Get outside. Surround yourself with friends and family. Participate in community events. Hit the gym.
What happens when the tools we use every day to combat depression and anxiety are literally spreading a global pandemic? Throughout the country, more and more states are mandating “social distancing” tactics, requiring residents to stay home from school, work, social and religious gatherings and closing movie theaters, restaurants and gyms. The result? We’re all left with time on our hands – alone time, that is. Add to that the ever-spreading anxiety brought by sensationalized media, panicked disaster preppers and the creeping fear of the unknown and you have the ultimate recipe for depression.
Whether you’re living in a state with a stay-at-home order or you’re just doing your part to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all those long days of hunkering down can certainly take their toll on your mental wellbeing. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, or you’re just feeling stir-crazy and fearful about the coming weeks, take these proactive steps to protect and improve your mental and emotional health.
Anchor and redirect your thoughts
Whether you’re making a quick trip to buy groceries or watching the evening news, there’s enough panic and uncertainty around to keep your thoughts spinning in anxious circles. If you find yourself trapped in a pattern of negative thoughts, it’s important to take control. Psychology Today advises that negative thinking can cause depression and anxiety, prolong stressors and create chronically stressed states of mind that can affect your heart health and immunity.
When I lost my husband to suicide in 2012, I was a prisoner of my own thoughts, going over every “would have,” “should have” or “could have” scenario in my head until I was effectively paralyzed. It was only when I started to identify these negative thought patterns that I was able to change my inner dialogue. I penned “thought anchors” that I repeated every day – sometimes several times a day. These were empowering, positive thoughts that provided the hope and motivation to see me through the day ahead. Create your own thought anchors – or use some of mine. You don’t even have to believe them at first – just like negative thoughts, positive statements gain power as you repeat them.
Move your body
The gym might be closed, and you might even be on lockdown, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your heart pumping in the comfort of your own home. In most areas you can even take a walk or go for a bike ride outdoors as long as you remain six feet from those outside your household.
Exercise doesn’t just improve your physical condition, helping to boost your overall health and immunity, but it also produces endorphins that elevate your mood and fight feelings of depression and anxiety.
Don’t stress about overachieving here, either. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout, since exercise tends to work quickly to elevate depressed moods.
The state of your mind is often a reflection of your surroundings. When you’re stuck at home and home is cluttered, dirty and disorganized, it can make you feel cluttered, dirty and disorganized. In fact, PsyCom asserts that “seeing clutter all around us is mentally exhausting and makes us feel tense.”
That tension is the last thing you need in a world that is currently and collectively tense! Take control of your little piece of the world by making your home a sanctuary. Organize unnecessary clutter, clear your workspace for better efficiency and create spaces for relaxation, reflection and meditation. Of course, don’t overwhelm yourself with the task. Carve out an hour or two each day to tackle one area of the house. As you take control of your surroundings, you’ll feel more in control of your mind and emotions.
Distance, but don’t isolate
We’ve all been inundated with instruction to “social distance,” but for anyone suffering from depression, social interaction can be a much-needed lifeline. Fortunately, we live in a time when connecting with friends, family, coworkers and the community doesn’t require face-to-face contact (although that’s ideal under normal circumstances).
While you’re distancing, be sure to check in regularly with loved ones. Don’t limit your interactions to quick phone calls or text messages either. Video calling empowers us to share experiences virtually, so take advantage of the technology at your fingertips. Host a virtual game night or book club with a few friends or share a takeout dinner over Skype or Facetime. Get creative and keep your personal relationships strong during this difficult time.
Although depression doesn’t affect everyone, we’re all experiencing today’s unique circumstances together, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. If you don’t have a trusted friend or loved one, you can always call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-27