U.S. depression rates have tripled since the onset of COVID-19. According to a new study, nearly a quarter of Americans are experiencing trouble sleeping, lethargy, and other symptoms associated with depression. The times we are living in are scary, uncertain, and uncomfortable for everyone. The level of isolation required of us in the name of public health is critical to fighting the spread of COVID-19, but it is also exposing people to other public health crises, such as addiction and depression. We are all experiencing trauma and stress. Right now, it is normal not to feel OK and it is important to remember that these are not normal times. In these crazy times, it’s important to know that you are not alone and you can get through this, this article will offer methods to guide you through.
As humans, we rely on connectivity and a sense of belonging. It is in our nature. But during this pandemic, we have been forced into behaving in a way that feels unnatural. We are told to stay six feet away from the people we care about, and for weeks we were quarantined inside our homes away from the communities and places that allow us to feel seen and heard. It is very easy to slip into a state of depression right now, and for many people dealing with addiction or substance use disorders, depression can lead us right into a relapse if we aren’t careful.
As those of us in recovery have adjusted our lives to avoid COVID-19, the tools we use to avoid relapse and manage depression have shifted as well. In-person meetings, coffee with support people, hugs, and other ways we connect with people have been altered. The trauma this is creating in our lives is real, and we need to have honest conversations about it so we all understand that experiencing this trauma right now is the norm—not the exception. This trauma has left many people feeling hopeless and helpless. As we enter into autumn, days become shorter and darker, which can also lead to increased feelings of depression and isolation, and which can lead people back into negative coping mechanisms like addictive behaviors. Staying sober can be a struggle when depression rises.
As a result, we must be vigilant in our self-care practices and day-to-day coping mechanisms. This means that we may have to change our normal recovery program and routines. Change is hard and itself could lead to relapse, but in order to maintain our recovery during this time, we must reevaluate our approach to staying sober and processing trauma. Here’s how to begin.
Begin With a Self Check-in
First, do a quick scan of yourself. How are you feeling? Have you felt depressed? Have you lost interest in activities you used to enjoy? Has your appetite or weight changed? Are you more irritable, stressed, or anxious than usual? Are you sleeping more or less than normal? Have you thought about using drugs or alcohol? Does your addiction feel stronger than your recovery? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone.
Make a List of Healthy Ways to Manage Tough Moments
Second, create small changes in your daily routine that can address most, if not all, of these challenges. Make a list of things that have aided your recovery process in the past. Now examine your list. Does it include things like meeting attendance, healthy eating, exercise, sufficient sleep, and daily relaxation? These are all tools that combat depression and addiction and can be done regardless of the current restrictions we are facing.
Think of alternative ways you can safeguard your mental health and recovery during this time. Check your list again and create alternatives for tools that are not easy to engage in right now. Attend in-person meetings or support groups that follow CDC guidelines so you can connect with sober friends. If you are not comfortable wearing a mask or being around other people, attend online meetings and support groups—a quick Google search will reveal plenty of options. If you belonged to a gym and can no longer attend or no longer feel comfortable attending, find classes online or shift to an outdoor exercise like walking, biking, or running. Reach out to others who need connection and exercise and invite them to join you. The encouragement and support of another person is sometimes just what we need to engage in self-care.
Remember That You’re in Control
When dealing with depression and addiction, sometimes the hardest thing to conquer is our own brain and what it tells us. The movie in our head is always worse when we are watching it alone. Reach out for help. Get negative thoughts out of your head and onto paper or express them to someone you trust so they no longer hold power over you. Counter those thoughts by using daily affirmations—read a daily affirmation book or write yourself positive statements and post them where you will see them frequently throughout the day.
Know that your self-worth does not get to be determined by anyone other than you. You are in charge of your recovery today, and you are not alone. Your life matters, your recovery matters, and you will get through this time. If you are dealing with depression or addiction, there is help. If you need help beyond the tips offered in this article, consider turning to a mental health professional or addiction treatment center for additional support, such as therapy, medication, or even inpatient services. Remember that no time you take to improve your well-being is a bad investment—your life is worth it.