Mental Health in a Time of Coronavirus

So, we are still in this Coronavirus crisis. Even though I work at home, not being able to do things I used to do outside the home has given me opportunity in other ways. This post was a rush job. I have been wanting to start a podcast, and I am using this opportunity to get that ready. I think it will be called The God Wrestler. The first series in it will be about faith in a time of Coronavirus.

There’s my silver lining. But even so, I will admit all these Coronavirus restrictions are a pain in the butt. I’m naturally introverted, so I don’t get out much anyway. But I always liked knowing I could go out if I wanted to. And sometimes, I want to. And since I have made mental illness and depression a focus in my writings, I wanted to say something about how the Coronavirus shutdown can affect people psychologically, and what you can do about it. In addition to all the disruption to the economy and normal way of life for most people, Coronavirus is causing an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression. Some of the reasons cited are.

Isolation.

This is the greatest risk factor for depression and anxiety. Even those of us who are not quarantined can’t get out as much. Most public gatherings are cancelled. Where I live, they haven’t enforced lockdowns where I live yet, but schools are closed. Some businesses have closed voluntarily, and some are limiting themselves to drive-through and delivery. Social distancing also limits our interactions. My parents live in Hawaii. The people there are warm and friendly. You greet friends or family with a hug and sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. They’ve had to retrain themselves for social distancing. My wife and I visited my father-in-law and spoke to him through glass. Not that we think we have it, but just in case one of us picked it up somewhere.

Disruption of routine.

I work from home, so this doesn’t affect me as much as many people. But if you are used to going to work or school every day, and that is taken away—even temporarily—it is disorienting. Since I work from home, it hasn’t hit me that way. They’re recommending teleworking, and all my work is teleworking. But I once had a teaching job. I was overworked and underpaid, but the daily schedule helped provide structure to my time. There were familiar faces I saw and spoke to. I didn’t know that was a comfort until I lost it.

Loss of money or business.

So many businesses are closed or operating at reduced capacity. That means a lot of people are laid off and not earning a paycheck. Or profits. The stock market is down, way down. Losing money is stressful. Sorry for stating the obvious.

Uncertainty.

We don’t know how long it will last. It will get under control at some point. But right now, there is no cure, no vaccine, and no one can tell us when there will be any. Each morning, more people are on lockdown or quarantine. Each morning, a new list of businesses and public services are closed. When will the tide turn and things begin to get back to normal? No one knows, and that is stressful.

And, oh yeah, there is the looming spectre of a deadly, contagious disease that has already infected tens of thousands of people in the US alone, hundreds of thousands all over the world, and the numbers keep going up.

Well, never fear. Your intrepid mental health blogger is here. Okay, I can’t do anything about your job or the stock market or the disease itself. Sorry. I tried praying it away like the preachers I used to watch on TV, but God hasn’t been forthcoming in that manner. Which is why I say the preachers I used to watch. To help with issues of depression, stress and anxiety, here are some tips I gathered from the experts.

Maintain social connections.

You may not be able to visit people as often, but you can still call them or interact on social media. Many experts say social media and technology have contributed to the rise in depression, anxiety, and polarization in our society. I should do a post on that. But this time right now is where technology really can help us maintain connections, so we don’t feel isolated. I’ve used social media the last few years to keep up with family spread out all over the state. You can continue to do that. Get on the phone with them. Smart phones make video phone calls possible with Facetime, Skype, and similar apps. I don’t use that much myself, but it helps when you’re alone to see a friendly and familiar face. You can stay connected and still keep up your social distancing.

Don’t just text. Call them.

This falls under maintaining social connections, of course. I saw this online from someone calling themselves Dartagnan. “I talked to an old friend today on the phone today for about an hour. No texting bullshit, just a real conversation. Best time I’ve spent all week.”

Maintain self-care.

That includes exercise, a proper amount of sleep, nutrition, and proper hygiene. I guess we’re all thinking more about hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All the hand washing and sanitizing. Studies have shown that when people stop self-care, it’s both a sign of and a contributor to depression.

