Now that we are months into the pandemic, hopefully we are moving beyond the initial stage of shock and denial of the grieving process. Denial provided temporary relief from the harsh reality that was dawning on us with increasing clarity. That feeling likely transitioned into anger, followed by attempts to bargain with the new and unwelcome situation we now live in. This may result in a depression like a heavy, dark cloud which persistently hovers over our heads.
There are different types of depression or mood disorders, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. Some types of depression can have identifiable causes, such as suffering extreme trauma or hormonal changes after giving birth. Others may have no trigger at all and just seem to happen somehow “out of the blue”. However, what most of us are currently experiencing is situational depression.
Situational depression is not necessarily a permanent condition, and the cause is largely due to the current pandemic. The typical onset of situational depression is within a week of encountering a difficult situation, or it can be up to three months. The symptoms usually begin receding within six months of living in the situation. Many of the symptoms of situational depression are similar to those of the more enduring forms of clinical or major depression.
Depression affects people in a variety of ways. Physically, it drains our vital energy. That makes us feel tired and lethargic, not wanting to move or do anything. There may be unexplained pain, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. We may have insomnia, early awakening, or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. There may be appetite changes, with unintentional weight gain or loss. Some folks may feel restless and unable to sit still for very long.
The psychological effects of depression include confusion, apathy, pessimism, victim mentality, increased doubt, recurrent negative thoughts, endless worry, obsessing on problems, imagining the worst, impaired cognitive functioning, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, problems making decisions, and the loss of motivation to work, practice, or participate in otherwise preferred activities.
Depression can have a heavy impact on our emotional balance and sense of well-being. It can make us feel really down, irritable, angry, anxious, panicky, hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed, terrified, doomed, and in despair. It can feel like a black hole of emptiness and sadness at the deepest core of our being. It doesn’t seem to go away on its own during the day. Then it can wake us up in the night to remind us of the many problems we’re struggling with, without reaching real solutions to solve them. To put it lightly, depression can put us in an incredibly bad mood.
Some people experience only a few of these symptoms, while others may unfortunately experience many of them simultaneously. The severity and frequency of symptoms and how long they last for you will depend on the unique conditions in your life at the present moment and how you respond to the current situation.
If you feel that you are experiencing a serious mood disorder that is beyond situational depression, or you’re having considerable trouble coping with it, you should reach out for help. Taking action to find a therapist or doctor is a sign of tremendous courage and inner strength. I personally believe this. That comes from a West Point graduate, former Army Captain, Ranger and decorated Green Beret.
Caring professionals are readily available to assist you, even if you’re stuck at home in your cave, feeling sorry for yourself, not wanting to talk to anyone. If you are there and considering harming yourself, please reach out to someone who can help. Call 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or visit suicide.org. We cannot stand to lose any more lives. That would make matters so much worse for everyone.
However, if you’re experiencing mild to moderate situational depression, you can walk your way out, figuratively and literally. Know that it is normal to feel this way, and almost everyone you know probably feels the same way. Take one step at a time and begin to move yourself out of the dark pit. Do not allow yourself to get stuck and wallow in your depression and self-pity until it gets better on its own, because it may be here for a long time. Again, seek professional counseling if you are having intense symptoms.
Feeling helpless, hopeless, and overwhelmed are symptoms of depression, but they do not need to be constants of your current situation. The pandemic is extremely bad, but the vast majority of us will survive this crisis. Some people will even thrive in spite of it. In the meantime, there are a number of things that you can do that will help you feel better and function more effectively whenever you’re ready. Here are my tips:
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, but not immediately.
- Set realistic but challenging goals for yourself for the next six months.
- Establish a structured daily routine of activities, especially in the morning.
- Soon after waking up, expose yourself to sunlight and fresh air.
- Try to stretch and exercise moderately six days a week. Ease into exercise gradually; don’t overdo it at first if you’re out of shape.
- Get good sleep and recreation daily.
- Eat as healthy as possible and hydrate to the max.
- Strive to regain a sense of control and happiness in your life.
- Practice optimism and supportive, positive self-talk.
- Be especially kind and loving to yourself and others.
- Be aware of reckless behavior or acting out.
- Imagine things going better for you in the near future.
- Find accurate sources of news and practical information.
- Literally count your blessings every day.
- Summon your courage to handle this challenging condition.
- Control what is under your control and let go of the rest.
- Confide your thoughts and true feelings to a trusted friend or loved one.
- If you feel that it would be helpful or advised, seek professional counsel.
Stay safe and well. We will get through this together.
Dr. Don Greene is a peak performance psychologist who trains performing artists to handle highly stressful circumstances. His background and experience make him uniquely qualified to offer counsel to folks who may be struggling in these challenging times. Greene is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After being commissioned, he went through airborne (paratrooper) training and Ranger (survival) training, and was the first in his West Point class to join the Army’s Special Forces (Green Berets). He was later awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service as executive officer with the 255th Detachment, 5th Special Forces Group. After resigning as a captain, he earned his master’s and Ph.D. in psychology. His doctoral dissertation showed that the sports psychology strategy known as centering improved the performance of police SWAT officers involved in stress shooting. After graduation, Dr. Greene trained several SWAT teams as well as police dispatchers and emergency first responders. He was in charge of crisis intervention and disaster management for Merrill Lynch in New York for several months after 9/11. Greene has served on the faculty at Juilliard, the Colburn School and the New World Symphony. He has helped thousands of musicians win auditions. Please visit www.winningonstage.com for more information. You can also follow him @winningonstage on Instagram and through the Overcoming Performance Anxiety 101 Forum on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/winningonstage