- Nicole Ekiss, LCSW
Dealing with Depression
It is hard to believe that we have been sheltering in place for over 6 weeks now. Businesses are closed, people are working from home, school children are finishing out their school years remotely, and many individuals are facing extreme economic hardship. We are separated from friends and family and our routines have been tossed out the window. Our processes for things like going to the store, the doctor, and many other places have been completely altered. Doctors are treating patients over the phone when possible and when a patient requires an office visit, extreme measures are taken to ensure the safety of the healthcare professionals and the patients. Masks are now worn in all public spaces and many businesses have been closed entirely for the past 6 weeks. It is no wonder that 50% of Americans surveyed reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. In the midst of all of this, Depression and Anxiety are on the rise, but there are steps you can take to support yourself if you find that you are experiencing mental health struggles.
1. Know the Signs
Knowing what to look for is extremely important. The following are symptoms of Depression:
-Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all activities
-Change in appetite or weight
-Feeling agitated or feeling slowed down
-Feelings of low self-worth, guilt or shortcomings
-Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
-Suicidal thoughts or intentions
2. Know your Triggers
Depression can come and go for many people, being triggered by certain events, environments or situations. Reflecting on your triggers can be helpful in heading off depression before it swallows you up. Triggers vary by the individual, so you need to look at what situations are challenging for you. For some a lack of routine, social isolation, heavy workloads, lack of sleep, or poor eating habits can be triggering. Others may find those things easier to cope with but find challenges with other events or situations. Making a list of your triggers can be helpful in coping with Depression.
3. Identify Coping Strategies
Even when we recognize the signs of Depression and know our triggers, we are not always able to avoid these circumstances. Healthy coping mechanisms are key for managing Depression. The following are some common coping strategies that can be effective, but there are many coping strategies and you have to find what works for YOU:
-Progressive Muscle Relaxation
-Writing or Journaling
-Connecting with your social supports
-Talking to a therapist
-Listening to music
-Watching TV or a movie
4. Challenge your Thoughts
Our thoughts impact our feelings, moods, and the choices we make. It is important to recognize what thoughts might be driving our emotions and challenge the accuracy of them. Ask yourself is this thought true? Is there another way I could look at this? How could I look at this situation in a way that would make me feel better? The following are common thought distortions that can lead to or trigger Depression. Identifying thought errors and finding healthier ways of viewing a situation can improve depression.
Catastrophizing--taking an event you are concerned about and blowing it out of proportion to the point of becoming fearful. Example: believing that if you fail a quiz then the teacher will completely lose respect for you, that you will not graduate from college, that you will therefore never get a well-paying job, and will ultimately end up unhappy and dissatisfied with life.
Jumping to Conclusions--making a judgment with no supporting information. Example: believing that someone does not like you without any actual information to support that belief.
Personalization--when a person attributes an external event to himself when there is actually no causal relationship. Example: If a checkout clerk is rude to you and you believe that you must have done something to cause it, when you may not have done anything at all.
Filter--when a person makes a judgment based on some information but disregards other information. Example: Someone attends a party and afterward focuses on the one awkward look directed her way and ignores the hours of smiles.
Overgeneralization--making a broad rule based on a few limited occurrences.
Example: believing that if one public speaking event went badly that all of them will.
Black and White Thinking--categorizing things into one of two extremes. Example: Believing that people are either excellent in social situations or terrible, without recognizing the large gray area in-between.
Labeling--attaching a label to yourself after a negative experience Example: Feeling awkward at a party leads to the conclusion: “I’m an awkward person."
Emotional Reasoning--You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
Should Statements--You try to motivate yourself with "shoulds" and "shouldn’ts", as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
Disqualifying the positive--You dismiss positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
5. Form a Support Team
Addressing depression can be challenging and that challenge is best met with a team. Communicating with friends or family can be key. This can look like asking a friend to check in on you when you are struggling, or when you know you are going to be experiencing a triggering event. Talking with your doctor and/or therapist is crucial in addressing depression. Your medical doctor can help you navigate your options and make referrals when necessary. A therapist can help you develop coping skills and challenge your thought patterns. Seeing a therapist regularly will help keep depression under control. Don't wait until you are feeling really out of control or overwhelmed. Use a therapist to keep your head above water, not to pluck you out when you are already drowning.
We are all in this together, take care of your needs and then check on your friends, family, and neighbors. Sometimes just a simple "how ya doing" text can mean the world to someone that is struggling with Depression.