Stay informed, but don’t overdo it.

I watch the news in the morning to see the latest progress of the disease. After about half an hour to an hour, I’ve gotten everything I can from them, so I turn it off. It’s important to know what’s happening and what new restrictions are in place. But dwelling on it will not make you better informed. It will more likely just make you anxious. And get your information from good news sources, not social media. Rumors can spread faster than COVID-19, and nothing on SM is fact-checked.

Do something creative.

Have you been wanting to write a book? Or learn a musical instrument? Or another language? Or start some hobby? And you are stuck at home and can’t go anywhere? Hello, here’s an opportunity. I’ve been writing even more since the crisis started. Starting the podcast I told you about is me taking advantage of the extra time I have on my hands.

Prayer, meditation, and mindfulness.

Prayer is connecting or communicating with the divine or your higher power, whatever that means to you. Meditation is focusing on one thing to calm your mind. Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening around you and inside you, mentally and emotionally. All three have been scientifically proven to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

Help your neighbors if you’re not sick.

Times like these, we really need people to remember to love their neighbors as themselves. One person in Boston left $1000 tip, because they knew it was the waitress’s last night before she was laid off. My relative offered to do grocery shopping for her elderly neighbors, because she knows going to public places is a much greater risk for them than her.

Set a schedule.

I’ll admit I’ve never been good at that. I’ve tried, but I just can’t get up at the same time every morning or go to be the same time every night. I get started writing, and I can just keep going for hours. That is actually good for my mental health. But not so good in other ways, like exercising or maintaining a schedule. But it is one of astronaut Scott Kelly’s recommendations.

Don’t give in to prejudice.

Since the Coronavirus arrived here, there has been an increase in racist incidents towards Chinese and Asian-Americans. That needs to stop. Don’t blame your neighbor for this because of their country of origin, especially when the vast majority of them were here before the Coronavirus.

Remember why you’re going to all this trouble.

Maybe you’re sick of social distancing and staying home except for when you need to get food or medicine. Maybe you don’t care whether you are putting yourself at risk. Maybe you are young and healthy and think if you get it, you probably won’t die. Statistically, you’d be right. But if you don’t practice things like social distancing, you could spread it to someone not so young and healthy. Starting at age sixty, chances of death go up significantly. Would you want anyone spreading it to your parents or grandparents? Or to your brother or sister who is undergoing cancer treatments? Then don’t take a chance on spreading it to someone else.

If you think you need help, here are a few resources you can connect with by phone or online.

Counseling services: https://www.betterhelp.com/

Suicide Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or 1-800-273-8255.

Grace and peace to you.


While you are at home more, you might want something read or podcasts to listen to. I let you know at the beginning of this post I’m working on a podcast. I will share details with you. And I have a book out about my experiences with depression and finding faith in the midst of it. You can get it on Amazon, either in ebook or paperback. If depression is a concern for you or someone you love, I encourage you to check it out. And on this page, I recommend books from other authors that I found very helpful.

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-resilience/202003/the-new-mental-health-research-coronavirus

https://www.today.com/health/how-survive-coronavirus-anxiety-8-tips-mental-health-experts-t175092

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/10/who-gives-advice-on-handling-mental-health-toll-caused-by-coronavirus.html

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2020/3/21/1929880/-Astronaut-Scott-Kelly-s-tips-on-how-to-handle-isolation-are-priceless

The Holiday Blues

 

‘Tis that season when you hear “Joy to the World” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” everywhere you go. We think of the holidays as a joyful time, where we get to enjoy our families, food, and gifts. Yet for some, the holidays are a time of stress, sadness, and loneliness. Because of that, I’ve added this chapter on dealing with holiday depression.

Why are the holidays a depressing time for some people? Experts cite a number of reasons.

