Adjusting to social distancing is hard for everyone, but what about those of us with mood disorders like Depression or Bipolar disorder? Due to COVID-19, our lives have changed dramatically, and it happened seemingly overnight. Many people are out of work or school, and for the first time in most of our lives, instead of embracing the importance of spending time with friends and family, we’re being told to stay inside. While social distancing is temporary and necessary, it isn’t easy, and many people are facing an increase in depressive symptoms as a result.
In every article you see about the management of mood disorders, you’ll see that the importance of a support system is highlighted. A support system could include friends, family, romantic partners, a therapist or counselor, and other people in your life. So, what are the effects of social distancing when you have a mood disorder and the physical access you have to your support system has changed? More importantly, what can you do about it? There are ways to stay connected and make sure that you don’t fall into loneliness at this time.
Loneliness and isolation increase the risk of a host of health problems, including cardiovascular issues, physiological issues, decreased cognitive functioning, poorer mental health, and even mortality. You might’ve seen loneliness compared to smoking in a variety of articles and studies, and it’s true; loneliness, which is not to be confused with introversion or solitude, can be as dangerous as both smoking and alcohol abuse.
Normally, it’s easier to find a way to connect with others. Now that we’re social distancing, you might dream of that art class or social gathering that you missed only a month ago. It’s easy to fall into regret with regard to missed social opportunities right now, and if you’re grieving the way that you used to connect with others, you aren’t alone. Prior to social distancing, you might’ve found connection in going out with friends after work, meeting up with family members who don’t live with you, or going to classes at your local gym, which is now closed. It was an option for us to text a friend and ask if they wanted to meet up, and when it comes to mood disorders specifically, that ability was a lifeline for a lot of people, as was in-person therapy, groups, or even a job or class that got you out of your head, even if just for a while.
It’s easy to fall into regret with regard to missed social opportunities right now, and if you’re grieving the way that you used to connect with others, you aren’t alone.
That said, social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Nothing can replace in-person connections, so any feelings of loneliness or mourning you’re experiencing are valid, but social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Chances are that those in your life are facing similar feelings right now, and opening up a conversation about these emotions will help everyone cope.
Stay socially distant – not isolated
While we’re apart physically, our connections are still there. Here are some ways to stay socially distant, but not socially isolated.
- Use Skype or Facetime to talk to family and friends. It’s not the same as seeing someone in person, but it’s good to see people’s faces and to know that someone can see yours.
- Go beyond texting. Often, we text our friends and ask them to get together. If there’s a friend that you typically only text or instant message, call them on the phone or using video chat.
- Take advantage of all of the live-streams going on. Many content creators are going live on Instagram, YouTube, or live-stream centric platforms in addition to providing additional free content.
- Enroll in a free online course. Many companies and content creators are making free classes available at this time. Coursera has a list of free online classes that you can finish in a day. If you aren’t ready to commit to something or aren’t sure if you’ll like it, this is a great way to start. With a quick search online, you can find free art classes, music classes, yoga or meditation classes, and so much more. You can even engage in online learning through Harvard. Taking a class lets you meet new people who are interested in the same thing, feel a sense of connection with classmates or instructors based on the class, boost your confidence by learning something new, and it can be part of your routine, especially if you’re out of work or school entirely right now. No matter what you’re interested in, the chances are that there’s an online class built around it.
- Get outside. Even if you’re alone, being outdoors helps you feel connected to the world around you. As long as you are within six feet of others, it is responsible and even recommended that you do this.
- Go old-school and write letters! Have you ever had a penpal? Now’s a good time to write letters to friends and family members. Especially if you have a connection with your parents or grandparents, this is an excellent time to reach out in any way that you can, and it’s likely that they’ll appreciate a hand-written letter or note.
- Join online groups on websites such as Facebook or hive80. There are some online groups that are specific to mood disorders where people may be going through the same thing that you are. As always, know that this is not a substitute for therapy, and only stay in groups that are healthy for you.
