13 Ways to Beat Depression During COVID-19

When we’re emotionally and/or mentally stressed, we tend to turn to others. But as the coronavirus epidemic continues, many of the traditional ways we seek comfort are unavailable to us—a hug from a loved one or stranger, a get-together to discuss our grief and worries over coffee, a spontaneous gathering to light candles and leave flowers … many things we do when there’s a tragedy are now taboo due to the very crisis with which we’re dealing. Many people are experiencing depression during the COVID-19 outbreak. Social isolation worsens depression, yet social isolation is what we need to save us! Psychologists are scrambling to adjust the traditional depression-busting advice.

In part, this depends on our situation. First responders, medical personnel, and other essential workers are experiencing trauma, and they deserve support and assistance in coping with it. Millions of people are dealing with economic uncertainty. Others are struggling to care for children while working from home. Older adults are at high risk of depression and isolation at this time, having suddenly lost their social context and supports.

Here are some of the things the experts are recommending

Stick to your routine. Disruption of our schedule can really throw us off. As much as you can, maintain your normal schedule. If you’re working remotely, start and end your workday at the normal times. Go to bed and get up when you usually do. And go ahead and take that shower, even if you are going to be spending the day with only yourself for company.

Learn something new, do something new. Maybe you aren’t as busy during the day. Most likely you don’t have much to occupy yourself in the evening, either! Consider this period of enforced idleness as a gift of time. Take an online class, check out e-books from your local library system, or order some art supplies and make a self-portrait.

Reach out and share what you’re going through. Some of the things we’re experiencing are unbearably sad. If we’ve lost a loved one, or our business is in peril, or we can’t see our children and grandchildren, or our work exposes us to painful situations and a feeling of helplessness, we should talk to someone. Unexpressed grief can lead to depression.

Reconnect with friends and family. Reports are that many people are catching up with cousins they haven’t talked to for years, friends from high school, and former co-workers. And in a sign of our times, some people who flounced away from Facebook are showing up again

Do something for others. Helping people is a terrific mood booster. This is a time when many people could use a hand! Make masks for healthcare workers, learn ways you can support local small businesses, and find online volunteer opportunities. Ask people what they need.

Help an older adult get online. Here’s a great way to make a difference. At this time, it’s becoming apparent that seniors who are able to video chat, surf the web, or download e-books have a real advantage over those who can’t. Reports are that many seniors are finally taking the plunge into the digital world! But they need help. Maybe you have an older relative or friend who you’re pretty sure could learn these technologies with some guidance? Go for it!

Connect with kids. If you have children living in your home, you’ve got this one covered. But if you don’t, this might be a great time for a virtual playdate with young relatives or even children of your coworkers that you’ve never met. Read them a story. Ask them about their day. Walk around the house showing them your pets and plants. Children have a way of lifting our spirits—and the gratitude of harried parents will provide a mood boost, as well!

Keep moving. Exercise is one of the best ways to increase hormones in the brain that lower feelings of depression. If you have a home exercise routine, keep it up—even add some extra minutes each week. While observing the recommended social distancing, go out for a walk. If you are a gym member, see if the facility offers virtual classes. Check out exercise videos on YouTube or on the National Institute on Aging website. Some people are working out with friends. (Check with your doctor before making any big changes in your routine.)

Get outside. Many people report a sense of inertia at this time that’s keeping them holed up indoors. But that’s not good for our health. “It’s essential to have plenty of exposure to outdoor light, particularly in the morning, for a strong immune system and positive mood,” advises Dr. Phyllis Zee of Northwestern Medicine. “Light signals reach brain areas that regulate mood, and exposure to bright light during the day can boost mood and performance.”

Keep your sense of perspective. Right now it’s easy to feel like we are living at the end of the world! But history shows that our species has dealt with pandemics and all sorts of crises before and we’ve survived. We are actually better equipped this time around to battle this new challenge. Reach out to friends to talk about this unique point in human history. Keep notes! Write a memoir.

Try to laugh. Humor is a way we humans cope with stress, and many people out there are creating humor! Check out recent videos on YouTube, watch the nighttime talk shows, see what cartoonists are doing. If you’re lucky, your Facebook friends are sharing a lot of wryly hilarious memes and photos of their current hairdos (or hair don’ts, as is par for the course today).

Tune out the news. It’s good to stay informed. But our news channels right now feature a steady diet of coronavirus coverage, and it can wear us down. Friends who used to post cat videos and food photos on Facebook or Twitter might now be exclusively sharing the latest dire (and perhaps fake) news. Listen to music or watch a miniseries instead.

If feelings of depression don’t improve, help is available. Therapists and other healthcare professionals are conducting remote counseling sessions through telehealth and teletherapy. Ask your doctor for a recommendation.

And remember that you are not alone! Millions of us are experiencing and worrying about the same things, asking the same questions, and dealing with the same uncertainty. Across the country and around the world, though we are isolated from each other, we have somehow never been so close.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing low moods that do not pass.