There’s a lot that’s unknown about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) viral pandemic: Will it come to my area? Could I have the symptoms? What will I do with my kids whose school has closed? Are we overreacting or underreacting? What’s next?
This time of uncertainty can cause people to panic, but education is the first step to remaining calm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us of the facts about the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Know the symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, shortness of breath)
- Practice good hygiene (wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, throw away used tissues immediately, avoid touching your face and mouth with unwashed hands, etc.)
- Self-isolate if you are sick
- Diseases do not discriminate: “It is important to remember that people – including those of Asian descent – who do not live in or have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than other Americans,” writes the CDC.
Yet, even knowing the facts of the situation can still cause stress for many people. And it’s especially hard for those suffering from depression.
The CDC stresses that anyone with preexisting mental health conditions like depression “should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.” Further, the agency encourages people to call their healthcare provider if “stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.”
“Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations,” the CDC writes on its website. “How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.”
When Social Distancing Impacts Your Depression
One of the recommended preventative strategies during the pandemic is “social distancing.”
The CDC defines social distancing as “creating ways to increase distance between people in settings where people commonly come into close contact with one another. Specific priority settings include schools, workplaces, events, meetings, and other places where people gather.” The recommended distance is at least 6 feet away from each other.
Yet social isolation can significantly affect people with depression if they are used to getting out and engaging with others.
“I think it’s a hard time because many of the recommendations we’re making are about increasing the distance between people, but of course, being close to people is what makes life a pleasure,” Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania told The Atlantic.
So, how do we stay connected when we’re told to stay away from each other? Consider turning to technology. Texting is a great way to stay connected, but it can feel impersonal. Because we now have the ability to use video conferencing from our phones, we can see and connect to loved ones or work colleagues even when we’re not in the same place.
Additionally, giving someone a call on the phone can help with the loneliness. Check in with your loved ones on a regular basis. Try to talk about topics other than the coronavirus – and try to make each other laugh.
Practical Advice for a Traumatic Experience
Now, more than ever, be kind to and be patient with one another. It is a hard time for everyone and there’s a lot of worry. Doing a random act of kindness for someone may turn their whole day around.
Consider limiting your consumption of news; in fact, it might be necessary to turn off notifications on your phone or the 24/7 news cable channels. The information is ever shifting on the virus and being constantly bombarded by the latest development can and will play a role on your attitude and psyche. It is important to stay informed, but limit how and when you consume news.
Additionally, Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO, Mental Health America, provided the following suggestions in a statement about the COVID-19:
- Practice stress relief: “deep breathing, exercise, read, dig in the garden, eat some ice cream – whatever works for you.”
- Continue healthy habits: eat right, get plenty of sleep, etc. “Don’t do anything you’d consider to be unhealthy for you, such as excess drinking – that will just increase your anxiety afterwards.”
- Give yourself something to look forward to. Make some plans – a vacation, a spa day, a gathering with friends and family – six months down the road.
Finally, and most importantly, reach out if you need help. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reminds us: “We are in this together, and help is always available. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.”