Living with Depression Taught Me These Ways to Cope During COVID-19
Whether you’re prone to mental illness or not, it is easy to get extremely down during this pandemic. For those of us who do live with mental illness, COVID-19 can be an added layer of stress on top of the daily challenges we already face. Yet, I have found that I am not falling down a dark hole of depression during this time. This made me realize how far I’ve come in dealing with depressing times.
I went through periods of extreme depression during college and have made it out on the other side, graduated and the most mentally stable I’ve been in years. That time, while the worst in my life, taught me the hard way what can help in times of mental distress. I didn’t know it would prepare me for coping with social isolation and fear during a pandemic, but here we are.
Since it took going through many tough days to learn how to take care of myself in hard times, I wanted to share what helps me stay stable now. Maybe it can help you even just a bit during this unprecedented time.
No matter how much you think staying in bed will help, it won’t (to a certain extent).
Depression can make staying in bed all day sound so enticing. We all need a few days here and there when we let ourselves sleep in or lay in bed longer than normal. When it becomes something that happens every day though, that’s when you have to be careful. Even just telling myself, okay you’re going to get up and just brush your teeth, helps immensely. And if you still feel the need to go back to bed, you can. Nine out of ten times though, I feel better once I’m up and I don’t crawl back under the covers.
Let yourself feel, but don’t let it control you.
This is a time where we have to honor the grief of losing normalcy, and for some, the people we love. Let out the tears but don’t let it be 100% of your day. Sometimes a little distraction of fantasy fiction or binge-worthy TV is necessary. It’s all about balancing honoring your feelings with coping through activities that provide comfort.
Reach out to supports when your feelings are hard to handle.
You don’t have to bear the weight of your burdens alone. Researcher and Author Brené Brown tells us that connection is at the core of human existence. We must be vulnerable to find connection, and when we are, it can set us free. By opening up to others about how we are feeling, we no longer have to suffer in silence. Family members, friends, therapists, and other trusted people in our lives are needed to support us at this time, even if this is through a screen. It can be hard to open up, but when I do, it almost always makes me feel better. We need to know we are not alone in our struggles to help us get through them.
Put your phone down sometimes.
With the news blasting morbid, scary updates 24/7, it is important to limit your news consumption. The same goes for social media. While technology can be helpful in connecting us with others and providing information, it’s draining to be on your phone all the time. Give yourself a set amount of time each day to check the news and go on social media, then put your phone down so you are not overwhelmed by all that is happening. Keeping up with the news is important, but your mental health is more important.
Moments of solitude or meditation are needed.
I am at home with my family, which is not my usual living situation. This has means cherishing moments with family I wouldn’t normally have, but it also means more social interaction. I practice finding time to recharge alone each night, after the news of the day is consumed and the social stimulation is complete. Watching shows my family members do not and reading books provides me solace from all that is going on around me. Having moments of quiet or meditation are key right now.
Make the good days count.
There will be days where your motivation and energy are not there. Sometimes you have no choice in being productive, but if you can, giving yourself a break is the best thing. Forcing yourself to push through that exhaustion can only further it. But on the flip side of that: make the good days count. When you do have energy and motivation, that is the time to jump in and be productive on what you can. It may not include everything on your to-do list, but choosing one task at a time is key to utilizing the time you have when you can handle life. Focus on one thing at a time.
Find your mood boosters, the small things that bring you joy.
It’s cliche, but the little things really are the big things, especially right now. It can be easy to focus on all the tasks we have to do, but when we focus on what we enjoy, it can make those tasks feel less draining. Knowing there is something fun at some point during the day makes the day less monotonous. For me, this includes going to pick up an iced latte to support my local coffee shop, playing with my dogs, walking outside in the spring weather, and playing card games with my family. Gratitude has been shown in research to increase our mood when consistently practiced, so at the end of the day, look back on these small (or big) moments of joy and appreciate them.
As we go through the motions of days and weeks that start to blend together, know you are not alone in having hard feelings right now. We are all in this together.