and wilderness environments. Research has shown that spending time in such places has a positive effect on mental health[11].

    Love

    This second aspect of self-actualization can be manifested by expressing love. The first step, of course, is to express this love towards yourself. If you feel overwhelmed by pandemic depression or think that you already need help from a professional, one of the self-care acts that you can do is to look into online therapy and tele-psychology.

    Online therapy is said to have boomed during this pandemic[12], which means that doctors and administrators are now better at delivering care to patients. You can even check with your company if this is something that they can provide or facilitate.

    Next is bestowing love on other people. This means making a positive impact on the lives of others. You can express this love towards your existing relationships. Surprise your romantic partner with an unexpected date night, or perhaps you can host virtual parties for your friends to strengthen bonds.

    You can even volunteer to provide virtual companionship to lonely elder strangers. There are many avenues you can explore to express love, whether it’s through improving your current ones or making new connections.

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    Purpose

    The other critical aspect of self-actualization involves developing, refining, and pursuing your sense of meaning and purpose. In the context of the pandemic, it’s even more important to proactively seek a sense that you are contributing to something you’re passionate about that’s bigger than yourself, a personal mission of service that offers you fulfillment and contentment.

    Some people might find their sense of purpose in taking care of their family and friends, and that’s fine. You might decide to reach out to struggling colleagues, eventually bridging the gap between personal and work lives and forming deeper friendships along the way. You might even tap into your network to help those who’ve lost their jobs find a new one.

    Or maybe you could focus on improving your local community, such as encouraging others to stay at home during the pandemic through blogging about your fun at-home adventures.

    Whatever you choose to do, you should regularly evaluate how much it contributes to your sense of purpose. Revise your activities to help further develop that sense within yourself.

    Conclusion

    Dealing with pandemic depression means doing an honest evaluation of your activities and connections. Make sure your needs for exploration, love, and purpose are being met consistently. Taking action now—not later—will help you improve and maintain your mental health during these challenging times.

    More on Dealing With Depression

    Featured photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

    How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

    You may be wondering how to clear your mind. Maybe you are facing a tough presentation at work and really need to focus, or perhaps you’ve got a lot going on at home and just need to relax for a few minutes. Whatever the reason, having a clear mind can help you find your center.

    The only problem is that you can’t completely erase the thousands of thoughts you have each day. The goal is to be able to observe those thoughts without engaging with each one of them.

    The good news is that clearing your mind and returning to the present moment comes from a simple act of acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed in the first place. A path to better mental health and overall quality of life starts here.

    What Happens When You’re Not Present?

    We’ve evolved to keep looking and working towards a future goal. The very nature of our careers is to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the future. Our thoughts and, therefore, our habits and actions consistently point in the forward-moving direction, whether it’s in your relationship, career, or goals.

    The point at which this becomes harmful is when we become too stuck in this forward motion and can’t reduce stress in the short or long-term. The result of this is burnout.[1] It’s a term that is most often used in the workplace, but burnout can happen in any area of our life where you feel like you’re pushing too hard and too fast.

    The idea here is that you’re so engrossed in the forward movement that you take on too much and rest too little. There is no pause in the present because you have this sense that you must keep working.

    On a physical plane, the body takes a real hit with burnout. You feel more muscle fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, anxiety, poor metabolism, and so much more.

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    These symptoms are the body’s way of throwing you red flags and warning you that you must slow down. But because your mind is so preoccupied with this forward momentum, it disconnects you from listening to your body’s signals. The only time you really hear them is when the signals are too loud to ignore, such as during serious illness or pain.

    As we can see, not being present is something that snowballs over time. Eventually, it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments. 

    To help you deal with this, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment to see where you may be off balance. Then, you can check out the points below to keep moving in the right direction.

    How Do We Come Back to the Present?

    Answering this question will answer the question of how to clear your mind because they go hand in hand. There are many tools you can use to begin a mindfulness practice.

    To reiterate, mindfulness is simply defined as the act or practice of being fully present.[2] Tools that allow you to step into this practice include meditation, journaling, a body-centered movement practice such as Qigong, or simple breathing exercises.

    Underneath it all, however, is one technique that acts as a universal connector, and that is acknowledgment. This term may not sound like a technique, but its power truly flourishes when put into practice.

    For us to come back to the present moment, we have to acknowledge that we have trailed off into the past or the future. Likewise, for us to clear our mind, we have to acknowledge that our mind is overwhelmed, distracted, or scattered.