  • Stress. The parties, the get-togethers, the shopping, the decorating, yes, it’s all fun, but it’s stressful too. Normal irritations can become magnified during the holidays.
  • Pressure to be happy. When you see people around you happily saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” and stores are playing holiday music to get people in a shopping mood, you feel out of place if you cannot get into “the holiday spirit.”
  • Unrealistic expectations. Comparisons often lead to depression. If you are comparing this holiday to ones in the past, you’ll feel disappointed if this year does not measure up. If your neighbors appear cheerful and have it all together better than you do, remember at home behind closed doors, they are probably as stressed as you.
  • Doing too much. If just the thought of holidays brings stress and anxiety, it’s probably because you have done too much in the past. Maybe it’s time to scale back.
  • Neglecting self-care. If you meditate and exercise, you might be tempted to put that on hold because you feel pressed for time. You might not be getting enough sleep or taking time during the day to decompress.
  • Family strife. Spending time with family is the most important part of the holidays for most people. However, there might be some family you’d rather avoid.
  • Overindulging. If you have depression, WebMD recommends you avoid food and drink that makes your blood sugar spike. This includes most of the holiday treats we love. Sugar highs and the inevitable crashes afterwards are not a recipe for holiday cheer. And of course overindulging in alcohol will not help.
  • Isolation. Being apart from those you love never feels good. But during the holidays, you miss them even more. For those who have just moved to a new city, especially if they are single, they may not have made any friends where they are. They feel alone because they have no one to celebrate with.
  • Grieving. The first holiday after the loss of your spouse or parents or children can be rough. If most of your best holiday memories are with someone who can no longer be with you, the loss you feel will be magnified during the holidays.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a condition where people become more depressed as the days get shorter. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, is timed perfectly for SAD.
  • Post-holiday letdown. You manage to get your fill of holiday cheer in spite of the stress, and then it’s over. Until next year at least. As stressful as it was, some people miss the activity, the busyness, the holiday cheer, and the people who have gone back home.
  • Overspending. Some people use “retail therapy” to cope with depression, and the holidays present every temptation to overspend. Buying those expensive gifts is a big hit with those you give to. Then the credit card bills arrive.

 

 

What you can do

 

