Dear Ann Cannon • Ever since the pandemic arrived on America’s doorstep and I’ve been sheltering in place, I have grown increasingly anxious AND depressed. Good times! Any tips for managing anxiety and depression during this trying season?
— Ann Cannon
Dear Ann Cannon • Wow! I could have written this letter myself. And, in fact, I did!
OK, Tribune Readers, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I suffer from SAD, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. During the spring and summer months, Honey, I am GOOD TO GO! But once the days start getting darker and shorter, I feel like my soul just shrivels up. All I want to do is grow a coat of fur and hibernate in a cave, waking up now and then just long enough to consume a few donuts from Fresh Donut & Deli.
The good news is that over the years, I’ve picked up some strategies that help me manage my depression — strategies that may be also be helpful during this unexpected season of stress and isolation. For what they’re worth, I offer them here. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you.
And, above all, remember to be kind to yourself. Don’t berate yourself or feel like you’re less of a person because you are depressed. Just do what you can and feel good about your efforts — you won’t always feel like you feel now.
• Impose some structure on your day. Generate a list of the things you’re going to do and maybe even what time you’re going to do them. The list doesn’t have to be long. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself when you’re already feeling overwhelmed. But do make essential tasks — feeding your dog, for example — a priority.
• Spend time outside. Our grandmothers were right! Sunlight and fresh air are good for us!
• Exercise. You don’t have to kill yourself. A pleasant walk will do. (FYI, of all the things I do to manage my depression, exercise is probably the most beneficial for me personally.)
• Write a thank you note. Or a thank you e-mail. Or a thank you text. Send it to somebody who’s touched your life in ways she or he may not even be aware of.
• Perform an act of service for someone else. You don’t have to start a food bank in your backyard (although that would certainly be awesome). The act can be as small as paying for the guy behind you at the McDonald’s drive-thru window.
• Create space in your day for personal reflection. Write in a journal. Meditate. Say a prayer if that’s your thing. Read a poem. You get the idea.
• Groom now and then. Sometimes when you’re really depressed it can be hard to do the simplest things — brushing your hair and taking a shower can suddenly seem like daunting tasks. This is especially true when you’re just staying home day after day after day anyway. It’s easy to think there’s no point to getting dressed. OK, let me just say that while it’s fine to have a pajama day now and then, you’ll feel better if you do some basic grooming. Put on some earrings is what I’m saying.
• Limit your cable news consumption. I got this tip from my daughter-in-law who’s a doctor. The first thing she tells her patients who are worried about COVID-19 is to stop watching the news all day long.
• Establish a regular sleep routine. Anxiety and depression often interfere with productive sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time. Avoid, if possible, too much screen time before going to bed.
• Connect with the individuals who matter to you. This can be REALLY hard when you’re depressed. I have about zero social energy when I’m down. Still, I know from personal experience that it’s a good idea to let your people know you’re there and you care.
A final thought here. If your depression and anxiety become too much to manage on your own, seek professional help if you’re in a position to do so.
Meanwhile, hang in there. We’ll get through this.