“During a stay-at-home order, it is very natural to feel sad, bored and lonely,” says Maricar Jenkins, a licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “However, forced social isolation, in combination with other variables — a genetic predisposition to mood disorders, personality, coping skills, culture, family dynamics — can increase one's risk of experiencing their first depressive episode.”
The difference between sadness and depression
First, it’s crucial to understand the difference between the signs of depression and the general sadness you might be experiencing:
Signs of depression include persistent feelings of sadness; loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable; hopelessness; sleep disturbance, whether sleep is increased or decreased; reduced energy and motivation; appetite disturbance, both eating too much or too little; and thoughts of being a burden to loved ones or wanting to die.
Symptoms of sadness might look similar to depression, but should not last for days at a time. You may feel unhappy and sorrowful, but you are still able to engage in activities you usually enjoy, such as reading, watching TV, connecting with friends by phone or online, and exercising. You can also maintain activities of daily living, including getting out of bed, taking a shower, getting dressed, preparing and eating meals, and taking prescribed medications. Distressing thoughts do not consume you.
Coping skills during the COVID-19 pandemic
According to Jenkins, if you have never experienced depression before, it is important to recognize if your sadness seems to be getting worse over time. Accomplishing tasks might become more difficult. Motivation and energy may decrease, such that spending most of the day in bed becomes the norm.
For those who have been diagnosed with depression, it is vital that you pay attention to your activities of daily living and ask yourself if it is getting harder to take care of yourself and do things you would normally do each day. Thinking of what will help when you are in the midst of a depressive episode is a monumental task, so preparation is essential.
“Acting opposite to intense urges to isolate and avoid is challenging,” Jenkins says. “So, planning ahead and writing down triggers, coping skills and who you can reach out to is important.”
Jenkins recommends that you consider — and write down — the following:
- What are your triggers — the situations or events that shift your mood, such as not being able to take your regular yoga class or a loss of finances?
- What are your early warning signs, including behaviors that are a sign of a decline in mood, such as not calling friends back, not checking emails, not laughing at things you once thought were funny, or having thoughts of wanting your life to be over?
- What coping skills do you know you can use, such as writing a schedule each night for the next day, practicing meditation or spending time watching your favorite show or movie?
- Who makes up your support system and what resources can you turn to? Write down names and phone numbers of friends, family members and care providers, including contact information for your doctor, therapist and crisis hotlines, such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Whether you are simply feeling sad or have been diagnosed with depression, Jenkins offers some additional do’s and don’ts to get you through this — and future — challenging times:
- Stick to a regular sleep routine.
- Be kind to yourself by catching negative self-talk, such as, “I can't handle anything, I'm worthless,” and replacing it with more balanced thoughts, such as, "It seems hard right now, but I have gotten through times like this before.”
- Identify one specific, measurable and realistic goal each day, such as bringing trash and recycling bins out to the curb for pick up.
- Get the endorphins going — stretch, do yoga, go for a walk or do more strenuous exercise.
- Connect with at least one person, preferably face-to-face by video chat or telephone, so that you can hear their voice every day.
- "Should" yourself — refrain from saying things to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend, such as, "You shouldn't feel like this because so many people have it worse than you.”
- Use alcohol or other substances as an escape from emotional pain.
- Ignore negative thoughts, such as those that tell you that you are a burden to loved ones.
- Use other maladaptive behaviors, such as online spending or gambling, to distract from emotional pain.
If a loved one seems to be struggling with deep sadness or depression, Jenkins suggests that you give them the space to share their feelings. Listen to them with the goal of understanding, not fixing them or solving a problem. However, you can help them prepare for episodes of sadness or depression and remind them of their coping skills.
“It is important to be available to them, while setting boundaries and taking care of yourself,” Jenkins says. “Pay attention to statements about being a burden, or how people would be better off without them, and encourage them to seek professional help.”
Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing excessive sadness, anxiety or worry for an extended period. Learn more about mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp.
Your safety and well-being are our top priority. As part of our efforts to keep you safe, we are offering teletherapy and virtual care programs that provide continued access to care and treatment from our highly trained Sharp clinicians. Admissions continue to be in person so that we can assess patients for their individual care needs.