  1. Set expectations low. The lower your expectations, the less you can be disappointed. Don’t expect everything to be perfect, and you won’t have a meltdown when it’s not.
  2. Plan ahead and Prioritize. Make a list of all the things you expect to do for the holidays, then prioritize. Schedule time for the most important things. If you don’t have time for everything on the list, some lower priority items have to go. Do you have to go to every party you’re invited to? Can someone else host the family Christmas party this year? Can you enlist friends and family to help with the preparations? Say no to a few things that are not high on the priority list. People will not be nearly as disappointed as you think.
  3. Set a budget. Know how much money you have to spend on each person before you start shopping. Don’t pressure yourself to buy the best and most expensive version. If you don’t trust yourself, bring a friend who will make you stick to your budget. The best gifts don’t have to cost anything. I honestly believe if I gave my wife a “coupon” for a free massage, she would like that better than a diamond necklace. Remember they want your presence more than your presents.
  4. Maintain healthy habits. Enjoy your treats, but remember to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and avoid overindulging. Keep up your exercise and meditation routines. If you don’t meditate, you should start. A few minutes of meditation can do wonders for stress. Whatever you normally do to de-stress, don’t forget to do it during the holidays.
  5. Manage family encounters. If you dread getting together with some family members, here are some options, listed in increasing severity.
  6. Set aside differences. Don’t get baited into those same old debates. If you argue with the same person every year, you already know what they are going to say. Resolve before you go in you will not waste any more time trying to set them straight. If they start, just say Merry Christmas, and talk to someone else. If there is some past slight you are still sore about, what better time to forgive than the holidays?
  7. Seek out the positive people. Instead of fretting over that relative who is always critical, think of the people you enjoy and seek them out. If you are busy with them, that means less time with negative people. You can ask the person arranging the seating to place you next to someone more supportive. Better to say, “Can you sit me next to this cousin?” than “Don’t sit me next to Aunt Martha.”
  8. Make an early exit. You can always make an appearance, and make sure those who need to see you do so. After a decent amount of time, you can say you have to go because of another commitment.
  9. Avoid certain people altogether. It is better for your mental health to forgive than to hold grudges. But if the pain is too raw, or if you know they are going to make you uncomfortable, then don’t go to the party or to their house unless you have to.
  10. Volunteer. Nothing is more in keeping with the season than helping someone in need. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or other community service. Helping others feels good and is often the best antidote for depression. You might even want to make it a new tradition.
  11. Community, Religious, or Social Events. Religious services have always been a part of my holiday tradition. With or without my family, I like being a part of them. If that is not your thing, look for other community and social events open to the public. They present low pressure opportunities to see old friends or meet new people with shared interests.
  12. Call friends and family. One year my sister was working as a missionary in Mexico. We celebrated Christmas as usual—me, my parents, and grandparents. In the afternoon, we used my iPad to call my sister on Skype. My grandparents were thrilled, not only to talk to her but to see her. It is easy these days to set up video chat online. Skype is still popular, though WhatsApp and Viber are more popular now. If you have an iPhone, Facetime is included. Bottom line, for your loved ones who are miles away, if you have a cell phone, tablet, or computer, you can contact them.
  13. Journal your feelings. I started keeping a journal in college. I journaled about things that happened to me, and how I felt about them. During bouts of depression, it was a lifeline for me. Which is why if you read my journals, you would probably think I was a basket case. But studies have shown that journaling your feelings, especially during times of grief or depression, helps people feel less depressed and less anxious. Darlene Mininni, author of The Emotional Toolkit, suggests writing for fifteen minutes three or four days in a row to start. If you don’t know what to write, you can prompt yourself by writing and answering questions like, “Why does this upset me?” or “What do I want to happen now?”
  14. Get counseling. If you can’t shake feelings of sadness, loneliness, or anxiety, it might be time to seek professional help. I’ve listed some websites where you can search for a counselor in your area (Appendix B). But first, you might want to read this guide on what to look for in a therapist. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/how-to-find-therapist#1
  15. Remember to be grateful. The holiday season starts with Thanksgiving. That’s a hint. Begin each day with just a minute or two to think of three things you are grateful for, and the rest of your day is likely to go better.
  16. Plan a post-holiday get-together. This is a way to ease any post-holiday letdown. Set a date to get together with a friend in mid or late January. This will give you something to look forward to after the holidays.

 

###

 

In my post called “The War on Thanksgiving,” I said this. “We rush and rush to acquire more stuff and buy the love of our families and never stop to be grateful for what we already have. Sounds like the perfect recipe for depression.”

The point I was trying to make is not to let commercialization take over the real meaning of the holidays. Sure, I buy gifts for whoever I’m spending Christmas with. I enjoy getting presents, but I also enjoy seeing their faces when they open a gift I gave them, especially when my niece and nephew are there. They are still young enough to approach Christmas morning with unbridled joy. Isn’t that what we really want from the holidays? To give and receive joy?

So whatever you do, whether it’s decorating, baking, making the holiday dinners, trimming the tree, eating with family and friends, shopping for gifts, making gifts, volunteering, attending religious services, whatever your traditions are, or if you think it’s time to start a new tradition, do it with the intent of spreading joy. That is the surest way I know to have a happy Thanksgiving, happy Chanukah, merry Christmas, happy Kwanzaa, happy Boxing Day, happy New Year and Dia de los Reyes. And a happy Festivus for the rest of us.

 

References

 

Kerr, M. Medically reviewed by Legg, T. J., Ph.D., PMHNP-BC. Holiday depression. Healthline Newsletter. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays#1

Mann, D. Emotional survival guide for the holidays. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/emotional-survival-guide-for-holidays#1

Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

Minnini, D., PhD, MPH. (2006). The Emotional Toolkit. St. Martin’s Press. Available in libraries or at https://www.overdrive.com/media/1571599/the-emotional-toolkit

WebMD staff. Medically reviewed by Bhandari, S., MD. “Foods to avoid if you have anxiety or depression.” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/ss/slideshow-avoid-foods-anxiety-depression

WebMD staff. Medically reviewed by Goldberg, J., MD. “Holiday depression and stress.” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/holiday-depression-stress#1