How to Combat Stress, Depression in the Time of COVID-19

The constant bombardment of bad news is taking a toll on Americans. We are feeling worn down by continuous low levels of worry. The changes to our lives and the things we are missing out on are making us sad. Not knowing when our lives will resume is leaving us anxious. Forty-five percent of adults in the U.S. have reported poorer mental health since the pandemic began. Here’s what doctors are seeing and how they say we should handle this odd time.

With insomnia, anxiety and depression running rampant, there was a 25.4 percent uptick of mental health medications being prescribed by doctors between February and March. Doctors say that, while we often think these drugs are only intended for people with chronic conditions, short term trauma can also change the levels of chemicals in our brains.

The way the pandemic is wearing on us is traumatic — even if you are healthy and your loved ones are fine, the onslaught of news has its own damaging effects. “Trauma can actually trigger changes to neurotransmitter levels in the brain,” said Dr. Lindsay Israel, a board-certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Success TMS. “Therefore, medications can help treat symptoms that were set off by a traumatic life event by modulating those levels properly.”

Part of that treatment, along with medication, is reaching out for help. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling now is better than waiting. If you are having problems sleeping, feel worried throughout the day, feel tired and “lazy” for no reason — you are struggling. “Depression can worsen over time if there is no intervention to stop it. Seeking help early on, especially if this is a first episode, can not only help you feel better sooner, it can also potentially decrease the chance of another episode occurring in the future,” Dr. Israel said.

There are other ways to manage your feelings, without medications. If you are uninterested in drugs, tell your doctor your concerns. Some easy tips you can follow yourself are taking breaks from the news and social media. The 24-hour news channels and social media can heighten your anxiety. Check-in just once or twice a day. What is said on the news at 10 in the morning will be repeated at five in the evening. Stepping back and reminding yourself that what the news reports about the nation isn’t the same as what is happening in your area. Instead, focus on what you can do to make yourself healthier. Stretch, eat healthy, exercise and avoid alcohol. Thinking about the best ways to be healthy is something you can control and will bring a sense of normalcy.

Don’t try to push yourself beyond what the CDC says. You don’t have to strip off all your clothes after going outside. You don’t have to wash your hands every five minutes. Another thing to do is not react to every single medical thing you notice. For instance, a cough could be allergies, a cold or postnasal drip. While you can contact your doctor if you are concerned, not every illness is COVID-19. Additionally, cutting yourself off completely won’t protect you from illness or depression. Connect with friends and family over the phone, through video chats or by writing a letter! Help others where you can, you feel more connected when you lend a hand.

Doctors are concerned that we may be facing a mental health crisis as a nation. The isolation, the loss of people in our communities the psychological burden of stress about the future, all add up. Simply reminding yourself that “this too shall pass” can be deeply comforting. But, if you are struggling, self-care is not a replacement for healthcare. So, reach out today and speak up for yourself if you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.
May 11, 2020
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