The first question that will come to mind is “does the blues exist?” Indeed, it does. It’s as real as our other emotions and feelings.
Sooner or later, everyone gets the blues. Feeling sadness, melancholic, or grief when you go through challenging life experience is part of being human. And most of the time, you can continue to function. You know that in time you will bounce back, and you do.
But what if you don’t bounce back? What if your feelings of sadness linger, become excessive, and significantly interfere with your work, sleep, or recreation? What if your feelings are associated with fatigue, loss of motivation & interest, negativity, pessimism, worthlessness as well as weight changes? Well, you may be experiencing clinical depression. Your blues or depressed mood is likely to have become clinical depression, especially when the above features have continuously lasted for two or more weeks and is interfering with functioning.
As the Coronavirus pandemic continuous to sweeps across the world, and situation seems to get grimmer, many are experiencing stress and a variety of emotions such as fear, anxiety and sadness. While these emotions are an understandable reaction to external reality, but worryingly, many might be on the cusp of developing new mental illness or relapse of pre-existing mental health problems.
The lockdown blues are related to emerging uncertainty lined to the pandemic with no clear end in sight. The matter is worsened by a barrage to catastrophic news and proliferation of false information. Besides, an overdose to precautionary advice has contributed to fear-mongering and paranoia. The imposition of social distancing led to a loss of daily routine and sources of meaning and joy. Importantly, it restricted our way of life and posed a challenge of adapting to new ways of working, connecting and maintaining networks. With unlocking in progress, the economic and health uncertainty continues to loom, now more than ever.
Perhaps we are at different stages of grief (a person’s emotional response to loss). These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Most will work through the stages of grief by venting and support. But if the grief lasts beyond a few months, then there is a risk of clinical depression.
The pandemic has unleashed an epidemic of anxiety and depression. Indian psychiatric society has reported a 20% increase in the incidence of mental health episodes. There are fears that this might only be a tip of the iceberg and a worldwide mental health crisis is looming upon us.
It’s never been more pertinent to respond in ways that will not only preserve our wellbeing but also enable the development of resilience.
Ten tips to beat the blues:
Acknowledge and Accept Emotions: It’s important to acknowledge negative emotions, as avoidance will only make it worse – becoming more potent and lasting longer. And acknowledgement is a prerequisite for acceptance and change. So how can it be done? Try and observe the negative emotions and associated physical sensation, make no judgement or opinion and allow them to pass unhindered. In others, words, being mindful is linked to sound psychological health.
Accept Uncertainty: We need to accept that things are uncertain and that this pandemic is not in our control. But we do have a choice to change our reactions. Uncertainty is discomforting but not dangerous.
I invite you to look back and ask yourself – how many things did you accept that you were unsure about? You will be surprised to learn that we accept a lot of things we are not sure about. In doing so, you will find peace, peace of knowing that not everything has to be 100 % in life.
De-clutter the Mind: Gradually reduce the consumption of information from social media and news as they have become a potent source of negativity and pessimism. Also, minimise unnecessary engagement with chat groups and multiple forums as they only add to anxiety. As WHO stated ‘infodemic is essentially an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution’. During pandemic keeping up-to-date is essential but do so from one or two trusted governmental sources.
Take Stock of Priorities and Actions: Working from home or being restricted socially and otherwise requires all to improvise a new routine and priority list. I suggest structuring the day routine, drawing a distinction between work and other activities and allocating equitable time for a wider variety of activities to keep that motivation and flare. See this crisis as an opportunity to reflect and take stock of priorities, attend the unattended, commit to outstanding chores and interests.
Allocate a Worrying Time: Further, if you are experiencing excessive worry that seems out of control, then try and put some constraints around it – by designating a worrying time. Meaning, you identify a time in a day, say about 20-30 mins, when you sit and jot down your worries. Worry as much as you can but get it out of your head and on to a paper.
This will help to unburden your mind, besides having the content ready for a review and reflection at a later date. Having a designated ‘worry time and writing it out’ can be a very effective way of containing and processing your thoughts and identifying how much of it useful or useless. This means you don’t just worry, you learn from it.
Connect and Communicate: As they say “a problem shared is a problem halved”, which means when in difficulty, it is useful to talk to someone about it. In doing so, you share the burden, move onto solutions, and in the process, learn about yourself. Follow the pertinent advice from our PM, which is to “maintain social distancing but enhance social connection.” It’s time we make effective use of technology and proper use of those expensive devices to enhance our connection with family, friends and well-wishers. This way, the restriction and isolation will also become more bearable.
Avoid Self-loathing and Get Going: Being stuck at home may mean you engage in endless loathing and become even more inactive. With more time on us, consider home workout, if your health permits. One could be starting time tested ‘sun salutation’ or yoga, or a 30 mins moderate-intensity exercise regime for five days per week. Regular fitness routine might kick start a lifelong commitment to wellness.
Prioritise your Sleep: In times of crisis or difficulties, sleep is the first to be compromised. An anxious and stressed person report significant disturbances in the quality and quantity of sleep. Remember, it’s not just the thoughts that interrupt our sleep, but also the sleep behaviour (untimely naps, late-night TV, excess mobile use etc.) especially when we spent all the time at home. It is essential to be disciplined around sleep routine, especially going to and getting out of bed at the same time each day. Ensure 7-8 hours of sleep at night and if possible, avoid gadget, TV and stimulating substance like coffee/tea and nicotine at night. A night of restful sleep will ensure alert and an energised day.
Mindful Breathing Meditation: This time-tested strategy will help in reducing the wavering of nervous mind, improve clarity and give you needed tranquillity.
I suggest you sit down in a quiet place and bring your attention to breathing. Feel, hear and visualise your breath going in through your nostril, passing upper airway and all the way deep into your lungs. By becoming aware of your breath, one learns to recognise this vital life energy but also learns to bring their awareness to the present moment. If your thoughts drift, then observe the drift and thoughts – non-judgementally. Then bring your awareness back to the breath.
Ideally, mindful breathing meditation should do for at least 10 to 15 mins, twice per day, before going to bed and soon after waking.
Seeking Help is a Sign of Strength: If the above strategies have limited benefits, then consider seeking professional advice – for further evaluation and treatment, which may include formal talking therapy or psychotherapy, or a short course of tranquillizing medication or antidepressants. While tranquillizing medicines may help with anxiety and insomnia, but be cautious, as they are addictive, especially when taken daily for more than 4-6 weeks.
On the other hand, antidepressants are non-addictive and safer but are required to be taken for 6-12 weeks after an initial episode. Importantly, there is sufficient data to suggest that a combination of antidepressant and psychotherapy is more effective than either one alone.
A Final Point to Note:
Keep in mind that experiencing stress and negative emotions can also have positive consequences. Studies show that people who go through difficult life experiences can emerge from them with a stronger sense of psychological resilience, rekindled relationships and a renewed appreciation of life. Some describe starting to live more fully and purposefully. With care and planning, we can stay psychologically healthy during the pandemic and perhaps even grow from this transformative experience.
Some food for thought: –
Charlie Chaplin stated, “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world — not even our troubles.”
Dan Millman stated “You don’t have to control your thoughts. You have to stop letting them control you.
© Dr Roshan Jain Aug 2020 www.roshanjain.com
Image Courtesy @sashafreemind