A woman standing outside of a building with her eyes downcast and her dress disheveled

A month or so ago, amidst an inconsequential week, I walked in my bedroom door and stepped widely over a mountain of clothes, as I had surely done every day that week. I stopped and turned, suddenly seeing not just a clothing mountain, but a symptom of a weightiness that had been hovering over me ever so slightly. 

Lethargy and a lack of motivation are just a few cues that help me recognize when my heart is beginning to numb with depression. With a combination of counseling, healthy habits, tools and accountability, I can happily say I’ve found much healing and stability.

Yet, when our global circumstances took a turn, and I realized I would more than likely be confined to the walls of my small apartment for an unknown period of time, something in me froze. As an extroverted achiever, I ordinarily would know to check in with myself if I was spending too much time at home, away from people, avoiding work or lying around. I felt as though my life was about to resemble that laundry mountain. What typically looks like symptoms of unhealthiness for me was about to become my (and everyone else’s) everyday life.

What typically looks like symptoms of unhealthiness for me was about to become my (and everyone else’s) everyday life.

This crisis finds and affects us each differently. Some are overwhelmed with working from home while juggling a family and homeschooling. Some are deeply concerned for their health or the health of a loved one. Some find themselves profoundly lonely in their studio apartment. Some are tragically struggling with job loss, while others are fighting COVID-19 head-on in their jobs.

Whatever it looks like, pain is pain. If you struggle with depression, then I know the fear right now is real and deep, wherever it finds you. This season may be beginning to feel like treading water and running out of energy to keep your mental health afloat.

You are not alone. This is not forever. You are more than worth the fight. Here are some ideas that have been refreshing for me in this season, and I hope they are for you, too.

You are not alone. This is not forever.

Prioritize healthy habits.

Whatever you know is typically helpful to keeping yourself mentally healthy, do that. In fact, do a lot more of it than you normally would. Keep a schedule. Get a consistent amount of sleep. Make your bed. Eat clean. Work out, and leverage creative outlets. Check in with yourself mentally.

I could make a mile-long list of all the options for maintaining health, but you likely know what is typically beneficial or not beneficial to you specifically. If there was ever a time to get honest with yourself and commit wholeheartedly to keeping the habits you know you need, then it’s now. Make these rhythms doable and incremental. Have grace with yourself if it doesn’t stick right away.

Accountability matters.

Inviting people into your struggle is always crucial for fighting depression. Just because we’re practicing social distancing doesn’t mean you have to give in to isolation. Make sure a few core people are aware of where you’re at mentally, what you may need and how they can check in with you.

Tell your people about the healthy habits they can encourage you to keep, and make a plan to contact them if you are feeling overwhelmed. Most counselors are also offering their services online in this season, so find out what those options may look like for you and set up an appointment, if possible. A counselor is the best option for finding a plan to address your specific mental concerns and work through them.

Enforce screen boundaries.

The work-from-home rhythm may have us staring at our screen from 9-to-5 as it is, not to mention FaceTimes or the inevitably of Netflix and Instagram binges. As easy as it is to retire ourselves to the opposite side of the couch at the end of our “workday” and detach into social media or the show everyone is talking about, these habits don’t do our mental health any favors.

Limiting screen time will not only free us up for more life-giving activities, but it will also put a healthy boundary between us and a world oversaturated with comparison, negativity, numbness and bad news. Consider creating strict “internet hours” for yourself, limiting TV time or news intake and replacing the habit with time outdoors, in the kitchen, in a book, on a yoga mat or whatever practices benefit your brain.

Limiting screen time will free us up for more life-giving activities.

Practice joy.

I don’t think joy is an emotion we can simply choose, but I do think it’s a discipline we can practice. One of the most accessible ways to do this is to start a gratitude journal. As you document a few specific things you felt blessed by and grateful for each day, you rewire your brain to pay closer attention to those little joys.

Then, you can maximize them. Buy yourself flowers, plan delicious meals, curate a playlist of your favorite songs, create something for the fun of it, FaceTime a friend and go on lots of walks. This season, as difficult as it is, is not devoid of beauty or hope. It nourishes the soul to make a practice of shifting our vision toward those things.

It nourishes the soul to make a practice of shifting our vision toward [hope].

Prioritize truth.

Depression, and any form of mental illness, will try to convince us that temporary circumstances are final and that little untruths are the entirety of our identity. Perhaps, one of the most important ways we can combat these mental spirals is to keep truth actively in front of us, and commit to believing it.

Scatter notes of encouragement around your home. Write on your mirrors with dry erase markers. Ask your friends to tell you their favorite things about you. Make a script of affirmation you can read through in heavy moments. Though your heart may take time to catch up, teaching your brain true and helpful thought patterns and self-talk can be one of the most helpful building blocks in combating this struggle. 

All of these steps rely on a foundation of self-grace. Recognize where you’re at, and give yourself the space and permission to work through it. Whatever your laundry mountain looks like, know you aren’t facing it alone. I hope we can confront it, pick up some pieces and begin taking steps together.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide or perhaps you just need to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about the warning signs of suicide, click here.

How has your mental health been impacted by the effects of COVID-19? How are you checking in with yourself?

Image via Sarah Kehoe, Darling Issue No. 16

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