Develop a self-care routine
Life is going to look different now for all of us, but with a mood disorder, this adjustment period can be even harder. Maybe, you had a routine that kept you stable, or perhaps, you were already in a bad place and find that this is affecting you further. When you have a mood disorder, self-care can be extraordinarily difficult, and the time in isolation is triggering for a lot of people, especially if you have a tendency to isolate yourself when depressed or in a dark place otherwise. Your daily routine and self-care will vary depending on the current state of your mental health, other health concerns, if you live alone or with others such as kids or a spouse, and if you’re working from home or not.
Here are some tips for developing a self-care routine while social distancing with a mood disorder:
- Schedule the social activities above into your day.
- If you can implement any form of normality in your day, whether it’s work, school, or taking care of your kids as you usually would, do it.
- If there’s an activity that you engage in regularly, implement it into your current routine, even with heavy adjustments. A yoga class might turn into home yoga, and therapy might turn into online therapy or time to engage in other therapeutic activities like journalling or calling someone close to you, but it’s still there.
- Make or keep your hygiene schedule.
- If you take medication, continue to do so as usual.
- Similarly, stay on a schedule with meals and snacks. If you forget to eat, set alarms or think ahead of time. Be mindful of any blood sugar drops, as they can make you anxious. If you live with others, cooking for them or having meals at the same time can be comforting.
Of course, take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. If you’re not in a place where you can have a day filled with commitments or activities, know that what you can do is good enough. The simple act of brushing your hair or washing your face isn’t so simple for all of us, so acknowledge the things that you can do in a positive light, and give yourself grace as you adjust.
It’s all valid
Anything that’s going on for you right now is valid. Fear of COVID-19 is valid, increased feelings of depression are valid, financial worries are valid, numbness is valid, and struggling with self-care is valid. There’s value in feeling your feelings and giving yourself compassion. There is also value in being heartened by the way that people and communities are coming together. The good, the bad, and the uncertain are all valid. Again, give yourself grace. Don’t bottle up emotions. If you go back to old patterns or coping mechanisms, use self-compassion, and work through them; don’t beat yourself up.
Emotions, now more than ever, are complex. With mood disorders, and as human beings in general, we sometimes know that we don’t feel good, but can’t pinpoint the source of that sensation or find the words to express what we feel. Using a “feelings wheel” can help you identify your emotions.
Once you know the specifics of what you’re feeling, you can express it to the people in your life, take steps to dissect and work through it yourself, or talk to a provider that’s available to you as possible. While there are multiple versions of this tool, you can access one variation of the feelings wheel here.
Support is still here
This time is unlike anything that most of us have ever faced. The change in our lives and routines at this time may include decreased contact with your support system or other things that keep you going like work, school, group therapy, and so on, but support is still here. Here are some supports for those with a mood disorder or potential co-occurring mental health issues that are accessible during social distancing:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
This hotline is available to anyone that needs support. There are both chat and text options.
Contact: 800-273-TALK (8255)
The Trevor Project
Created with LGBT youth in mind, The Trevor Project also offers text and chat options.
Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen
The Samaritans are there for anyone that would simply like to talk. This hotline is open to all.
Contact: (877) 870-4673 (HOPE)
A free information and referral service for those facing substance use and mental illness.
The National Eating Disorder Association or NEDA offers a helpline and screening tool for those who have an eating disorder or believe that they may struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.
See the websites above for all of their available support options and resources.
Contact your therapist or counselor to see if they offer telehealth or are planning to do so during this time. You can also contact your insurance company to see what they offer and recommend in terms of seeking a mental health provider at this time. Many providers have a contact form or phone number on their website, which is helpful if you’re interested in speaking with a particular provider.
Online Counseling Services
There are many online counseling services like BetterHelp, Talkspace, and Regain. An increasing number of counselors and therapists with private practices also offer remote counseling.
Many local groups and support organizations have switched to online offerings for the time being. If you attend AA meetings, for example, check in to see what remote support you can receive. AA doesn’t endorse specific groups, but they do offer an abundant directory of remote support groups.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers online support groups that are specific to mood disorders.
If you regularly attend an in-person group of any kind, reach out to the coordinator if possible.
Please stay safe and healthy. It’s important that we show ourselves and others warmth, understanding, and patience during this time. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of community, and I am confident that together, we will rebuild.