Debunking Quarantine Depression
Updated: Aug 14
Let’s get honest here, there are pros and cons to being quarantined and those vary depending on personal circumstances. Introverts and those who can work from home, or are financially stable to withstand these difficult times, are probably enjoying many perks of the current circumstances. For those of you who are struggling financially, are in environments where there may be abuse or neglect, are physically alone, or those of you who are extroverted and recharge when engaged with others, this may be an incredibly difficult time. You may start to experience low mood, sadness, tearfulness, low motivation, and other symptoms associated with clinical depression. So, how do you tell the difference between clinical depression that needs psychiatric and therapeutic intervention, or situational depression?
Clinical depression often comes with more significant changes in mood, behavior, and thoughts. More times than not, it comes in several episodes over the course of a lifetime. If you have been diagnosed previously with depression, Bipolar, or Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia), then it is very possible that the current circumstances have triggered a depressive episode. Usually the symptoms are more intense and cause a greater impact on your daily life, work, school, relationships, duties at home, etc. The symptoms that usually indicate a clinically significant depressive episode are as follows:
Sadness and low mood most of the day, every day
Excessive feelings of guilt
Feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, self-hatred
Weight changes of about 5% (we are all quarantine eating, I’m sure, but significant weight changes one way or the other may be an indication that something more severe is occurring)
Observable motor agitation, slowed body movements
In children, they will start to express significant irritability
If you find yourself or someone else experiencing any of the above symptoms, please reach out to a professional. Almost all therapists, myself included, are conducting telehealth sessions and getting help is actually a lot easier right now. Some are also reducing prices and psychiatrists are still able to meet with you and prescribe medications if that’s what is needed. See the end of this post for suicide hotlines and other resources.
For those of you that are not experiencing the above, but have noticed some changes in mood and behavior over the course of the coronavirus pandemic or quarantine, you may be struggling with situational depression. Some of these depressive symptoms are below:
Sadness, periodic low mood
Withdrawal from friends/family/coworkers
Slight appetite changes
Heightened anxiety or worry
Headaches or stomach aches
Low energy or fatigue
Loss of interest in activities
While I know these symptoms are uncomfortable, sometimes miserable and unwanted, the good news is that there are ways to help reduce, eliminate, and even ward off their presence. The skills below are taken from both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
Behavioral Activation: Start with something that is fairly easy to do, but gives a sense of reward or good feeling, such as a shower. You can increase the intensity of the behaviors the more routine one becomes. Showering, walking (if you’re okay to go outside and practice social distancing), light yoga or stretching, housework, home workouts, sitting on a patio, reading a book, looking at funny memes or YouTube videos, playing with your pet, meditating, phoning a friend, doing Sudoku, crossword puzzles, actual puzzles, cleaning out a drawer/cabinet/closet, playing a board game/card game with someone.
Remember: start with things that are currently less challenging and increase the difficulty
Mindfulness Practice: The goal of mindfulness is to stay present and aware of what is occurring both around you and within you. You can practice through meditation, deliberate and focused attention in tasks, journaling, yoga, etc. When practicing, set a small time limit and increase it over time. Start with things you already do, like brushing your teeth, showering, drinking coffee, eating meals, doing chores, etc. Ground into the experience through the senses. For instance, if I’m choosing to practice mindfulness while eating, I’ll focus on tasting all the flavors, smelling the food, listening to myself chew, feeling the weight of the fork or the textures of the ingredients. Building up the ability to stay present and focused helps keep our mind from drifting into negativity or focusing on what we can’t do or don’t have during this pandemic. All of those thoughts tend to trigger and exacerbate depressive symptoms.
Structure and routine: Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and create morning and evening routines to help wake up and get tired. The mind likes to make associations between things. If you drink warm tea, read a book, wash your face, and brush your teeth in the same order every evening, your brain starts to wind down as you go through the routine every night; same as waking up in the mornings. Turn screens off about 1-2 hours prior to the time you want to go to bed. Leave some room for flexibility in the current mood. If you put the same workout in your schedule 4 times a week, you can start to feel pressured to do that workout. You may be in the mood to jog in place one day, in the mood for yoga the next, and in the mood for a full on body weight circuit the following day. Schedule in physical self care (it does wonders for depression) and it’s okay to do something different every time.
Watch what you ingest: Be mindful of the types of foods you’re putting into your body. Some foods, such as fast food and greasy and fried foods, make it very hard for dopamine and serotonin to be released, which are neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. Alcohol is a depressant and can drastically reduce mood after the initial boost, leaving one feeling quite depressed the days after drinking.
Challenge negative interpretations and thoughts: Careful not to catastrophize what is currently happening in the world. While it can be scary and overwhelming, thinking ‘This is never going to end,’ ‘Everyone I know will get sick,’ ‘Life will never be the same,’ ‘I can’t get through this,’ will only serve to make coping increasingly more difficult. Try to stay neutral, reality based, and self-affirming. If no one you know is sick, remind yourself of that. Think about countries that have had success defeating COVID-19 and search for more uplifting news. And practice radical acceptance of the reality that yes, this will change things, and change doesn’t always automatically mean for the worse.
Engage with others: If you’re really struggling with social withdrawal, isolating yourself even more by not answering texts or calls, you could be bringing on even greater disconnection than necessary. Start with someone you’re very comfortable with and send them a text or message of some sort. Try a funny meme or something that is an inside joke between you and the person. Or even something funny from Tiger King. Small steps and simple gestures can be great door openers. If you’re struggling with things to do to engage with people, try a book club, prop up your phone or computer and watch a movie together, prop up the phone/computer and play a board game, create a group hangout via Zoom or Google and play charades or Pictionary. Depression is sometimes said to be a disease of disconnection, as social beings we do need to engage with others and feel a sense of belonging.
I hope these help jumpstart a shift in mood and help alleviate some of what you may be experiencing during this pandemic. While there is no guarantee of when it will all be over, the above skills are things you can utilize even after the quarantines are lifted and life can stabilize once again. The term ‘depression’ is just a label of a cluster of symptoms; tackle the symptoms and the mood will shift. Experiencing these things doesn’t mean that there is something “wrong” with you or that you’ll end up in counseling for years, it just means that you’re having symptoms and the above treatments may help.
If you’re experiencing suicidal ideations:
Utilize PsychologyToday.com to seek a therapist or psychiatrist in your area
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Call 911 if you feel you’re about to attempt suicide
Call 911 if you’re concerned about a loved one and want a welfare check