Covid-19 triggers anxious and depressed feelings

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

This has been an incredibly trying few months and continues to be emotionally challenging with no clear end in sight. When the quarantine first started, it was hard to imagine that it would continue for more than a few weeks, let alone for months. Now, about four months in, it is still not clear when school, work, sports, activities or socializing will return to ‘normal’. This sense of not knowing, having so many questions, and feeling a deep lack of clarity about the future is, for a great many people, starting to cause complex feelings. We are not at all accustomed to being forced to put our future in the hands of others (Governor, school administrators, doctors), and have no control over the outcome. It is incredibly difficult, and for so many of us, is causing feelings we have never had before and may not be able to identify. While some people understand how they are feeling, many others feel a vague sense of being uncomfortable, uneasy, bored or unmotivated. I’d like to clarify these feelings (even if we’re not fully in touch with them) because, right now, it might be helpful to feel some clarity — even if it is just about how we feel.

Some people are actually feeling anxiety (even if they don’t realize it). If you (or your child) feel a general sense of unease, crankiness, have difficulty staying focused, trouble sleeping, or find yourself worrying more than you ever have before — even about trivial things, the quarantine might be triggering anxiety. Some people have never experienced true anxiety in the past, but this is a unique time, with so many questions and few real solutions. Feelings of anxiety are understandable and having them now doesn’t necessarily mean that they will continue after the pandemic ends. For now, the best way to cope and reduce anxiety is by planning each day, having as much structure as possible and setting goals for oneself and for children (exercise, social, learning, creativity). The less structured one’s time is, the more likely it is that anxious feelings will develop or worsen. If possible, also try to plan at least three days into the future. This small step will give you a definite sense of control in your own life sphere.

Other people are experiencing mild feelings of depression right now. If you are feeling unmotivated, bored, sad, or on the verge of crying, or feeling helpless or hopeless, this could be depression. Feeling mildly depressed is also understandable, because there have been so many experiences of loss, not only of life and finances, but of major life events. It is very rare to find an adult, teen or child who hasn’t been touched by at least some loss over the last four months. It is incredibly sad to know that these losses, for the most part, will not be recovered (graduations, sports seasons, school plays, trips etc). It can be depressing to think, not only about our own losses, but of the losses within our larger community that are impacting life as we know it — with no sense that it will return to ‘normal’ any time soon. If you are feeling a sense of depression, it is important to talk about it — to friends, family or a professional. Talking is the best antidote for depression: turning it inwards and holding it in, can make it grow and feel worse. Sometimes, just talking is enough to relieve these feelings. In addition, exercise (at least 4 times a week) is a natural and effective way to mitigate sad feelings. Also, turning off the news for several hours a day and focusing on lighter media, reading or social interaction can alleviate mild depressed feelings.

My final thought is that I have noticed that many, many people are feeling a constant worry that they will get COVID-19, no matter how careful they are being. Every slightly sore throat, fever, ache or pain is triggering enormous worry and stress. So many people are going through their lives in a constant state of panic that they are not okay. This is understandable, and in some cases, going for COVID-19 testing is recommended. But it is important to remember that there are other illnesses still around, in addition to summer allergies. Even stress can cause headaches, stomach aches and other physical feelings that could be mistaken for COVID-19. It is normal to be feeling this way, since we have been surrounded by worry and fear for so many months — and wearing a mask everywhere reinforces these fears. However, while still being vigilant, it is important to try not to ascribe every physical feeling to having contracted the virus. We need to start to try to balance practical concern and vigilance with a recognition that life is more than COVID-19.



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Susan Bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized psychologist, consultant, speaker and author in suburban New York.