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Published on May 19, 2021

How To Better Prepare Yourself Mentally For the Life After COVID-19

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How To Better Prepare Yourself Mentally For the Life After COVID-19

How unpredictable our lives indeed are? In the last year, life, as we know it, has snowballed at a rapid rate into the unexpected, uncertain, and unimaginable chaos it is today. So much has changed for people across all walks of life since March 2020, and with the skyrocketing daily cases reported in India’s second wave and the accompanying rise in deaths, it looks like we have a long battle ahead of us. It’s becoming harder to imagine a life after COVID-19.

The widespread nationwide lockdowns, system-wide complacency, and the lack of healthcare infrastructure have caused irreversible damage and unimaginable horrors. Markets are crashing, and businesses are floundering. Families struggling to find necessary medical intervention or just to keep food on the table are bitter realities we are forced to face today.

But there’s an invisible crisis unfolding that’s hardly spoken about. While everyone is busy dealing with the gross physical consequences of the pandemic, there is a hidden impact that could cause a heavier toll over time. That is the crisis of deteriorating mental health during the pandemic—a concern that’s only worsening with negligence as the battle against COVID-19 prolongs.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Everyone

The current pandemic could leave generations mentally scarred for the rest of our lives. Frontline workers who took the oath to treat the ill to the best of their abilities face trauma like no other. From dreaming of saving lives to triaging and deciding who gets to live, these COVID warriors will carry a heavy emotional burden even after the pandemic.

For our parents, this is a fearful time. COVID-19 and the news of death all around them act as a constant reminder of their own mortality. The world they knew and the people who gave them familiarity is shrinking.

On the other side, it is a lethal cocktail of overwhelm, anxiety, fear, and insecurity for the younger working-class professionals. Most professionals are at the edge of their sanity with endless paranoia about job loss and its consequences. The fear of what tomorrow will bring and the uncertainty make them lose their sleep today.

And for those reasonably secure about their jobs, there’s a constant sense of overwhelm, dread, lack of inclination, focus, and concentration to deliver on their responsibilities. How much does what most of us do as work really matter when there are more pressing life-threatening issues to worry about?

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For entrepreneurs and risk-takers, the pandemic is a grim reminder of the fragility of their enterprise. The levels of uncertainty, the mounting pressure to support their employees and suppliers, continuously changing statutory rules and regulations—all leave a business owner gasping for air as they run around and manage multiple responsibilities with little or no support.

For children growing up in this climate, their innocence is lost much earlier than it should have. Children mature faster in these times. Moreover, children today are growing up wholly cut off from peers and could grow up to be even lonelier a generation than today’s Gen Z.

Young adults with a memory of a pre-covid world are in no better position as they struggle with the uncertainty of their future life after COVID-19. With universities shut, job market opportunities slim, and continuous peer pressure thanks to social media, the last 12 months have been taxing for these youngsters.

We Are in It for the Long Haul

While no one can say how many more waves COVID-19 has in store for us, the emotional toll of this pandemic is becoming costlier with every passing day. Vaccines might buy us some time in the interim. However, it looks like COVID-19 is here to stay for a few years until scientists find a foolproof cure for all possible virus mutations.

In the meantime, emotional resilience is the need of the hour. Adults need to be continuously mindful of their mental health and take action or preventive steps to damage control and provide necessary love, attention, and emotional support to near and dear ones to limit the consequences.

How to Mentally Prepare for a Life After COVID-19

Here are a few ways we could build emotional resilience and better prepare ourselves mentally for life after COVID-19.

1. Acceptance of the New Reality

To begin with, all of us need to grieve the loss of life as we knew it and bury the dreams of what we had planned for the next few years. We need to confront the new reality and accept it totally. Complete acceptance requires letting go of thoughts like “what if,” “I wish,” “if only,” “it should be,” or “must have been.”

