It’s been one year since the pandemic first began, and for many people, it has been a year of isolation, loneliness and grief. The experience has been especially hard on those who live alone, leading to increased feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness.
Although vaccines are on the horizon, for now, the CDC is still recommending that people avoid close contact with others, except when both parties have been vaccinated, meaning that many people could continue to be dealing with the mental health ramifications of Covid for months to come.
Isroel Feiler, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says often, when people start experiencing anxiety and depression, they don’t know how to feel better. “The solution becomes more difficult because they can’t even think straight,” he says.
Carol Gore, LCSW, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says one of the most important things to realize when it comes to mental health is that it’s usually not going to get better on its own. You have to actually do something different if you want to feel different.
“Doing something different is difficult. But taking one little behavioral step to do something different can be freeing,” she says. “People tend to think globally and catastrophically, but just taking the next small step can become empowering because it’s doable.”
So if you’re struggling with anxiety and depression due to the pandemic, here are 10 steps you can try:
- Make Phone Calls
“One of the antidotes to mental health issues is connecting with other people,” says Isroel Feiler, a mental health counselor at the Center for Holistic Medicine. That’s why it’s important to reach out to friends and family members and be honest about how you’re feeling. “Don’t try to conquer this yourself,” he says.
- Talk With a Therapist
If you’re experiencing anxiety and depression for the first time, it may seem scary and unfamiliar to reach out to a therapist. But having a loving, compassionate person who can listen to your struggles can make a world of difference. “A therapist is another human being who understands the situation and can help you think through your own thoughts,” Feiler says. And often, just by verbalizing your own thoughts, you are able to get some perspective on them.
- Meet Up with Friends
Although we still need to be cautious around others, that doesn’t mean we have to be alone all of the time. Soula Souflakis, LCPC, a therapist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says it’s important to get creative to find ways to connect with others. “The CDC encourages us to social distance. It does not say to emotionally distance yourself,” she says. “Individuals can still do drive-bys, for example, or go for walks, or FaceTime with loved ones. Social distancing does not mean socially isolating yourself.”
- Practice Breathing
If you’re struggling with racing thoughts, one of the easiest ways to feel more centered is to practice breathing techniques or meditation. Carol Gore teaches a breathing technique which involves having the individual focus on the space in between their nostrils, gently inhaling and feeling the cool air, then gently exhaling feeling the warmer air. “Repeating this breathing cycle for a very brief period of time is manageable and also effective,” she says. “I have them rank their stress level prior to the breathing and then after, as it gives them feedback as to whether or not the exercise helps them.”
Souflakis suggests trying slow, diaphragmatic breathing, which sends a direct neural pathway into the brain telling it to slow down. “Your fight, flight, and freeze response is not as stimulated when your breathing is controlled,” she says.
- Have Fun
Feiler says often people think that if they can’t have life exactly the way they planned it, then they can’t be happy. But he says when you can learn to experience joy in the moment – by being silly, eating ice cream or listening to your favorite song — your entire outlook can shift. “Small happiness is also happiness,” he says.
Carol Gore agrees. “Three times a day, do something that’s uplifting: call a friend, bake banana bread, play outside. Whatever feels good,” she says.
- Go Outside
You might not think that taking a walk outside would do much to relieve anxiety and depression, but Feiler says a little fresh air can do wonders. “It’s important that we connect with nature. Nature is alive and the world is alive, and when we connect with that, it helps,” he says.
- Connect With Your Spiritual Side
Carol Gore says connecting to your spiritual beliefs will also help you feel more grounded and less anxious and depressed. “I recommend that people pray. If you have a connection to God or the universe or the divine, practice talking to God in your own words,” she says.
You can also attend either in-person or virtual meetings of religious organizations, or you can take part in the Center for Holistic Medicine’s virtual discussion group, held every other Tuesday, where Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director of the Center for Holistic Medicine, talks with the participants about personal prayer techniques and finding your purpose in life.
Dr. Gore can also talk with you about your spiritual practices during individual sessions as well, including discussing breathing and meditation techniques and how to apply philosophies of spiritual traditions to your life.
- Limit How Much You Watch the News
“Whatever you put into your brain is what you’re going to get out,” Feiler says. “So if you watch the news and put in fear and anxiety, you’re going to get back fear and anxiety.”
Carol Gore agrees. “If someone turns on the news, that’s going to heighten the fear. And if they watch it all day long, it makes it worse,” she says.
- Think Positive Thoughts
“Another thing I suggest is positive self-talk,” says Carol Gore. “Just check in with yourself, notice your worried and negative thoughts, and work on replacing those with more positive thoughts.”
- Schedule Self-Care
Carol Gore says if you want to start feeling better, you have to make a concerted effort to make some of these changes, and one of the best ways is to pick a few of the actions mentioned above and put them into your schedule. For example, you can set a timer on your phone to practice breathing three times a day, or you can schedule five minutes of joy a day, or set up a plan to go on a walk with a friend every week. “Actively build into your life a structure for uplifting your feelings,” she says.