Do you feel overwhelmed more than usual these days? Or feel exhausted and insomniac with little to no motivation? And you are easily triggered by the slightest of inconvenience. You think you have to figure out everything all at once. And worst of all, you don't even know why you are anxious! If that sounds like you then don't worry, you are not alone! These unusual feelings can be likely due to COVID-induced stress and anxiety. According to the latest available 2015 dataset of the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people globally suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders. But with the onset of a global pandemic, this already alarming rate has seen a further surge in depression and anxiety around the world.
I'm sure we all are conversant with the terms "anxiety" and "depression" as we keep on hearing these frequently in our everyday lives. But before getting into the nitty-gritty, it is essential to define what actually constitutes anxiety and depression. Anxiety is a very common human emotion. It is the mind and body's reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. The amount of stress needed to cause anxiety will vary from person to person however, basics include: losing one's job, the death of a loved one, or an accident, to name a few. In most people, anxiety will settle over time and one will return to a normal state. At the same time, depression is characterized by sadness, loss of interest, feelings of guilt, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration. Both anxiety and depression can be long-lasting or episodic in nature and the intensity may vary from mild to severe.
The mental toll of COVID was already foreseen by the experts but the actual rise in anxiety and depression post-COVID is way more than expected. The fear of virus, isolation and social distancing, economic and employment insecurity, a situation of uncertainty, and losing loved ones are some of the known and evident factors contributing to COVID-induced stress and anxiety. Moreover, a recent study has found out that the exaggeration of the COVID situation by media and our constant exposure to media outlets has also added to this stress. The study also found out that some groups are more likely affected by COVID stress and anxiety than others. These included people who already had mental health issues, people from low-income households, racialized groups, young adults, and women.
Although the social disruptions caused by COVID are exhausting for everyone but according to a survey carried out by CDC, the implications for young adults are especially drastic. The survey included people in the age bracket of 18- to 24-year-olds and 63% of the respondents reported feeling down, distressed and hopeless. One-quarter of them said that they are taking more drugs and alcohol than usual to deal with this stress and anxiety and one-quarter reported that at least once they have seriously considered going for suicide. The study suggests that COVID has disrupted the lives of young adults more significantly because they were more likely at a transition stage of their lives; ending high school, being in senior year of college, graduation, post-grad depression and wedding, etc.
Another stratum that is impacted gravely by COVID-induced stress, burnout, and depression are the employees. The global pandemic has induced financial, social and physical stress that goes far beyond the normal. As per a survey conducted by MetLife, the employees ranked the potential causes of stress as financial issues being the top one (81%), job security as the second (77%), fear of virus and isolation subsequently as 60% and 47%. All these stressors combined are bringing the workforce to a breaking point. The icing on the cake is not everyone is able to self-identify these mental health issues. Half of the employees in the survey reported they don't think that they have some mental health issues although they did show the symptoms such as feeling emotionally and physically drained, hopeless, and insomniac.
The new norm, work from home phenomenon is raising some red flags too. Working from home is not as easy as it sounds. According to a survey conducted by Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago, there are only some professionals who can switch to work from home model easily. For example financial and tech departments, whose work is mainly concerned with computers. Others who work in retail, business and healthcare sectors where interaction with clients/customer is mandatory, they find it rather difficult to shift to remote work. Work from home can challenge your mental health. It can turn rather productive workers tired and unmotivated because the boundary between work and home life blurs for people who work in the same place they sleep. They may feel pressure to be on when they should be off.
Now all these gruesome facts would already have made you more stressed out and anxious but hey! there's a brighter side of things too. You can cope up with the feelings of anxiety and depression by adopting some small lifestyle changes and tweaks. Now we could have started with the conventional wisdom that get enough sleep, eat healthy, go for a walk or exercise, etc. Definitely, one cannot ignore the importance of a healthy lifestyle but below are some practical tips that can actually help make a difference.
1. Cell phones have now got a universal presence in our lives. Before going to sleep, after waking up and most of the time in the day, our eyes are constantly on the phone. Constant text alerts, updates on social media, and more screen time can make your stress worse. So, put your Smartphone aside and limit the use of technology. Reduce your screen time and get active. Go for a walk or find another hobby to kill boredom. Especially one hour before bed it's a big NO to doomscroll through your phone; a practice that can activate the stress hormones.
2. As Karen Salmansohn has aptly put it: "Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You're strong. Take it day by day." Redirect your attention back to the present. Remind yourself that the future is not here yet + the past is behind you.
3. Label what you're experiencing as anxiety. Anxiety tells you that you have no control. Anxiety tells you that everything you fear is true. Anxiety tells you you're not worthy of love. Your anxiety is wrong. Ask yourself "Are my thoughts realistic?" If the answer is no, ask yourself what rational and helpful thought you can replace it with. Talk yourself through this anxiety.
4. Don't shy away to seek help from a professional or from a community support group. You don't have to go through this alone. There is a dire need to normalize going to therapy the same way we normalize going to the gym.
5. Note to self: It's okay if the only thing you did today was breathe. Sometimes you just have to rest. The world can wait. Remind yourself to keep pushing forward. Everything is temporary. Better days are coming.
Now all of this is surely gonna take some time. But remember, thoughts are powerless unless you choose to dwell on them. With constant practice and resilience, you will be relaxed and finally will start feeling yourself again. And it will become your constant state of being. Until then, just hang in there and be kind! Because life is an echo, what you send out, it comes back. We wish you all the best!