It’s been over a year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and with the rapidly-changing environment may feel like you cannot keep your footing. Beyond struggling with the risks of a virus, there have been unlimited hurdles and hardships from social unrest to changing dynamics in personal and professional relationships. These factors have had tremendous negative impacts on mental health across demographics and nations.
A Few Stats
- Emerging data shows that at least 4 in 10 adults in the U.S have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.
- Nearly 11 million people have seriously contemplated suicide.
- A 2020 tracking poll reported that 36% of people had trouble sleeping, 32% had developed eating disorders, and there was a 12% increase in substance abuse as a result of the stress and worry inflicted by COVID-19.
Potentially Long-Lasting Effects
The pandemic is a traumatic event. The definition is an extremely stressful incident that alters one’s ability to cope normally. And it may have worsened the condition of people who were already struggling with depression and triggered new diagnoses as a result of the overwhelming stress caused by loss, infection, and readjustment. The long-term mental effects of these distressing events are Psychological Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Signs of Pandemic Trauma and Depression
Whether you believe you may be depressed or someone you love is struggling, here are a few common signs of depression that you can observe in yourself and others:
- You feel a never-ending amount of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness.
- You no longer find joy in the things/activities you once loved.
- You find it difficult to complete small tasks or go to work.
- You’re easily anxious, irritable, and constantly angry at yourself, others, and the world.
- You’re fatigued most of the time. You don’t have passion or energy for anything.
- You’ve thought about suicide or harming yourself.
- You have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or remembering things.
- You’ve gained or lost weight or drastically reduced or increased appetite.
- You avoid people, even loved ones. You’ve withdrawn from all social circles and interactions (even virtual).
Practical ways to cope with pandemic trauma and depression
Self-care may seem difficult, especially on days when depression hits the hardest. This can manifest in the inability to complete the simplest of tasks, such as unloading the dishwasher or checking the mail.
What you can focus on is getting one thing done at a time, no matter how small it is. Managed to pull yourself out of bed today? Amazing! Managed to go outside to feel the sun on your skin? Amazing! One step at a time until you get there, at your own pace.
Self-care is finding the little things that bring you joy and trying to mindfully incorporate those into your life more often.
If you’re struggling with unhealthy habits, you can start by eliminating triggers and temptations in your surroundings that make it hard for you to adopt healthier habits. Replace that bag of chips with fruit. Substitute the soft drinks with two glasses of water today, then two tomorrow, and three the next day. Take moments to state your gratitude, even if it’s just having a bed to lie down in.
We find strength in our human connections. It’s easier to carry your burdens when you share them. We may still be practicing social distancing, but calling your family, friends, or colleagues just to chat about life can help remind you that there are people who love and care for you.
If you are not comfortable reaching out to these folks just yet, try to find connection in a common cause or higher purpose. You may consider tapping into your spiritual or religious side and joining a community that satisfies those needs. The key is to join initiatives that make you fulfilled, not drained, and that keep you mindful in your everyday life.
Pay attention to the times when you feel particularly isolated. Perhaps you’re engaged in a social media rabbit hole, obsessively reading news articles about a heated topic, or binge-watching a TV. Notice these triggers and take a break from them! Step outside, move your body, or call a friend and feel the feelings of self-security returning.
Often, the anxiety that accompanies feelings of overwhelm or depression stem from feeling out of control. This can be difficult to grapple with when you are in a situation (like a pandemic) where you have little semblance of control.
During these times, it’s important to remind yourself of what you can control: your actions and reactions. You may want to develop a meditation practice. This helps us allow and acknowledge the “helpless” or “hopeless” thoughts without getting bogged down in our reactions to them. Instead, you learn to let them go and focus your energy on what you can control.
- Seeking help
We, your trusted counselors, are just one call away to help you get through whatever is troubling you. We help you form more secure connections with yourself and others, as well as help increase self-awareness so that you can examine your own emotions and behaviors in the moment and make the best decisions for your well-being.
What To Do If You Witness These Signs in a Loved One
Reaching out to a loved one who is struggling can also be trying. It’s very unlikely that they will respond with, “You’re right! I am struggling with my mental health and I need help!” the first time you bring up the subject.
The most important thing you can do is let them know you are there to support them and not judge. You may consider sending them some information about counseling services or suggesting that they speak to someone, but stay away from “you” statements that could feel judgmental or accusatory.
Instead, approach the conversation from a loving place, ask questions, practice active listening, and use “I” statements. An example might be, “I hear you say that you’ve been feeling hopeless and lonely. Do you feel this way often? I have noticed a change in you, too, and I am here to support you.”
We’re here for you if you suspect you are depressed. Please reach out to the mental health professionals at Shorelines. There is power in a collective. When people don’t feel alone, there is no limit to what they can achieve.