Loneliness, anxiety, and distressing thoughts are part of life in the Age of Covid. I’m among those afflicted this season of woe. Dread sometimes intrudes on ordinary daily life. These thoughts have at times been disorganized and racing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said during the pandemic depression has increased by four times, anxiety by three times, and suicidal ideation by two times. With job losses and school closings, domestic and child abuse have been proliferating, and life expectancy has dropped 0.5 percent, particularly in the African-American population and among women.
While professionals offline (your healthcare provider) and online (pay services like tenpercent.com or joincoa.com) can help, I wanted to pass along some behavioral practices that I have learned over the past two decades:
Redirect negative thoughts and feelings, practice simple thankfulness, and step out – I have had dreams of a tsunami sweeping me away; yet I have wakened every time. Life sometimes seems to overcome me like a roaring ocean, but then when I remember that I have been through this before, I realize that I will survive. Acting on this belief is what I call “pushing past.” When all seems lost, we have to be brave against negative emotions and thoughts and keep our eyes on the prize of a peaceful thought-life. That will result from our daily conquering. If you have to speak to someone about troubling thoughts, do so. But don’t let thoughts or voices bring you down and be thankful for life! This redirecting can be extremely difficult. You may even feel cornered in your thoughts, that there’s no way out. But remember when all seems lost, that you have made it thus far. It’s one of the most powerful lessons I have learned. I conquered my fears of going back to school, of getting my first full-time job, of flying to interviews, of just meeting new people–all by stepping out in spite of what may have been going on with me at that time. After all this turmoil, I realized that I was spinning my wheels. I eventually earned awards for my work, made new friends, and reclaimed my abilities and myself. Don’t be down on yourself if you fail at this—just get up and keep going!
Combat shame and press through the pain – If you are troubled with shame, even shame about being in your situation or shame that is unexplained, continue to be thankful and do your best to cope using the practices here. Continue to press through, remembering how far you have come and that others care about you. A professional counselor or a friend can also help.
No longer idealize the past – I thought when I first became ill that I had lost everything. In a sense I was right: I did not finish my second major, college friends disappeared, I did not have a job, and I was living with my grandparents. I visited my undergrad college and it was empty. College has changed and so have I. I will make a new life.
Fight withdrawal – Assuming you, your friends, or your family have been vaccinated or are certain that Covid is not an issue, try to spend time with them. If Covid is a concern, then video conference. Blogging or chatting online is better than doing nothing social; we are social animals. People sometimes have difficulty dealing with family members and perhaps lose patience with or are generally uncomfortable with them. But even if you feel a gaping chasm between yourself and family or friends, step out in courage and just be with them. The things you were anxious about have a good chance of just dissipating. Achieve your social quota for the day and you will feel like you have accomplished again.
Self-care is an important practice – Get up, shower, eat, get on a schedule of any sort. You will notice a change with a day that is even partly planned. Secondly, get physical, that is, out of the house each day for exercise of some sort, walking, sunbathing, anything. Fight your fear of being outside and get out even for a little while each day. The time will fly by and you will feel that you have accomplished your social quota for the day. Friends and family are of course the best companions. Exercise may be the only time right now where face masks are not recommended. Any little outing will do. I will not kid you, this is one of the most difficult things for me to do consistently. But you can’t beat the endorphin rush and you will feel like the thoughts or experiences are behind you.
Medications don’t have to be scary – When I first became sick, I was alarmed at taking even a common antidepressant (Prozac). Now that I’ve run the tables of psychiatric medications I can tell you that meds are not as scary as not taking them, if you have been prescribed.
Journal – Sometimes writing/typing your struggles can help. The healthy life of the mind can be yours.
Above all, get up and keep going. Your life may be like one of ours who are on the hard road, but you are not alone.
Before anything, if you are thinking of harming yourself immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Your friends, family, and health professionals are thinking of you. You are loved.
“Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.” -Reinhold Niebuhr