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    This simple act of pausing and catching ourselves in the moment is how we can build our acknowledgment practice. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed at work with mental to-do lists, pause. Acknowledge your state of mind and say to yourself that you’re overwhelmed. This sends a signal to your whole being that you’re aware of what’s going on.

    It cuts the cords of illusion, denial, and ignorance. You are now building your awareness of yourself, which is an incredibly potent gift.

    How to Clear Your Mind

    Now that you’ve acknowledged where you are and how you feel, you can take action and learn ways to clear your mind. You can take a few moments away from your desk or to-do list, and practice something to ground yourself back into the present moment.

    1. Take a Walk

    Grounding yourself can be as simple as taking a walk and admiring the changing of the leaves. This practice is also known as “forest bathing,” and it doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a forest. It can be in your favorite park or even walking around your town or neighborhood.

    Bring your attention to the senses as you enjoy your walk. Can you tune in to the sounds of your footsteps on the earth? Can you notice the smells and take in the sights around you while staying present in the moment? Can you touch a leaf or the bark of a tree and allow the texture to teach you something new?

    Such a practice does wonders in clearing your mind and bringing you back to the now. It also connects you more deeply to your environment.

    2. Box Breathing

    As you’re learning how to clear your mind, a mind-clearing practice may look like sitting down and going through a nourishing meditation or breath practice. Breathing is, honestly, the easiest and best way to clear your mind. Even taking a few deep breaths in and out and feeling and noticing the breath will bring you right back to the present moment.[3]

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    In yoga, we call this breath Same Vrti, meaning a 1:1 breath ratio. It can also be translated as “box breathing.” The idea is to make the length of your inhales and exhales the same, as this allows you to take in more oxygen and slow down the chatter of the monkey mind. It also kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, offering many health benefits in the long run.

    This will allow your heart rate to slow down so that you can reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. It also aids in digestion, as the metabolism is back on track, and helps you physically process food and drink properly.

    3. Add Meditation

    how to meditate and clear your mind is also helpful when you want to clear negative thoughts and relieve stress. In fact, following your breath is a meditation in itself. Adding a visual, like imagining gentle ripples on a lake or clouds passing along a beautiful blue sky, can give the mind something to attach to without running through the train of your thoughts.

    On the other hand, if you are mentally overwhelmed and meditation sounds like more stress, tuning in to a guided meditation session can be alleviating. It often helps to hear the voice of a teacher or guide who can walk you into more peace and contentment with their words and energy. If you can’t find such a guide in a local studio, turn to the many meditation apps on your phone, or YouTube.

    4. Write Your Thoughts

    Alternatively, another powerful practice for when you’re learning how to clear your mind is sitting down and writing out all of the thoughts in your head. We call this a “brain dump,” and it is an effective method for simply releasing your thoughts so that you can mentally breathe and process things better.

    Grab a piece of paper and write out all of the thoughts that are pressing for your attention. The idea is not to analyze the thoughts or fix them, but to give those thoughts an exit so that you can move on with your day without fixating on them aggressively. This can look like a laundry list of thoughts, or a diary entry.

    Afterward, feel free to close your journal or rip up the paper as part of your stress management. You don’t need to hold on to what you wrote, but it does help to see the expression of what you’re holding on to mentally. Likewise, this practice is very potent to do at night before bedtime. So many of us struggle to sleep soundly with many thoughts bouncing back and forth, and this exercise before bed can allow us to enter a deeper level of rest.

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    Regardless of what you do, understand that practicing mindfulness is a lifelong process. With life’s ups and downs, it’s stressful to attach yourself to the practice of being mindful and in the present moment because it’s never guaranteed that you will be present for 100% of your life.

    In this practice, what matters more than anything is intention. Our intention of staying present and sticking to our mindfulness practice is what will encourage us to keep coming back to it, even when we forget.

    Final Thoughts

    With the thousands of thoughts that we have in our head each day, it can sound overwhelming to even tackle this and try to learn how to clear your mind. The technique, however, is powerful, simple, and effective.

    It all comes down to first recognizing and acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, stressed, or far away from the present moment. That acknowledgment acts as a wake-up alarm, inviting us to examine our state of mind and take action.

    In this way, not only are we clearing our minds in a manner that works for us, but we’re also building our self-awareness, which is a beautiful and powerful way of being in the world.

    More Tips on How to Clear Your Mind

    Featured photo credit: Elijah Hiett via unsplash.com

    Reference

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