- Depression and anxiety are increasing across all demographics during quarantine.
- Coping skills are important for mental health.
- Planning “normal” activities, exercise, social connection, and grieving are all effective tools for coping.
Lower incomes, depleted savings, social isolation.
These are the factors that have contributed to a threefold increase in depression since the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, according to an original report from the Journal of the American Medical Association in September. Other studies have painted a similar picture for global mental health since the onset of the novel coronavirus.
Now that we’re eight months into what has become an interminable pandemic, doctors and mental health experts are rallying to increase coping skills for the general population.
What This Means For You
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues have increased across all demographics since the pandemic. While you can’t control the global factors that influence mental health, there are many personal coping mechanisms that can improve your mental wellbeing as we head further into the “new normal.”
Schedule “Normal” Activities
Lockdowns have forced people to spend more time at home. And with limited travel plans and social opportunities, much of this time is spent ruminating about losses and events beyond our control.
This could lead to even more mental strain, says Myra Altman, PhD, clinical psychologist and VP of clinical care for Modern Health.
Altman says that ongoing concerns such as job uncertainty are creating a unique environment of heightened stress and anxiety. “The solution is to engage in activities that give you a vacation from the stress,” she tells Get Meds Info.
Altman suggests planning two types of stress busters each day:
- Pleasurable activities: These types of activities include small, fun things like getting coffee with friends, cooking, and watching a movie.
- Mastery activities: These activities give you a sense of accomplishment, like cleaning your dishes, responding to an email, or paying a bill.
Even though these activities aren’t anything out of the ordinary, simply focusing on them will divert your attention in a mood-positive way.
“Don’t wait until you feel like doing these things,” Altman says. Instead, you should schedule them purposefully and ahead of time, either by calendar appointments or through daily rituals.
Jenna Palladino, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Stony Brook Medicine in New York, agrees.
“Maintaining structure and routine helps provide certainty and stability,” Palladino tells Get Meds Info. She recommends scheduling activities such as nature walks, creative pursuits like writing and art, and purposeful time with pets and children.
Physical exercise is one of the most proven strategies for alleviating stress and reducing depression. And even though it seems like we’d have more time to exercise now that we’re “sheltering in place,” many people have fallen out of their normal fitness routines due to sparse gym access and fewer exercise partners.
According to Alok Trivedi, DC, human behavior and stress reduction expert, regular exercise is an indispensable coping tool.
“It can’t be stated enough: Any form of physical activity that gets the blood pumping can help relieve stress and depression,” Trivedi tells Get Meds Info. He recommends doing something physical for at least 20 minutes each day, “whether that’s going for a walk, playing ball with your kids, running, lifting weights, or swimming.”
Studies show that 90 minutes of medium to high-intensity aerobic exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medication over the long-term.
The best way to begin an exercise routine is to plan it into your daily schedule. And if you can couple your exercise with natural light, says Brea Giffin, BS, a wellness director for Sprout At Work, all the better.
“Increased natural light has been linked to higher productivity, better sleep, and improved mood,” Giffin, who studied neuroscience, tells Get Meds Info.
Alok Trivedi, DC
It can’t be stated enough: Any form of physical activity that gets the blood pumping can help relieve stress and depression.
One of the biggest hits on our collective mental wellbeing during the pandemic has been the lack of social connection. But even though the ways we connect might be different than eight months ago, experts say that we do connect is more important than ever.
“When coping with stress, it’s easy to retreat further and further from interacting with others,” Altman says. She said that people often feel that they have to shoulder their burdens by themselves. “But finding support from friends and loved ones, as well as in your community or professionally, are all actions you can take to reduce stress and anxiety.”
Studies show that social connection is strongly associated with overall happiness.
Since we’ve been cut off from many of our normal sources for connection, Palladino recommends being proactive about finding social support. “Stay connected with loved ones in social distant ways, such as small group gatherings, going for a walk with a friend, calling a family member, or joining a local video support group, book club, and dinner parties,” she says.
Most experts agree that social connection should be prioritized for mental health. But Trivedi goes a step further in saying that deep conversation should be focused on as well.
“Intellectual stimulation makes us feel connected,” he says. “It helps us hyper-focus on one topic while forgetting about the pandemic, and that has been shown to have positive effects on anxiety and stress.”
Don’t Forget To Grieve
The first thing people want to do when experiencing feelings like isolation and anxiety is to feel better. But even though common interventions such as exercise are useful for improving mood, some experts say that fully experiencing our negative emotions is critical for coping long term.
According to clinical psychologist Jessica Goodnight, PhD, owner of the Anxiety Trauma Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, the pandemic has resulted in major losses that must be grieved.
“Months and months of a pandemic have resulted in small and major losses,” she tells Get Meds Info. Goodnight says these losses range from events we’ve anticipated, like trips and weddings, to loss of employment, and even loved ones lost to COVID-19.
“In the wake of losses like these, you’re not supposed to feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with you if you are mourning,” she says. “Make room for those feelings, and you may be surprised at the freedom it gives you when you stop trying to be okay all the time.”
But learning to grieve can be a process, especially for those who are unfamiliar with grieving.
Goodnight says that learning to grieve is more about getting out of grief’s way. She proposes asking the following questions throughout the day to increase your awareness of grieving:
- Is there something I’m trying not to feel right now?
- Am I engaging in a lot of self-distraction or avoidance? (mindless snacking, endless social media scrolling, etc.)
- What am I afraid I will feel if I stop distracting myself?
When you’re ready, Goodnight says, experiment with silent, distraction-free time blocks where you can notice and allow your feelings to surface. Some helpful ways to access your unfelt emotions include journaling, meditation, and even walks in silence.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.