The pandemic has been accompanied by an uptick in individuals experiencing mental health issues, including depression. Many people already suffer from seasonal depression, where they become more depressed generally in Winter or Summer months, affected by the shorter and longer days, as the season changes. This year the short days seem to be compounded with the effects of months on end of “pandemic fatigue.”
We already know to watch out for sleep and appetite changes, lack of energy, loss of interest in usual activities, and social withdrawal and isolation as symptoms of depressed mood. And many of these symptoms have worsened during the pandemic. Going for months on end without a regular routine, lack of access to many of the activities we used to enjoy (ie. travel, gyms, yoga and dance studios), isolation from social groups and family, and excessive time spent in our homes has certainly contributed to what is quickly becoming a worldwide mental health crisis.
Many of the changes the past year have altered lifestyles for individuals. Individuals who used to go to the office to work have been working from home, which perhaps seemed to be a luxury in the past. Kids have been kept home from school, or have gone part time, necessitating changes in childcare situations and parent’s work schedules. Workout routines have been affected, as have sleeping and eating habits. Family gatherings and holiday events were canceled, and many individuals have experienced ongoing and continuous social isolation.
It’s no wonder that our nation has been flooded with mental health crises. Let us consider that mental health issues may even be commonplace. This is not to minimize the struggle, but to point out that indeed, many more individuals appear to be struggling with emotional and mental health issues.
How do we cope with all the changes the past year has brought? How do we keep pushing on through the fatigue? How can we begin to lift the clouds of depression?
One word reigns supreme in the quest for mental wellness; HOPE. Belief that things will improve, that our situation will get better. That our lives have significance, and despite all the losses of the past year, we can continue to live a “life worth living.” I love referencing the existentialist philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who created a theory around human motivation and the search for meaning in life. Meaning is something that propels us forward, that gives us drive and purpose. Part of his theory mentions that this meaning is created through cultivation of three values: creativity, experiences (ie being of service to others), and through changes in attitude (ie. through changing perspective or practicing acceptance). One of my favorite activities as a group leader at the psychiatric hospital, was to give the patients an assignment to create a “life worth living,” by Frankl’s design. Patients of all ages could relate to the quest, and most of them participated fully in the activity. This was a sign that human motivation is, in fact, encouraged by these outlets!
1. Consider outlets that would infuse more creativity into your life. This might be through writing, self-expression, art, music, invention, hobbies, activities.
2. Reflect on experiences that have given your life a sense of meaning and purpose, for example: traveling to different places, experiencing other cultures, nature walks, engaging in spiritual endeavors.
3. Challenge pre-existing attitudes and push yourself to see the world through a new lens. Adopt a new perspective on a situation, and consider the larger picture. This will allow for freedom of thought and room for healthier attitudes to take root.
Another existential concept is that our lives are full of choices in the moment, and we must realize that we have an opportunity, in many situations, to make wise decisions. Even if we cannot control the circumstances surrounding a situation, we can choose our attitude, which influences the way we think and feel. If we can learn to radically accept (in DBT) the things we cannot change, and adapt to the situation any way we can, we will experience greater peace and freedom from emotional suffering.
The Editors of Encyclopedia, Brittanica. (2020, August 29). “Viktor Frankl” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Frankl