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We need to accept our new reality as is—a reality filled with uncertainty, fear of infection, and a sketchy future. A lot of us believe acceptance as meek, passive, and an act of the weak, but it’s quite the contrary. Acceptance requires tremendous courage to face the harsh realities of the current circumstances.

2. Process It, Don’t Numb It

We all love running away from our emotions. We’d rather overlook, neglect, ignore, or numb the feelings because, let’s be honest, we don’t know how to deal with them.

Today, we are dealing with a tsunami of emotions, and we have no idea where to begin. How does one work through the pile without crumbling under the weight of all these emotions?

And so we look the other way. We pretend that these feelings do not exist. We binge-watch Netflix, or worse, turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. But that doesn’t resolve it. It’s only temporarily forgotten like the waves crashing and receding back to the ocean. But the waves return, and so will these emotions—they will come back and come back with more force than ever.

So, don’t neglect it, process it. Share what you’re feeling with friends and family who can provide a non-judgmental ear. If not, reach out to mental health helplines, counselors, and therapists to process the emotions and ease the pain.

3. Seek and Provide Emotional Support

Make sure to check in with how your loved ones are doing. Go a few steps beyond “How are you doing?” to really know if they are doing okay. Ask them how their mental health is in these times. Are they sleeping okay? How are they coping with the uncertainty and fear?

If they open up to you, hold space and lend a listening ear without judgment. Don’t rush to share your stories or offer unsolicited advice. Let them know you’re there for them and that it’s okay to seek professional help if they cannot cope.

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However, remember that this is not a one-way street. While you make yourself available for your loved ones, make sure you seek help and support when you need it. Don’t try to be a super savior neglecting your needs.

Like Bill Wither’s song goes:

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong,
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…
For it won’t be long, Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride, If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill, Those of your needs that you won’t let show.”

4. Stay Connected With Your Tribe

I firmly believe in the power of the collective. Whatever your tribe is—whether it’s a subgroup of work colleagues, an art class gang, workout buddies, fellow entrepreneurs in a networking group, or the extended family of friends and cousins—support and seek support from the collective and find some solace during these times.

There’s a great relief in knowing you’re not alone, particularly when we are distanced from the people we love and restricted from doing things we love.

Leverage technology to at least keep the conversations going. Zoom sessions to the rescue! Be it creating art together or coming online to break a sweat and burn those calories, make sure to stay connected with your tribe, especially as you envision life after COVID-19.

5. Make Time to Create Moments of Joy

While the battle against the virus might feel disheartening, it is essential to cultivate practices that give us joy—whether it is that meditation in the darkness and quiet before the sunrise, that cup of coffee on the balcony, journaling thoughts and emotions, completing a crossword puzzle, a Schitt’s Creek or Office watch party, Facetime video calls with the family, or the weekend zoom game nights with friends.

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Engage in activities beyond the constant COVID talk that give you moments of joy even in these times of crisis. It might be the little things, but they can help preserve your sanity and restore mental balance.

Is It All a Loss?

We all stand to lose something as we defend humanity against this deadly virus. Many of us will grieve the loss of loved ones and seek to fill a void that can never be filled, and almost all of us will leave a part of ourselves behind because life will never be the same again.

As the saying goes, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

But it’s not all bad.

Final Thoughts

I firmly believe that the pandemic will also be a time of awakening, where we finally open our eyes to what truly matters as we long for life after COVID-19.

Maybe, once the pandemic is behind us, we will find more joy in the everyday things we took for granted. The morning rush to get kids ready for school, the commutes to work, boring office parties, conversations by the water cooler, and weekends.

We will probably be more grateful for the freedom to hang out with friends, visit our parents, or take a vacation. We will be more present and create lasting memories from simple birthday celebrations with friends to our big fat Indian weddings. We will love more, laugh more, and cherish more.

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Featured photo credit: Kate Trifo via unsplash.com

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Shwetha Sivaraman

Entrepreneur, Self-Awareness Coach, and a Podcaster at Being Meraklis

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Published on August 23, 2021

Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

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Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine?

