If you or someone you care about are having difficulty with pandemic-related depression, anxiety, or stress, you should know that you’re not alone. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 4 out of 10 American adults have reported symptoms of depression and anxiety during the pandemic.
Many of us have struggled with living in a constant state of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear. We may feel the impact of social isolation and the longing for our old daily routines and interactions.
Fortunately, you can take steps to deal with pandemic-related mental health symptoms.
We often cause ourselves unnecessary suffering when we resist what is and don’t accept the way things are. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation, defeat, pretending things are better than they are, or liking the situations that life throws our way. Resistance is an exercise in futility that only fuels frustration, anxiety, and depression—worsening an already stressful situation.
Practicing acceptance isn’t always easy, and it’s not a magic cure, but it can provide many benefits, such as increased contentment and less depressive or anxious symptoms. As psychologist Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., advises, try to notice your resistance when it arises and accept that difficult situations are part of life. Realize that everything is constantly changing and evolving (even the pandemic) and be kind and gentle with yourself.
Create a Social Schedule
In an article published by Nature, psychiatrist Marcella Rietschel explains that the pandemic-related distress we feel may be largely due to limited social interactions, the tension in families after lockdowns, and fear of getting sick.
While we can’t control all these factors, we can increase the number of positive social interactions we have with others. If you aren’t comfortable meeting others in person, try to create a social schedule for weekly (or daily) online or phone contact and conversation with at least one person you don’t live with, even if it’s just to check in.
Get Out of Your Head
Spending too much time worrying and focusing on the “what ifs” can create an endless loop of stress and anxiety. Psychologists refer to this loop as “rumination,” which means constantly thinking the same, usually sad or depressing thoughts over and over again. Pandemic-related rumination can increase stress and negatively impact mental health conditions, according to a study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Furthermore, an earlier study in PLoS One found that rumination was one of the best predictors of anxiety and depression.
When you feel caught in a negative cycle, write down your thoughts. Then do something active to distract yourself, such as walking, running, or calling a friend to talk it out.
Take Care of Your Body
It can be tempting to stop exercising and give up on maintaining a healthy diet when you feel down, depressed, or anxious. But that’s precisely the time you should keep eating right and staying active.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise is one of the best ways to beat stress, distract you from your worries, and help improve your mood. Eating right can also help you feel your best. One study in the journal Psychiatry Research points out that eating a healthy diet that includes the following foods is associated with a decreased risk of depression:
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Low-fat dairy
- Reduced meat
For more food tips and inspiration to help you stay on track, check out the free WellRx Grocery Guidance App. Grocery Guidance can also help you find foods that align with your wellness goals.
Don’t Suffer in Silence
We are all feeling the stress and tension of living with the pandemic for more than a year and a half now, and everyone is struggling in their own way—even if it might not always seem that way on the outside.
If you (or someone you care about) are dealing with mental health symptoms that remain worrisome or don’t seem to improve despite taking steps to help yourself, reach out to a mental health professional. Everyone needs someone to talk to at times, and counselors, psychologists, and social workers can offer a caring, understanding ear to help you get through it. To find a qualified therapist in your area, ask your family doctor for a referral, or search the nationwide directory offered by Psychology Today.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.