What you’re going through isn’t as uncommon as you might think((Statista: Pandemic Causes Spike in Anxiety & Depression)). According to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, depression has been three times higher during this pandemic than it was previously ((JAMA Network Open: Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic)).
The researchers also discovered that lower income groups had an increased risk of getting depressed compared with higher income groups.
This puts more pressure on those who are already worried about, or dissatisfied with, their professional lives, a vicious cycle when we’re all trying to balance our personal and work lives with our mental health.
The Slippery Slope That Is Depression
Perhaps it started out with you feeling a bit more tired than usual. At some point, maybe you started to lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Perhaps you’re having trouble sleeping or, on the flip side, you’ve started sleeping more than you used to.
Depression can manifest in different ways((American Psychological Association: Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Depression)). People can also experience it differently during this pandemic. While some might feel overwhelmed and become increasingly anxious, some might think they’re handling things relatively well, only to find that they can’t focus on simple tasks.
There is a whole range of physical, emotional, and mental changes when you’re experiencing pandemic depression. One crucial thing you must do is to pay attention to these changes and be ready to take action.
What’s the Best Way to Deal With It?
Regardless of the everyday pressure we need to deal with in our personal and work lives, we have to remember that human beings have needs that must be fulfilled in order to function. This means that you must identify and acknowledge what you must do in order to thrive—not just survive—in this pandemic((Disaster Avoidance Experts: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic)).
You might have heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work((Classics in the History of Psychology: A Theory of Human Motivation by A.H. Maslow)). Maslow’s theory included “self-actualization,” or needs that help us achieve our full potential through personal growth.
More recent research by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has redefined self-actualization as exploration, love, and purpose((Penguin Random House: Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization)). A good approach to adapting to the new abnormal is evaluating your life through the lens of these needs and ensuring that you can still satisfy them.
A large part of the depression that people may experience in this pandemic comes from refusing to recognize that our needs have changed. The previous way we fulfilled our needs do not work during our current environment, so changes need to be made.
Our needs for exploration, love, and purpose remain urgent and paramount, but we need to address these in ways that take into account our current limitations.
Here are some ways we can effectively tackle and meet our needs:
We have a need to explore, learn, and understand the world. Exploration in this sense is driven not by fear and anxiety—such as the watching of regular news briefings on the pandemic—but by the thrill of discovery and curiosity about the novel, the challenging, and the unknown.
While you might be restricted by staying mostly at home, depending on the COVID-19 guidelines in your state((The New York Times: Coronavirus Restrictions and Mask Mandates for All 50 States)), you have a universe of information available for exploration through the internet.
One such area is embarking on virtual experiences, which you can safely enjoy even while you’re restricted to being at home. Virtual tourism((ScienceDaily: Virtual Tourism Could Offer New Opportunities for Travel Industry, Travelers)), though not a new concept, has truly taken off during this pandemic((Al Jazeera: Virtual Tours Take Off Globally in Times of Coronavirus)) because of people who want to travel but are trying to avoid contracting the virus.
You can even sign up for interactive virtual experiences to explore hole-in-the wall locations, take virtual classes for many topics and hobbies—from cooking to arts and crafts—and even go shopping while taking a virtual tour. You can also interact with tour guides, teachers, and even other virtual explorers from the safety of your home.
Exercise is another avenue you can explore. Studies have shown that physical activities can help ward off depression((Mayo Clinic: Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms)). You can sign up for online cardio, strength training, or yoga classes, depending on your preference.
If you want to exercise outdoors and have access to places where you can maintain social distancing, you can also look into exercising in green spaces. These can include urban parks, nature reserves, and wilderness environments. Research has shown that spending time in such places has a positive effect on mental health((National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Importance of Greenspace for Mental Health)).
This second aspect of self-actualization can be manifested by expressing love. The first step, of course, is to express this love towards yourself. If you feel overwhelmed by pandemic depression or think that you already need help from a professional, one of the self-care acts that you can do is to look into online therapy and tele-psychology.
Online therapy is said to have boomed during this pandemic((Time.com: Online Therapy, Booming During the Coronavirus Pandemic, May Be Here to Stay)), which means that doctors and administrators are now better at delivering care to patients. You can even check with your company if this is something that they can provide or facilitate.
Next is bestowing love on other people. This means making a positive impact on the lives of others. You can express this love towards your existing relationships. Surprise your romantic partner with an unexpected date night, or perhaps you can host virtual parties for your friends to strengthen bonds.
You can even volunteer to provide virtual companionship to lonely elder strangers. There are many avenues you can explore to express love, whether it’s through improving your current ones or making new connections.
The other critical aspect of self-actualization involves developing, refining, and pursuing your sense of meaning and purpose. In the context of the pandemic, it’s even more important to proactively seek a sense that you are contributing to something you’re passionate about that’s bigger than yourself, a personal mission of service that offers you fulfillment and contentment.
Some people might find their sense of purpose in taking care of their family and friends, and that’s fine. You might decide to reach out to struggling colleagues, eventually bridging the gap between personal and work lives and forming deeper friendships along the way. You might even tap into your network to help those who’ve lost their jobs find a new one.
Or maybe you could focus on improving your local community, such as encouraging others to stay at home during the pandemic through blogging about your fun at-home adventures.
Whatever you choose to do, you should regularly evaluate how much it contributes to your sense of purpose. Revise your activities to help further develop that sense within yourself.
Dealing with pandemic depression means doing an honest evaluation of your activities and connections. Make sure your needs for exploration, love, and purpose are being met consistently. Taking action now—not later—will help you improve and maintain your mental health during these challenging times.