Managing Depression During Times of Uncertainty
Peter White, M.A., LPCC
Lindner Center of HOPE, Addictions Counselor
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a period of unprecedented changes marked by great uncertainty shared by literally everyone. One of the complex realities of dealing with this much uncertainty is that we should feel a wide variety of difficult emotions – confusion, fear, disorientation, sadness, and anger to name a few. In a way, it is healthy to not feel okay at this time. But at the same time, it is important for us to acknowledge that we want to manage these difficult emotions in a healthy way. One common vulnerability in managing difficult emotions is depression. Although challenging, we can get good at identifying and countering the presence of depression during difficult times. We can effectively treat and manage depression so that it does not make our coping less effective.
Depression is a condition involving thoughts, emotions and physical reactions. It is opportunistic in periods of uncertainty expanding its ability to disempower and disquiet ourselves and our relationships. Depression’s biggest advantage is its negative judgement – hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and guilt are all hallmarks of depressive thought process. “It’s not going to get better. There is nothing I can do to make it better. I don’t deserve to have it be better,” are all examples of depressive distortions that can plague the mind and divorce us from our natural capacities to endure and thrive. In a way, depression fills the mind with judgements that are fundamentally untrue. There is always hope. Things can always improve. We always have some options to improve our situations, or at least find how to endure with as much forbearance and gratitude as possible. And of course, we all deserve to have our suffering relieved. They may seem like simple reframes, but they are the fundamental effort of successfully countering depression so that we can move forward with all our strengths and resources. Fear is appropriate and understandable in times like this with major uncertainties and potential pending losses of security and predictability. I always encourage clients to honor their fear, comfort themselves with the many blessings of their lives that help them endure and rebound from loss, and resist the power of depression to convince them that they are alone and without options
As noted, depression infects both the mind and the body. Depression disrupts our metabolism, so we might experience fatigue, sleep disruption, changes in our appetites, difficulty in concentrating and decision making. Given that depression has a corrosive effect on body, mind and spirit, it is most effective to counter it with body, mind and spirit. Keep moving, maintain a wholesome routine mixing both work and pleasure. An easy acronym to remember is GRAPES. G. stands for gentleness and gratitude in thought. R. stands for relaxation, even for brief moments. A. stands for the recognition of our accomplishments, especially the simple ones-caring for ourselves and our loved ones is always an accomplishment. P. stands for pleasure, again especially the simple ones- food, music, reading, nature, or whatever there is that reminds you that life has its joys. E. stand for exercise, or if not rigorous physical activity, any movement that brings the reward of the body moving through space. And S. stands for remaining social. All of the above are anti-depressive activities – effective reminders that hopelessness, helplessness and especially worthlessness are untruths to be dispelled during our moments of fear and doubt.
Let me end just highlighting the social. All humans, especially so right now, share the experience of fear and doubt related to uncertainty. Near invariably, we are all comforted when these fears are shared amongst our loved ones and our fellows in a spirit of honor and trust. Nearly all of us have experienced a darkness of spirit that is quickly dispelled by kind words from friends. If nothing else, resist the power of depression to convince you that you are alone and do not deserve the fellowship of loved ones and peers. Clearly now, our experience of uncertainty is a deeply shared experience. I encourage you to become robustly social, so that within the shared uncertainty, we can all experience the power of ourselves and others to endure and overcome this frightening time strengthened in our spirit of togetherness.