There’s really no other way to say it: 2020 has been a tough year. Right after New Year’s Day, the headlines were dominated by sad and shocking news—Australia was on fire, the world was rocked by multiple earthquakes, and a plane in Ukraine was shot down. All of that happened as COVID-19 spread, quickly becoming a global pandemic.

Since then, most parts of the world have experienced lockdowns, quarantines, economic instability, and sadly, the tragic loss of life. Many have stayed at home for months with children and sometimes elderly loved ones in an effort to stay safe and share resources. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this has taken a toll on our mental health.

The Impacts of Social Distancing

Once social distancing began, many reported that their feelings of depression became amplified. In fact, some experts have warned that prolonged isolation could trigger mental illness. To slow the spread of COVID-19, however, it may be necessary to continue avoiding gatherings. Loma Linda University Health recommends doing the following to lessen the impact:

  • Use digital platforms (such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime) to socialize. 
  • Pick up the phone. Skip the texting and make a call. Just hearing someone’s voice could feel so good!
  • Find ways to relax. Just 30 minutes of meditation, yoga, or exercise can make a difference!

Before 2020, we may have taken for granted the comfort we feel by being together. If staying at home or missing out on social events has made you feel more depressed, understand that you are not alone. These are very tough times. 

Recovering From Illness

We keep focusing on the survival rate of COVID-19, but many of us fail to think about what surviving this illness really looks like. For some, recovery won’t take long at all, but for a growing number of people, the disease could be life-changing. 

Some are staring at mounting hospital bills. Others have discovered a stigma attached to being a COVID-19 survivor. Others, “long haulers” as they’ve been called, are living with long-term or permanent changes to their health. In some studies, 78% of recovered patients in their 40s and 50s have some form of heart damage. The lasting impact of contracting this illness can take a devastating psychological toll. 

Loss of Income

We’ve all seen the reports—economies across the globe are struggling. This pandemic has made it hard for almost everyone from essential workers in grocery stores to business owners who’ve had to shutter their doors. Even McDonald’s has seen a 30% fall in revenue.

There are a lot of people struggling to make ends meet with no end to this pandemic in sight. We’ve even seen some people evicted from their homes for being unable to pay rent. We don’t know when our offices will open, and in some cases, they won’t. How do you search for a job in this type of market? It’s a horrible feeling, and for some, it can be too much.  

Overwhelmed with Kids at Home

In the middle of the last school year, most schools shut down. Kids were sent to learn from home, overwhelming students, teachers, and parents alike. Trying to work while watching restless and confused children during a pandemic is stressful, at best. 

Without the ability to send kids to family and friends for a break or go out to enjoy a carefree meal, many parents are feeling overwhelmed. They feel guilty about allowing too much screen time, or not being able to give clear answers about anything, or the fact that prom and graduation were canceled altogether. It’s an especially tough time to be a parent. 

Lack of Exercise

Remember hitting the gym after work or taking a walk on your lunch break? What about those leisurely bike rides you’d take just to look around? While most facilities shut down, at least temporarily, even being outside presents its challenges. Should you wear a mask on your walk? Can you maintain enough distance from others?

We know that, in addition to improving cardiovascular health and curbing weight gain, exercise can give us an emotional boost. When we’re not moving our bodies like we normally do, it can affect our mood. If we also gain weight while staying at home, we might feel even worse. 

When to Reach Out for Help

It’s important to know that feeling down during this pandemic is pretty normal. Most of us are struggling with how our lives have changed and the uncertainty of it all. In those situations, practicing self-care and staying connected virtually with friends and family can make all the difference. 

There are signs of depression, however, that should not be ignored. Reach out to your health care professional if you begin experiencing the following:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in sleep such as insomnia or inability to get out of bed
  • Anger and/or irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Self-loathing or feelings of worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, sore muscles, or back pain
  • Reckless behavior
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm

Currently, there are a number of options for treating depression, even during this pandemic. A number of affordable telehealth and virtual therapy applications can be accessed through computers, phones, or other devices and most antidepressant medications can be called into a pharmacy. 

Of course, it can also help to talk to loved ones about what you’re going through. Choose a trusted person in your life to share what you’ve been feeling. Anyone can go through depression, but we often struggle to talk about it. Please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help if you need it. 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24 hours a day with services offered in both English and Spanish.