Socializing, doing hobbies, and exercising. We are back out again and doing all the things recommended for good mental health after the Covid-19 lockdowns.
But with research showing that hygiene, masks, and restrictions are lingering in our dreams and even how we greet each other can we really go back? Or will we have to move on instead?
Lockdown depression is a term for the low mood felt across the world as we were cut off from our lives. Given how many people suffer from mental health issues under normal circumstances there is every reason for concern.
Will lockdown depression and covid anxiety last now that we are being given more freedom? What can we do to stop it? Especially when WHO statistics suggest we need to combat an increase in already growing levels of depression?
No surprise, the start of the Coronavirus lockdown sent most people’s anxiety up. Between panic buying, stay at home orders and school and offices being closed it was a worrying time.
Anxiety levels are above historic levels (Blue Dot) but are finally going down overall.
The uncertainty and threat of infection had anxiety at its highest level in April 2020. This dropped from April to September 2020 when it levelled out.
It was up and down for the rest of the pandemic until the last lockdown eased when it started to drop. It is still not back to normal.
All too often in stressful situations, anxiety is the first to hit. Our body experiences stress which upsets the balance of serotonin in our brain.
This tells us there is danger around us. To understand this natural function imagine your prehistoric self being chased by a bear. The brain dials up our adrenaline to cope with the situation.
Unfortunately, as the danger from an unseen and new virus is not as simple as a hungry bear our brain struggles to understand and cope. Even when the immediate danger is gone the upset in our brain chemistry remains. So our brain says there is danger and of course, we have little choice but to believe it.
Thanks to this situation, coming out of Covid lockdown and saying farewell to anxiety is not simple. Counselling, speaking to trusted friends and family and taking care of yourself are all important.
They seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum, but anxiety and depression are similar and linked. They often occur together too. If you think your mental health has suffered from coronavirus, anxiety and depression are the most likely culprits.
Anxiety leads to depression by altering our brain chemistry so we feel permanently afraid. After feeling this way for a long time your mood lowers and leads you to depression.
Add to this so many of the things that make us happy and feel life is worth living were taken away in lockdown.
The things that we use to treat and alleviate depression are some of the very things covid lockdown took away. Natural treatments for depression include positive socialising, exercise, psychiatric treatment, improved sleep quality and spending time outdoors.
Depression is not only a mental condition but a physical one too. It leads to the shrinking of the hippocampus and reduced levels of important proteins in our brains. To rebuild this we need to do the things mentioned above.
If you are nervous about being face to face with someone then online chats or therapy are a great alternative. Most modern counsellors offer online sessions. Lower stress and easier. You don’t need to go to a new environment or let anyone into your home.
Depression can make doing anything seem like an enormous effort. Online therapy is less draining. Also, if you are easily stressed, it feels like less of a big thing doing therapy online.
If professional help is too expensive or intimidating find a friend or family member to talk to. Lots of people are having a hard time with their mental health so you might find they have some of the same feelings. There are also several mental health charities and local groups throughout the UK.
You should contact your GP or a mental health charity such as Anxiety, Mind or Samaritans. All of these groups can offer diagnosis and counselling for PTSD and other mental health conditions resulting from it.
For some alcohol appears to reduce the tension you feel it isn’t good for anxiety long-term. This kind of self-soothing with alcohol is problematic. When we drink GABA levels in our brain change to give that relaxed feeling. This is only temporary and as the body gets used to the levels it adjusts making for a harder fall and needing more and more.
This can lead to alcohol addiction or dependence.
Alcohol misuse disorder can take over your life and worsen your anxiety. Withdrawal after overuse causes panic attacks and agitation. It is best to avoid alcohol when you have chronic anxiety. If you have mild anxiety, you should keep your drinking will within the recommended limits.
Alcohol use and abuse have increased during the pandemic for various reasons. This might be due to boredom, and bigger measures at home but depression and anxiety are well-known contributors to alcohol addiction. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol combined with depression can send people into a downwards cycle.
Depression is even more dangerous to mix with alcohol or drugs.
Caffeine is more directly a problem. It stimulates your system and can cause jitters. Too much caffeine can even cause anxiety attacks.
During the lockdown, we were all given an hour of exercise outside. Indoor exercise equipment sales skyrocketed. The downside was the gyms, pools and parks were often off-limits. People living in cities or nowhere near walking spots were stuck. It is hard to get your daily step goal if you have to stay in the house.
Recent studies show that light and moderate exercises like walking and swimming make the biggest difference to mental health. Being sedentary (staying still) has been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety.
You don’t need to take up triathlons either, just a walk in the park or along the beach will do the trick.
The main alternative for mild to moderate depression is SSRI medication. These help to stop serotonin from being reabsorbed into your body. This improves the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The hope is that by feeling better you can start to do the natural, long-term activities that reduce depression and feel yourself again.
You may have had PTSD previously and being in lockdown has triggered it. These thoughts and feelings can linger on for many years unacknowledged. Especially if your original trauma was related to illness or claustrophobia, family trauma or isolation.
