With COVID-19 cases rising and uncertainty surrounding its variants, many patients have told us recently that it feels like there’s not a light at the end of the tunnel right now and are reporting poor sleep, fatigue, or less productivity at work.
“At the beginning of the summer, we expected we were over the hardest part of the pandemic, and that the return to school might look a little more normal,” says WCWCW psychiatrist Dr. Valerie Relacion. “With the rise of the delta variant and differing opinions about vaccines and masking as our kids return to school, there’s this sense of dread that we’ll have to endure another difficult winter.”
Having our hopes dashed is incredibly dispiriting, especially after expecting that things would get better. Here’s how you can cope if you’re struggling.
The feeling there’s nothing to look forward to can be powerful enough to bring on depressive symptoms like sadness, tearfulness, insomnia, and anhedonia (not being able to enjoy the things you usually enjoy). If the symptoms go on for more than two weeks and are interfering with your ability to function in one or more areas of your life, that’s when it’s time to get help. However, if the symptoms are just beginning, there are things you can do to prevent yourself from sinking lower. Recognizing you’re feeling this way, and that the feelings result from a thought pattern, is the first action to take. Then, start to validate your feelings. Affirming rather than suppressing difficult emotions helps mediate depression. Maybe you feel anger toward people who won’t get vaccinated or sadness that your children will miss out on aspects of a normal school year. Make space for all of it by writing it down or reflecting on it in a safe personal space.
There are very few people who aren’t struggling in some way right now, whether it’s medical, financial, emotional or all of it. Getting confirmation you do not alone helps you feel less isolated. Talk to a trusted loved one or friend about how you’re feeling. Find someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing negative feelings and who will validate how you’re feeling rather than try to fix the problem.
Spend some time each day noting what you’re grateful for. You can write this down, talk about it with a friend or family member, or simply think about it. Individuals who write a “gratitude letter” reported significantly improved mental health after several weeks, compared to those who didn’t, according to one University of California Berkeley study.
Unlike toxic positivity, which means suppressing negative emotions, gratitude is about recognizing the good, not erasing the bad.
As psychiatrist Dr. Jena Lee said recently, change is “one of the most taxing and stressful thing(s) for any of us because it requires adjustment and flexibility.” Appreciate that you and your family have already made many big changes adapting to a world with COVID-19, and are, in a sense, “over the learning curve.” We’re now used to wearing masks. We know that the virus is much less transmissible outside. We have vaccines. We’ve come a long way, even if we’re still struggling. Reminding ourselves of the wins, even if they’re small, can go a long way.
It may feel like things are always going to be this bad. But the “light at the end of the tunnel” mindset has a cognitive flaw: things are always changing. We’ve already experienced so many changes since the start of the pandemic. Although the vaccine’s authorization for children can’t come soon enough, it’s only expected to be approved by the end of this year or early next year. Scientific knowledge about the virus and how to treat it continues to expand. And we’ve already been able to resume many of the activities that were once restricted.
Anticipatory anxiety occurs when you fear future events that haven’t happened. One of the most effective ways to deal with this is to try to focus on the present. This can be developed through meditation. It’s also important to accept what you can’t control and focus on what you can. For instance, you may not be able to control the course of the pandemic, but you can control the measures you take to keep your family safe. Additionally, WCWCW psychologist Dr. Susan Felzer recommends starting to deal with decisions you put off earlier in the pandemic and making changes that make sense now.
“You don’t need to solve everything right away, but it will increase your sense of agency to start to break down an issue and address it,” says Dr. Felzer. “This can reduce feelings of helplessness that are common with depression.”
If you’re feeling hopeless, alone, or like things will never get better, visit our website or call Washington Center for Women’s and Children’s Wellness to learn more about our counseling services for addressing depression, anxiety, and other common conditions.