The COVID-19 pandemic has had many of us in social isolation and practicing social distancing when in public for weeks now. For a fortunate few, this has been a welcome reprieve from an otherwise hectically paced life. For the majority, it has meant being cut off from friends, family, community, and routine supports such as gyms, recreation centres, and social gatherings. We have become a people who are afraid to even greet one another in person. It’s because of these shifts that some of us, particularly those who have struggled with depression before, may be asking the question, “How can I prevent depression during COVID-19?”
How Can I Tell If I’m Depressed During COVID-19?
Anxiety about the risks of catching the Coronavirus are at an all-time high as are concerns about the future of jobs, financial security, and the availability of needed supplies, the education of children, and so on.
When ongoing anxiety is combined with a lack of social and community support, the result can be despair and even full-on depression. Depression is defined by features such as:
- A feeling of purposelessness or hopelessness about life
- Feelings of intense sadness often combined with heightened irritability
- Failing to attend to one’s personal hygiene
- A loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Failure to adhere to previous routines
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of motivation
Some of the features indicated above are currently forced upon us by the pandemic. For example, simple aspects of hygiene such as going for a haircut are not currently available. And, even if we can find the motivation, many of the activities we would do are structured and rely on facilities such as a gym or a recreation centre which are currently closed.
The Effects of Social Distancing on Depression
Perhaps most alarming out of all of the effects of the pandemic is the imperative that we practice social distancing (or maybe more aptly, physical distancing). While this is entirely necessary at the present time, it can serve to greatly contribute to the development of depression. It is primal in human beings to gather with a friend, a family member, or community supports when experiencing stress. As it happens, we are incurably pack animals – maybe like orcas or wolves. Rare is the person who wants to be alone for extended periods of time while anxious. Rather, we naturally gravitate toward one another and, furthermore, we need social connection to remain emotionally and psychologically healthy. The need for social distancing has forced us to behave in a manner that is counterintuitive to our being healthy in the world.
Ways to Prevent Depression During COVID-19
What all of this means is that we will need to be very deliberate and stubborn in our efforts to fend off depression. I have a few suggestions for us all to consider, as I try to answer the question, “How can I prevent depression during COVID-19?” Here they are:
- Contacting with friends or supports by phone or video. Don’t be shy about admitting that you’re in a funk and just need to talk.
- Go for walks outside alone or with others (6 feet apart of course…)
- Do a bit of what you enjoy – whether it’s a hobby, listening to your favourite music, etc
- Pay close attention to your nutrition and don’t let it slide into bad habits
- Exercise – whether it’s a run outside, a workout following a TV or YouTube instructor, throwing the ball for your dog, riding a bicycle, etc. 20 minutes of exercise daily is ideal to fight depression
- Reach out for professional support if needed. Yes, we’re open for business and can safely meet with you if you feel that a counsellor is needed to support you for a time.
- Stick to as much routine as possible. Get up at a decent hour, get showered and dressed even if you aren’t going out. And then do that 20 minutes of exercise mentioned above
We don’t currently know how long the pandemic will last and that uncertainty can be very upsetting. Preventing the anxiety and the upset from becoming depressed in life is one of the few factors that we can actually control with some decided effort.
If you’re resonating with anything I’ve written, know that I’m rooting for you. We’ve all been there, and we’re all in this together. If you’re asking yourself how you can prevent depression during COVID-19, I’d love to help you out. Give us a shout at the office, and set up an appointment. Don’t go through this alone, we all need some help sometimes and I’d love to be there for you through this.
“I love that it gets dark at 3 pm, that it’s pouring rain constantly, and that I haven’t seen the sun in 4 months!” said no one ever. Although some people may prefer the cold winter weather, there are a lot of us who are counting down the hours until patio season starts up again (okay, maybe that’s just me). So, until then, we are binge-watching TV, sleeping in, indulging in comfort foods, and pretty much avoiding the outdoors unless we absolutely have to go outside. The different seasons and the weather impact what we do and how we feel, which is why many of us prefer indoor activities during this time of year and for the next few months to come. However, on a rare day that the sunlight does shine through or when summer finally rolls around, we are quick to get outside and enjoy the sun. We may notice that our mood improves when the sun comes out and it can be a bit easier to get things done. Other times, we notice that when it’s dark and rainy, it’s a little harder to get out of bed, be alert, or even feel happy.
If you’re relating to this post right now, you’re not alone! Approximately, 17% of Canadians are also feeling pretty low during the winter months (CMHA, 2013). You can thank Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for these mood changes, which is a form of depression that occurs at certain times of the year, specifically between September/October and April/May. It affects anyone and everyone but is more common amongst women, individuals between 15-55, people who live further up north or farther down south away from the equator, or individuals with a family history of SAD or other types of depression (HealthLinkBC, 2017).
How Do I Know If Seasonal Affective Disorder is affecting me?
You may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder if you identify with these statements:
- I feel sad, moody, or anxious
- I feel tired or slowed down all the time
- I’ve lost of interest in work, friends, or interests
- I’m gaining weight
- I’m craving carbohydrates such as “comfort foods” like bread or pasta
- I’m having trouble concentrating
- I’ve been experiencing changes in my sleep, such as sleeping too much or not enough
(CMHA, 2013; HealthLinkBC, 2017)
Why Do We Struggle With SAD?
But why is SAD even an issue to begin with? It is thought that the lack of sunlight creates a change in the chemicals in our brain, specifically serotonin, which is responsible for regulating our mood. Additionally, because it is darker, it can signal to our brain that it’s time to sleep which can cause an increase of melatonin in our brain, which is responsible for regulating our sleep/wake rhythm. The truth is that we’re not completely sure why it happens, just that it does, and to many people in our community.
