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Struggling with depression is difficult at the best of times. Add a global pandemic to the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster. There’s been an immediate stop to all face-to-face mental health services, and with the NHS already under so much strain, this only serves to increase their ever-growing list of unseen patients. Many of us have been left with little more than medication to help us through, therefore it’s important that we know how to help ourselves when things begin to feel impossible.
Prevention is key!
Although we can’t always prevent the onslaught of a depressive episode, we can try our very best to deter it. It’s much harder to act while you’re actively in the weeds, therefore it’s best to prevent a downward spiral before it arrives on your doorstep.
8 Key Ways to manage depression during COVID-19:
1. Reach out and stay connected at a safe distance.
Isolation can easily lead to the exacerbation of depression and feelings of hopelessness. Although we know that we’re not alone, it’s difficult to feel a sense of togetherness without having regular social contact.
Our only source of social interaction may have been going to work and in losing that we’ve lost what little connection we had to the outside world. Some of us may even have lost jobs, contact with loved ones, support groups, etc, and have been left to manage the negative feelings all by ourselves.
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Luckily the 21st century is both wonderful and chaotic all at once. We can contact our loved ones in pretty much any way possible from video to voice chat.
I’m usually quite a socially anxious person and so I tend to avoid phone calls or video chats. But through all of this I’ve learned that it’s the thought of these things that scares me the most. Once I’m there, physically chatting to my friends or therapist using these means I’m far more comfortable than I am in person.
Even if you’re scared, even if you think ‘No, I can’t possibly’, give it a shot. You might surprise yourself.
2: Remember to take time to yourself if working from home.
I find that there are two kinds of people who work from home: the Procrastinator and the Overachiever. You either dance around the fact you have several emails to reply to, audits to complete, and meetings to attend. Or you find it difficult to switch off, even after the workday is done.
No matter which you are it’s important to carve out some solid ‘me time’.
This means closing the laptop or mobile device and diving into a good book or the latest video game. You could even go the extra mile and run a bubble bath, complete with a glass of wine. Me time means spending some mindful time with yourself doing what you love to do.
For the overachievers of the group, working from home can lead to the obsessive need to get more and more done. This, in turn, can lead to serious burnout which, at the moment, will only add to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
So, next time you can’t keep your nose out of your inbox, switch off the phone, download the latest novel, and try reading a few chapters instead of replying to Sandra in HR.
3. Listen to yourself and your body.
Sometimes we find it difficult to listen and understand what our bodies are telling us. Other times we blatantly ignore them in favor of doing something else. For those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, it can be hard to listen to what our bodies really need. Even the simplest forms of self-care can seem almost impossible to do.
It’s important to remember the current situation that we’re in. Although that may seem frightening, it may also help in putting things into perspective.
If you’re hungry, eat even if your mind is telling you not to. If you’re feeling tired, take a quick nap. If you’re restless, go for a short walk or try a yoga routine. Our bodies know what they need in order to keep going and it’s important that we listen to and respect them, especially at a time like this.
I should also note that it’s entirely normal to feel extra tired at the moment. Even if you don’t think it, you’re on high alert due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Naturally, that means your body will be using more energy than usual and therefore it’s entirely okay to take an extra nap or eat an extra bar of chocolate.
Related: Embracing Embodiment
4. Stay active
Stay active provided that you’re physically fit and able to do so; if you’re on strict bed rest, please adhere to this.
Here in the UK, we’re permitted to take one hour of physical exercise outside the home per day. My partner and I have been using this to its fullest and taking this time to explore the surroundings of our local village. This means countryside walks, stopping to chat with the local farm animals, and even taking our youngest cat out for a leisurely stroll.
Provided that you’re fit and that the guidelines in your area permit it, take the opportunity to step out into the sunlight.
Even if you don’t walk far, the act of getting outside can be enough to lift our mood.
If you’re truly limited to the indoors, why not try yoga for yourself during quarantine? You don’t need any fancy clothes, mats or equipment. It’s suitable for all levels from beginner to expert, and you can find free tutorials online. I personally follow Yoga with Adriene on Youtube for amazing routines to suit every circumstance.
5. Take your medication.
Remember to take your medication as prescribed. Allow extra time for prescriptions to be prepared as most pharmacies are very busy and only allowing a certain number of customers in at any one time.
Sometimes depression can fool us into feeling like we no longer need medication because we’re feeling better. With the absence of workplace stressors, some of us may even be feeling less anxious and lighter. But please do not begin to wean yourself from your current medication dosage.
Now is not the time to experiment with our medications as access to psychiatric services are limited. Only begin to wean off medication in line with advice from a medical professional.
6. Eat well.
It’s all too easy to fall back into nasty habits, be that not eating or comfort eating. Although our supermarkets are currently a war-zone, it’s important that when you do shop (be it online or in-person) that you fill your basic needs with a variety of foods. Treats are welcome, and even encouraged, but don’t forget your essentials: carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and non-perishables.
The food we eat has a huge impact on our mood. If we’re eating nothing but processed foods or we’re failing to eat enough to sustain us, this could mean a dramatic dip in positive brain chemistry.
We may begin to feel more sluggish than usual, which will already be the case due to decreased activity. Ensure that you’re sticking to your meal plan if you’re on one. If you’re not, the standard is three hearty meals a day, with some snacks in between.
Finally, remember to keep yourself hydrated! Although coffee is a lifesaver it’s not, in fact, all that hydrating. In fact, it’s the opposite!
7. Challenge negative thoughts.
It can be very difficult to challenge our negative thought patterns. Especially without professional help or the help of loved ones. Often we’re our own worst enemy and despite all efforts, we simply can’t shift the haze of depression.
I admit that I was struggling with negative thought patterns and habits in the early weeks of lockdown. However, I’ve since started using a worry journal in order to untangle my thoughts.
It’s a place that I can go without the need to have perfect grammar, spelling, writing flow, etc. No one reads it but me (and sometimes my therapist) and it simply acts as a sort of ‘word dump.’ If it’s out on paper or screen then it can’t continue to infiltrate my mind. Of course, the thoughts will still be there but quieter. Acknowledging them and working through them takes away their power.
You can do the same by using a notebook or an online system such as Word or Evernote.
8. Remember your helplines.
Please, please, please remember to reach out for help when you no longer feel that you can cope on your own.
Visit our Resources page for a list of helplines or befrienders.org to search for a helpline in your area.
If you feel unsafe or unable to keep yourself safe please call 999/911 (or your equivalent) for emergency medical assistance or go to the ER. Even in the current climate, it’s important that we remember we deserve help just like anyone else. Yes, times are tough for the hospitals but don’t hesitate to call if you genuinely feel you need to.
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