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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

    How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress How to Handle Pandemic Depression and Take Care of Yourself How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19 What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2021

    5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

    5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

    Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

    However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

    How Does Stress Show Up?

    On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

    According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

    While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

    Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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    On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

    Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

    Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

    1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

    When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

    One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

    Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

    Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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    Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

    2. Sweat It out

    There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

    According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

    “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

    Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

    3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

    Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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    In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

    Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

    Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

    Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

    4. Interrupt Your Day

    When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

    If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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    As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

    5. Get Some Energy Work Done

    Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

    Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

    In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

    You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

    Final Thoughts

    Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

    This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

    More Self-Care Ideas

    Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
    [2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
    [3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
    [4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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