What Can I Do About SAD?
It’s great to identify if we have SAD. One of the main ways to help yourself if you’re struggling with SAD is to increase your exposure to the right wavelength of light. This can include:
- Spending more time outside during daylight hours
- Opening the curtains or blinds during the day
- Rearranging the space that you are in to allow more sunlight to enter
- Arranging office/household furniture so you can sit close to a window
- Adding lamps into your space
- Using a SAD Lamp
Counselling can help with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder by giving us a better understanding of how SAD affects us as individuals and helping us to cope with the effects that come about during this time of year. It can also be useful in helping us to look at our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and how they influence our mood and can aid us in creating strategies for making changes in these areas. In addition to this, being able to talk to someone who is able to empathize and listen to us can be very beneficial.
If you’re struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’re not alone and you don’t have to go it alone. Seeing a Registered Clinical Counsellor or one of us counselling interns can be a great help!
If you’re not sure if what you’re struggling with is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), please go to your family doctor who can help you determine if this is what you’re dealing with, and can refer you to a specialist if needed.
In the meantime, we’re here and we’d love to support you until the sun comes back! Feel free to contact us!
Find Help Now. (2013). Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2017, May). Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw169553
Neurofeedback is one of the most amazing technologies at our disposal for so many reasons. It’s an invaluable tool for overall resilience, cognitive flexibility, mental health management, sleep enhancement, and so much more. One of the most common questions I get, however, is how on earth does it work? I’m going to do my best to explain it here for you!
Dynamic Neurofeedback Training
The type of neurofeedback training that we use here at Alongside You is called dynamic neurofeedback. What this means is that our neurofeedback system constantly monitors the brain using electroencephalography (EEG) and provides feedback to train your brain. To put this into perspective, our system monitors the brain 256 times per second. That’s a lot of feedback!
The feedback happens through video and audio sources. During neurofeedback training, you’ll be watching a computer screen that displays a variety of moving images and listening to an audio soundtrack. The neurofeedback system monitors your brain activity through EEG, and when it senses that your brain activity on the various wavelengths is outside of the optimal range for your brain, it interrupts the video and audio signals briefly. Because this interruption is tied to your specific brain activity, your brain knows to connect the dots. This allows your brain to know what it is doing at that point in time, and adjust accordingly.
I Still Don’t Get How It Works Andrew!
Let me explain a little bit more then! One of our misconceptions is that because our brain is constantly working, it must know what it’s doing at all times. This is unfortunately not the case. It’s like when I grew around 6 inches in one year, I kept walking into door frames because I didn’t realize where my shoulders were in 3-D space! What our brain is able to do, however, is adjust itself for optimal health if it has the information it needs. Neurofeedback training is what helps provide the necessary information for the brain to change itself.
Imagine you’re driving. Anyone who has driven for any length of time knows that the mind wanders sometimes. Every once in a while, we’ll wander too far to the right and our right tires will go over the shoulder, and we’ll feel a rub strip or gravel under the tires, and hear a noise that signals to us that we are over the shoulder. What happens next is automatic – we naturally move over to the left a little bit. We generally don’t even need to think about it, we just do it. This is analogous to what happens with our brain during neurofeedback training. The interruptions in the audio and video signal to the brain where it is on the wavelengths. The brain uses this information and adjusts itself accordingly. Over time, this training helps the brain stay within the optimal range on the various wavelengths on an ongoing basis.
How Long Does Neurofeedback Training Take?
This is the million-dollar question! It’s also an understandable one. We all want to know how long something is going to take. It’s really no different than wanting to know how long counselling is going to take. Unfortunately, the answer may not be any more gratifying than the answer to how long counselling is going to take: it depends.
Here’s the truth – it depends because every brain is different. It’s also challenging to predict because dynamic neurofeedback training is not a specific treatment for a specific symptom, it is a whole-brain training aimed at helping the entire brain function better. Because of this, we can’t claim that neurofeedback will cure your anxiety, depression, or otherwise. What we can say, however, is that by helping your brain to function better, symptoms that exist because your brain is not functioning at its best are likely to improve. What I can say, is that this has definitely been my experience in working with clients with neurofeedback. Symptoms of concern do improve, our ability to manage any remaining symptoms gets better, and we become more flexible and resilient, but it takes time.
It may be helpful to think of neurofeedback training as gym training for your brain. When we go to the gym, we don’t see much improvement after one workout. We see improvement over a series of workouts, and over a consistent effort to train. How fast each of us builds muscle, and get in shape depends on a whole lot of variables, so in the same way, we can’t predict how long it’s going to take for you to build the muscles you want and get in the shape you’re looking for. What we do know, however, is that if you train consistently over time, you’ll build muscle, and you’ll get in better shape.
How Do You Know It Works?
This is a great question. Monitoring brain changes can be challenging, but here’s how we do it. Before you start, we use a variety of tracking tools to track the symptoms you have concerns about, and over the course of the sessions, we repeat these tracking tools to look at improvements. In addition, we check in with you each session to see how things are going and what you’re noticing. The true indication of whether it’s helping is the answer to a very simple question: “How do you feel now versus how you felt before we started?” Sometimes it’s hard to notice the shifts, and this is where we can also help you monitor by asking the right questions to pick up on shifts.
I have noticed significant positive results in my clients who have done neurofeedback training. In fact, it’s uncanny how positive it has been. I hope this article has helped explain a bit more about neurofeedback, how it works, and how it might be helpful. If you have any more questions, give us a call and we’d be happy to answer them!