The current pandemic has physicians and other caregivers worried about more than the physical effects of the virus. Equally important, they are discovering that the virus is having negative effects on worldwide mental health—effects that may last much longer than the pandemic itself does.
It’s safe to say that no one living on earth today has any memory of the last great pandemic, which occurred in 1918. Therefore, 7.5 billion people are together experiencing something horrific for the very first time. And even more frightening, perhaps, is the fact that even the world’s best scientists—the ones we depend on for answers to get us through this—are having a hard time coming to an agreement about how to deal with the situation.
What Am I Supposed to Feel?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to believe that there are “acceptable” ways to feel in any given situation, and if you feel something other than those “acceptable” feelings, there’s something wrong with you. Let’s dispel that right now: Any way you feel is the right way for you to feel. No feeling is ever “wrong,” no matter what the circumstances.
Here’s a real-life example (though names have been changed): Tom and Jeannie had been married over 40 years and had four grown children. Jeannie contracted terminal cancer, and Tom took care of her at home the best he could, with help from medical professionals.
Tom came to work one day and said, “Jeannie died this morning.” His co-workers were horrified. “Tom, why are you here? You should be home! I certainly wouldn’t come to work if my spouse had just died!” Tom was gracious enough to forgive them their judgmental sentiments and simply said, “This is the best way for me to face this.”
Three months later, Tom met Elaine and fell in love. They were soon married. This time, it was his children who were horrified. “How could Dad do that to Mom?”
You might be judging Tom’s decisions and/or the children’s reactions, but here’s the truth—Tom and his children were all entitled to their feelings. None were right or wrong.
Common Reactions to Uncertainty
It’s natural—and absolutely acceptable—to be afraid in the current pandemic situation. We have no idea what’s going to happen, and fear of an uncertain outcome can cause depression.
But just because depression is a natural feeling doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t mitigate the depression to feel better. You aren’t obligated to be depressed until the pandemic passes!
Following are some things to try to help boost your mood. They are not one size fits all—what works for you may not work for someone else. Just as emotional reactions to any given situation are individual, so are reactions to efforts at feeling better.
When we are under stress, our breathing tends to speed up; it’s a normal response. However, if we consciously slow down our breathing, our brains get the message that “all is well.” Concentrate on each slow breath, and think, “In…Out…” as you inhale and exhale. Do this as often as you feel the need.
Listen to Inspiring Music
Not everyone’s taste in music is the same, so choose the type that relaxes you. For some that may be classical; others may respond better to soft rock, jazz, or New Age. Sit or lie in a comfortable place and position, and lose yourself in the tunes. Hum or sing along, if you feel so inclined. Music brings joy to the soul.
Repeat a Meaningful Phrase
You may have been inspired by a phrase that means a lot to you. Maybe it’s “this too shall pass” or “I’m all right” or “I’ll get through this.” Whatever it is, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and repeat the phrase to yourself until you feel its calming influence.
Connect Through Technology
Even the most curmudgeonly among us needs human contact, and social isolation can get pretty lonely. Thank goodness for technology! (What did the people during the 1918 pandemic do without it?!) You can keep in contact with your loved ones, and even though you can’t hug them for now, seeing a smiling face reassuring you that they are all right will make you feel better too.
Work on That To-do List
Remember that closet you have been intending to clean out for a couple of years? Now would be a good time to tackle it, or any other chore you’ve been putting off (no judgment—we all do it!) Staying busy alleviates depression, and you’ll also get a fair amount of exercise while you do it.
And Speaking of Exercise…
The “E” word…it sends some people into a funk just hearing it! But studies have shown that exercise alleviates depression. YouTube has many exercise videos that make it fun to work out. Or find a video with a steady beat and dance around your living room. You might even laugh as you try to revive your disco moves. Whatever form of exercise you choose, you’ll feel better when you’re done—guaranteed.
Let Nature Heal You
Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. The world’s population may be in chaos, but nature is still on schedule. Flowers are blooming, just as they always have. Birds are singing and building their nests. Trees are leafing out. The sun still rises and sets and affords us some beautifully colored skies.
Even if the weather is not suitable for taking a walk, you can still participate in nature electronically as others have documented their journeys and experiences. There are plenty of nature-related videos available at the click of a remote.
A lot of streaming services are very kindly offering extended free trials or greatly reduced annual fees during this pandemic. Through these services you can learn more about history; science; travel; photography; music; art; drawing; literature; architecture. You can even learn a new language. The possibilities are many and varied.
This may seem like a strange suggestion, but crying is actually very good for you. When you experience stressful situations (the pandemic counts!), the body produces cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol attacks and damages the body’s organs. But here’s the cool thing: Scientists who have studied tears have discovered cortisol in tears—meaning that crying is the body’s natural way of getting rid of this harmful hormone. So, if you feel like crying—do it. Your internal organs will thank you.
Service to Others
Humans have an innate need to feel that their lives have meaning and purpose. Nothing gives us greater joy than helping others. Think about a time when you helped someone—didn’t it feel good?
Giving service to others greatly benefits your mental health. It makes you happy and increases your self-confidence, your sense of purpose, and your self-worth. It imparts a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. It’s a proven way to counteract the effects of depression.
One Final Word…
If you feel depressed to the point of being suicidal, please seek immediate help. In Canada, call 1-833-456-4566. If you are in the United States, call 1-800-273-8255. Don’t wait. The hotlines are available 24/7/365.
Choose life. The pandemic will pass. We’ll all feel better when it does, but in the meantime, take steps to alleviate depression. You’re worth it!