This is also an issue for those who had coronavirus. Being very ill with an unknown and menacing virus is traumatic. Even more so for those hospitalised, on ventilators or in overflowing wards. Being unable to see friends and family when you are feeling vulnerable can be traumatic on both sides. Many of those who lost loved ones and were unable to say goodbye are also at risk of PTSD.
A common misunderstanding is that we need to ‘move on’ after PTSD. This is a natural reaction but sadly wishful thinking. Without a diagnosis and treatment, we are unlikely to get over a traumatic experience that causes PTSD.
Everywhere people are talking about their lockdown weight gain or how they shed pounds in the home gym. Boredom, depression and being able to eat whatever we want without anyone noticing have created a new level of food issues. For those with eating disorders, this has only made the situation worse.
Food was one of the most panic-bought items, after toilet paper, in the first months of the pandemic. The threat of food shortages wasn’t all. Some of us were disinfecting our supermarket shop and even afraid to step into our local grocer.
Shaking this newfound or resurfacing obsession with food will not be simple. Those with eating disorders often find doctors and health professionals don’t understand their issue well. The good news is that a specialist charity Beat is available to help with eating issues and help you heal.
Forms of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Hypochondria (fear of having severe illness) were particularly affected by the covid pandemic. The real presence of a deadly virus would test even the strongest nerves. We encourage everyone to be vigilant about avoiding germs. This might seem ideal for someone with a phobia of germs but in fact, only compounds and worsens the fear.
As with other forms of anxiety talking therapy and SSRI medication can help enormously. Two-thirds of those who take counselling no longer experience symptoms after, an excellent recovery rate.
If you need help to get yourself going with an exercise program and getting healthy there are lots of great free resources.
In addition to local charities and support groups which you can find in most communities, there are a few charity groups dedicated to helping with mental health issues.
The mental health charity Mind helps those with any and every mental health issue. Their free helpline and online peer support offer a safe space to talk with someone without even needing to identify yourself.
If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable with then Anxiety UK has an excellent helpline where you can talk to someone. They also offer online workshops and therapist-led courses in managing anxiety.
Anyone who is struggling with severe mental health problems and considering suicide should contact the NHS on 999 or go to A&E immediately. The Samaritans offer a free helpline: 116123 and online support as well.
According to NHS research learning something new improves your mental health and boosts your confidence. Try some free online courses: Open University or the UK government is offering many free courses to help people get back to work or retrain after Covid.
Socialising can be tough especially if you are feeling low or anxious. It is important to have human connections in person or online. There are great apps like Meetup and Bumble to help you find people close by or with similar interests for online chats.
Working out the root cause of your mental health problem can be key. A therapist can help you or you can try writing down when you felt anxious or depressed and what was happening at the time. Look back on these notes later when you are feeling calm.
A pattern might emerge so you can understand why you feel this way. Addressing it isn’t as simple as ‘Meeting new people makes me anxious, I won’t meet anyone,’ therefore avoiding triggers. It is managing expectations and situations that let us deal with these issues.
Think about what it is about new people that scare you. Do you worry they might not obey covid-19 rules? Concerned they might behave unsafely? You can cope with a situation like this by making rules for when you walk away from a situation. E.g. If no one wears a mask I will go home.
Having this secure in your mind can prevent it from worrying you.
If you have a mental health problem, you are much more likely to develop a substance abuse condition. Around half of those with a mental illness develop a drug or alcohol addiction in their lifetime.
Coupled with the increase in drinking during the pandemic these two problems are only making each other worse. Between 2020 and 2021 58.6% more people were in the high-risk drinking levels
The coronavirus pandemic is not the first time this has raised its ugly head. After the September 11th terrorist attack, there was an increase in binge drinking in New York residents with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fortunately, a lot of the help for addiction that was reduced during lockdown is coming back. Residential rehab centers are able to take in more people and there is more freedom for group therapy. Cornerstone organisations like the AA (alcoholics anonymous) are doing in-person meetings again.
Dual diagnosis for addiction and mental health concerns is available in a rehab center or by a licensed addiction counsellor. Mental health rehab is vitally important for those living with depression, anxiety, and addiction due to the coronavirus pandemic. Solving one without the other will inevitably lead to relapse.
There are promising signs that many parts of our pre-pandemic life are returning. Gyms are open again; we can socialize in restaurants and cafes and social gatherings are allowed.
It is hard to say when and if the raised levels of depression and anxiety will return to the levels, they were at in 2019. Studies suggest that if anxiety is allowed to linger it can lead to depression. Depression is known to be long lasting.
Even after the cause of depression has passed the brain is still affected. The hippocampus and amygdala shrink when we suffer from depression. The good news is that they can both recover. A healthy diet, regular exercise and positive social interactions help rebuild these vital parts of your mind.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction due to mental health issues please get in touch with us for treatment options today. Our expert team is waiting to help.
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4293141/ Physical Activity Patterns of People Affected by Depressive and Anxiety
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763183/ Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey
www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/05/how-our-dreams-have-adjusted-to-the-pandemic/ How Our Dreams Have Adjusted to the Pandemic