If you suffer from depression or suddenly experience bouts of sadness that seem to come out of nowhere, you probably wonder why this is happening. The truth is that there are several possibilities, and you aren’t alone. According to the World Health Organization, in January of 2020, more than 264 million people were diagnosed with depression and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.[1] In this article, I will answer the question: why am I depressed if my life is fine?” I will discuss what depression is and what the possible causes of depression are. Additionally, I will offer some solutions to consider as you navigate the depression you are experiencing.

The question of why you are depressed if your life is fine is one that I can personally identify with, as I can remember a time when I went through an intense depression even though, in many ways, my life couldn’t have been much better. I was financially secure, had a good family, lived in a beautiful place, had a pretty adventurous and exciting life, but none of that could have prevented a serious and prolonged battle with depression.

Given that you are here reading this article now, you will hopefully be able to identify the problem early and get the support you need to fend off any significant depressive episodes, as this can make a huge difference in your battle with depression.

Furthermore, you don’t have to live with depression! Despite the debilitating effects of depression, with the right treatment and support, it is also one of the more “curable” mental health disorders and you can overcome it.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, and in the worst cases, despair and suicidality.

Depression from a clinical perspective is classified into a few distinctive categories, two of the more common categories are; major depression and dysthymia. According to the DSM 5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—which governs the diagnosis of psychiatric and mental health disorders—major depression is classified as experiencing five or more symptoms in the same two-week period and must include a loss in pleasure as well as a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.[2]

The criteria are:

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  • Loss of pleasure or joy
  • Intense feelings of sadness and depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
  • Difficulty sleeping or disturbed sleep
  • Change in appetite (increased or decreased appetite) and a 5% change in body weight
  • Difficulty focusing, poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation or slowing down
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Persistent thoughts of death, dying, and suicide

Dysthymia is an ongoing or persistent depressed mood for a period of two years where you feel sadness more days than not. It will include at least two of the following symptoms when depressed:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (having more sleep than usual)
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling of hopelessness

The above symptoms of dysthymia can coincide with the symptoms of major depression.

Causes of Depression

Depression happens for several reasons that I categorize into three: biology, environment, and situation. Depression also tends to occur in more sensitive people, tend to overthink, and get stuck in their thoughts, which—more times than not—are negative.

Biological causes of depression are related to how your body produces neurotransmitters that impact your moods, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Some people might have a biological predisposition for depression and never experience any significant symptoms but when confronted with a challenging life situation, such as a loss or disappointment, it can send them into a tailspin of despondency and intense feelings of low and sad mood.

Depression caused by one’s environment is more about those you might have grown up with, your family, and your home environment, which could also be connected to heredity. Regardless of your biological predisposition, you learn how to handle challenges in life by observing those around you.

Adults, in particular, are role models for children and will likely deal with life in similar ways as to what they observed. For example, a child who grows up witnessing partner abuse between their parents is at increased risk of either being a victim or perpetrator of violence in an intimate relationship as an adult.[3]

Situational depression, as I mentioned above, can be seen as more of a cause-and-effect relationship. When you are confronted with a particular life challenge or change, such as job loss, geographic relocation, or family and financial stress, these situations can cause you to fall into a temporary or prolonged depression.

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In some cases, depression can be a combination of all of the above.

Examples of Causes of Depression

Below are some examples of situations that might lead you to experience a prolonged period of depression.

Grief

The loss of a loved one, especially when sudden and traumatic, can bring about intense feelings of loss and sadness, which can lead to clinical depression. This includes the death of pets.

Medical Issue or Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a medical issue, especially if chronic and progressive, is much like any other loss you might experience. It represents the loss of a life you had. Very often, there will need to be changes made in one’s life that will not allow for a lifestyle previously enjoyed.

