"Several factors are contributing to the major increase we are seeing in depressive symptoms," said Nzinga Harrison, MD, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Eleanor Health.
- The pandemic came without warning and disrupted our routines. "Our brains experience routine as safety," Dr. Harrison told POPSUGAR. When we lose our normal routine without warning, "our brains experience that as danger." This is a big reason why we feel off-kilter, lost, or even panicked when something throws off our normal schedule.
- We lost access to many support systems. Forced physical and social distancing meant we couldn't gather with friends or family or take refuge in places outside of our homes. "During a time of acute stress when, for most of us, the natural reaction is to engage our support group, we couldn't," Dr. Harrison said.
- The pandemic and its effect on our lives are prolonged, with no ending in sight. Our brains have an easier time processing threats that have a known ending, Dr. Harrison explained. "We can grit and push our way through it." When there's no definitive end in sight, it feels unbearable to our minds, leading to feelings of hopelessness.
Take all of these factors together, throw in a relentlessly negative news cycle, and you get a perfect storm for mental health. And not only can these factors cause depressive symptoms; they can also make that depression even harder to deal with, due to the reduced access to our healthy routines and social circles. It can also cause you to lean on less healthy forms of coping, Dr. Harrison said, like increased alcohol use.
So what can you do to deal with symptoms of depression during a pandemic? Our experts offered four key tips.