We deserve to protect our physical health without sacrificing our mental health in the process.
The seasons are changing. The sun’s coming out. And for many of us, this is the time of year when seasonal depression begins to lift and we finally feel like venturing out into the world again.
It’s unfortunate timing — and not only because COVID-19 is ruining our social lives. It’s also challenging because social isolation can actually make your depression worse.
What a letdown for a time of year that might ordinarily lift your spirits.
Personally, this isn’t my first rodeo with holing up and avoiding social interaction.
For me, like for many people, self-isolation can be both a result and a cause of my depression.
When I’m feeling low, I dread socializing, convince myself that nobody wants me around, and retreat inside myself so that I don’t have to risk the vulnerability of telling anyone how I’m feeling.
But then I wind up feeling lonely, disconnected from the people I love, and afraid to reach out for the support I need after avoiding people for so long.
I wish I could say I’ve learned my lesson and avoid the temptation of self-isolation — but even if that were true, now I have no choice but to stay home to avoid developing or spreading COVID-19.
But I refuse to believe that it’s my civic duty to let depression get hold of me.
I deserve to protect my physical health without sacrificing my mental health in the process. And you do, too.
You’re doing the right thing by practicing physical distancing. But whether you’re at home with family, roommates, a partner, or by yourself, being in the house day after day can take a toll on your well-being.
Here are some ideas for making sure your CDC-recommended period of social isolation doesn’t turn into an episode of debilitating depression.
The only way to address a problem is to recognize that it exists.
When I don’t examine why I feel the way I feel, it seems as if I just have to feel this way.
But if I can recognize a reason behind my feelings, then it doesn’t feel so inevitable, and I can take a crack at doing something about it.
So here’s some evidence to consider:
Research has foundthat social isolation and loneliness is linked to worsened mental health, as well as physical health problems including cardiovascular issues and a higher risk of early death.
2018 studyof older adults showed that loneliness and social isolation can affect sleep quality.
studieshave found links betweensocial disconnectedness, depression, and anxiety.
In other words, if you’re feeling more depressed the longer you’re staying at home, you’re not alone, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
These days, it’s way too easy to let my days bleed into one another until I no longer have any idea what the current day or time is.
For all I know, it could be eleventy thirty PM on Twiday, the 42nd of May — and we might as well call that depression o’clock.
When I lose track of time, I also lose my sense of how to prioritize self-care.
Building a routine can help in a number of ways, including:
- Marking the passage of time, so that I can recognize each morning as the start of a fresh new day, rather than having emotionally difficult days feel endless.
- Supporting healthy habits, like getting a full night’s sleep and stretching my body on a regular basis.
- Giving me something to look forward to, like listening to energizing music while I’m taking a shower.
Physical distancing guidelines recommend staying home and keeping at least 6 feet of distance from other people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go outside near your home.
Even just a few minutes outside each day can break up the monotony of staring at the same indoor walls of your home day after day.
You can even incorporate outside time into your routine by setting an alarm for a lunchtime stroll or an evening outdoor meditation.
Be sure to follow your local shelter-in-place laws and health advisories, and don’t venture too far from home. But know that it’s possible to maintain distance without staying indoors 24/7.
Being stuck at home doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, it can be an opportunity to dive into home projects, new or long-forgotten hobbies, and other activities that light you up.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use the principles of color therapy to add a pop of color to your home with DIY painting, sewing, or building projects.
- Get a new plant delivered and learn to take care of it. Here are 5 easy options.
- Bake a cake and decorate it before you indulge.
- Color in an adult coloring book.
You don’t have to go out to brunch and bars in order to stay social.
Now’s the time to tap into the many different options for digital communication, including video hangouts, Netflix parties, and a good old-fashioned phone call.
Scheduling regular times to gather virtually with friends can help keep you from slipping too far into isolation.
Feeling anxious about making the first move toward socializing? Think of it this way: For once, everyone else is in the exact same boat as you.
Your friends and acquaintances are stuck at home too, and hearing from you might be just what they need to feel better about the situation.
This is also an opportunity to spend time with our furry, feathered, and scaly friends, as pets can offer great company and stress relief when you can’t get the human connection you need.
Look around you right now. Is your home’s appearance chaotic or calming? Does it make you feel trapped or comfy?
Now more than ever, the state of your space can make a difference for your mental health.
You don’t necessarily have to keep your home looking immaculate, but even a few small steps toward decluttering can help make your space feel warm and welcoming, rather than a place you’d like to escape.
Try taking one thing at a time, like clearing the pile of clothes from your bed one day and putting clean dishes away the next.
Be sure to take note of how differently you feel with each step — a little bit of gratitude can go a long way toward feeling good about yourself and proud of your self-care habits.
No matter how much effort you put in, it can still be difficult to prevent and cope with depressive episodes all on your own.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing additional help.
It’s still possible to get professional help without going into a therapist’s office. Many therapists are offering support through texting, online chatting, video, and phone services.
Check out these options:
- Talkspace will match you with a licensed therapist you can access right through your phone or computer.
- Chatbots like Woebot use a mix of human and AI components to respond to your needs.
- Mental health apps like Headspace and Calm don’t include direct contact with a therapist, but they can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms like mindfulness.
- If you reach out to your local mental health services, you may find that they’re adapting to the world of distancing by offering their services through the phone or internet.
It’s quite possible that all of this social isolation will feed into your depression. But it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
This is a strange new world we’re living in, and we’re all just trying to figure out how to navigate the new rules while maintaining our mental health.
Whether you’re reaching out for virtual connections or maximizing your alone time, take a moment to feel pride in the effort you’ve made so far.
You know yourself best, so even if you are alone, you’ve got a real expert on your side.
Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer and advocate for survivors of violence, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives with chronic illness and believes in honoring each person’s unique path to healing. Find Maisha on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.