A Feeling of Failure or Perceived Shortcomings

As I mentioned, people who experience depression tend to be sensitive and self-critical. You might be struggling with not getting a job promotion or failing to progress in the way you imagined for yourself, but this doesn’t mean that you are not progressing in some other way.

Sudden Life Change

Changes—even good changes and welcomed changes—are hard. Sometimes, these changes can have an impact on your role and status in society like marriage or parenthood, which are both wonderful changes yet fraught with many challenges and new social roles.

Feeling Trapped or With Limited Options

Having options is both a blessing and a curse. We know that the more options we have, the less happy we are and the more anxious we might tend to feel, wanting and needing to make the right decision. However, on the flip side, the idea that you don’t have any options can also lead to feeling trapped and feeling that your life circumstances are already written in stone.

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Burnout

Job stress, being overworked and underpaid, or the lack of fulfillment in your profession can lead to depression, which might also coincide with the feeling of being trapped and feeling as though you don’t have many options in your life and career.

What Can You Do If You Experience Depression?

It may sometimes feel as though, out of nowhere, that you are hit with depression, and this is true for many people who have a biologically based depression. However, I would argue that whenever there is something like depression or anxiety—which are defense mechanisms—there is something in your life that is not 100% congruent with who you are and where your life is at or going.

This essentially means that it’s time to take a step back and reassess a few things in life. It doesn’t mean that you will be able to wright the ship entirely. However, you might be able to make some small changes that will help you feel more in control of your life and the direction that you are going in.

1. Consider Therapy

Therapy will help you take stock and think about what is happening in your life and where you might be able to make some changes. Needless to say, you will also have the support you need to embark on making those changes. It could also be a chance to identify what it is in your life that is causing the depression. A therapist can also help you connect to other supports that might help you as you work through this period in your life.

2. Group Support Network

Processing hurt and pain through the group experience is a powerful method of connecting with yourself and others who might be experiencing similar challenges. Part of the value of group experience is knowing that you are not alone and that you have support not just from professionals but also from other people just like you.

3. Self Assessment

Self-assessment involves assessing where you are in your life in relation to your life goals, your relationships, and the direction that you are headed. Maybe it is time to make a pivot and change course, which could be a very scary thing. Bringing this kind of information to therapy will be very valuable and will assist you in the therapeutic process.

4. Take Some Time Off

Taking some time off will be and can be helpful in many ways. If you are experiencing burnout, this will give you more time for self-care and help you give yourself a break. Moreover, taking a time off gives you more time to do some of the things I described above in therapy, group work, and self-assessment.

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5. Are You Bored?

Sometimes, when we lack stimulation or work in a job for which we are overqualified, we might find ourselves feeling underutilized and as if we are not meeting our potential. This would, hopefully, come out in a self-assessment and could indicate the need to make a change in your work life.

Depression and Suicide

Depression is a serious mental health disorder. Thirty to seventy percent of deaths by suicide are attributed to major depression or bipolar disorder.[4] If you or someone you love is experiencing depression and expresses thoughts or statements about death and suicide, consult with your medical professional or mental health counselor. People who receive treatment for depression have an 80 to 90% rate of success from therapy and/or medication.

Suffice to say, if you get the treatment you need for depression, your chances of recovering skyrocket. Again, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to live with depression. Get the right treatment,[5] and you can have a whole new lease on life.

Final Thoughts

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness for a long period of time. Many people throughout their lives will experience some depression in varying degrees. If you notice that what you are experiencing resembles any of what I have described above, please know that you can make changes and you can live a life free of depression. Getting help, support, and treatment is essential to addressing the depression or changes in your life that might need to be considered.

More Tips on Coping With Depression

Featured photo credit: Paola Chaaya via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The World Health Organization: Depression
[2] NCBI: The DSM-5: Classification and Criteria Changes
[3] OASH: Office on women’s Health: Effects of domestic violence on children
[4] Mental Health America: Suicide
[5] Upside Down Flan: The Best Treatment for Depression

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