Whether you or someone in your family was struggling with depression before COVID-19 took over our lives, or whether symptoms began in the adjustment to our new, more isolated existence, tending to your emotional health now is more important than ever. Feeling sad, numb, unmotivated, or experiencing a lack of pleasure are hallmarks of depression. One of the most scientifically-backed strategies to combat these feelings is behavioral activation, which means engaging in activities that are pleasurable or encourage a sense of mastery or accomplishment.
Unfortunately, quarantine makes behavioral activation a little complicated… we can’t see our friends, play team sports, or even really leave the house. But fear not – there are plenty of ways to meet your emotional needs from the safety of your own home! Following are some strategies to stave off depression and support your (and your family’s) emotional wellbeing during quarantine:
FIND AN OUTLET
Creative expression allows us to make meaning out of sadness and despair. Think about it – some of the best songs on the radio are about breakups and hardship! Journaling, drawing, painting, and even writing music are great ways to release tension and give a voice to your feelings.
A fun way to engage members of your family of all ages in creative expression is to dress everyone up in bathing suits and hop in the shower with some washable paints (or for very little ones who might be tempted to eat the paint, you can use different flavors of pudding as finger paint) and paint up a storm – then, when everybody is done, the paint (or pudding) can simply be hosed off. This activity can be incredibly freeing, especially if you or your kids are feeling cooped up and restricted, as it’s an opportunity to be unrestrained, carefree, and downright messy!
KEEP IT MOVING
Your body and mind have a strong effect on one another. When emotional tension runs high, you feel it in your muscles. On the other hand, when your body has a chance to move and release energy, it creates space in your mind. Staying active however possible, whether it be going for walks, runs, or bike rides, climbing trees, playing catch – you name it – is an important component of tending to your emotional health.
Yoga is a way to move your body and release tension that requires little space or equipment, can be done indoors, and is suitable for all ages.
- Cosmic Kids Yoga is a wonderful (and free!) YouTube channel for children – they even have yoga videos based on your kids’ favorite movies, like Frozen!
- For adults, Yoga With Adriene is great for yogis of all skill levels, led by a warm instructor with a fun sense of humor. She posts new videos every week and a playlist every month (in fact, April’s Playlist is geared towards staying sane while staying at home)
Stress balls are another way to activate the mind-body connection. When we feel stressed, our muscles tense up. Stress balls cue us to activate the muscles that are tense by squeezing, and then release that tension by letting go, which induces relaxation.
No stress balls at home? No problem! You can make your own with just a balloon and some rice or flour . This can be a family craft activity where everybody also gets to personalize their stress balloons with decorations. Other fun options are to fill the balloons with a mixture of cornstarch and water, and play around with the ratios to see how it affects the texture of the balloon. To go one step further, everybody can choose a small trinket or pom-pom to hide in their stress ball, and when they give it a squeeze, see if they can find the trinket inside. This strategy helps to ground the mind in the current moment (rather than letting it get carried off by stress) as it focuses on finding the secret toy.
BUILD YOUR NETWORK
One of the characteristic symptoms of depression is a tendency to self-isolate – it often comes with a pesky voice in your head telling you that you would be a burden to others if you spoke up about your feelings. But you might be surprised by how much people appreciate openness and honesty, especially during times of universal crisis. Confiding in loved ones normalizes struggle for everyone and deepens relationships by building trust and giving the other person the meaningful opportunity to support you.
While you can’t visit with friends, family, and colleagues in person, you’re probably already finding that people are itching for close contact however they can get it. From phone calls to video chats, there are plenty of ways to stay connected. With technology such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, children can have virtual play dates, and adults can have virtual get-togethers as well! You may be seeing people posting on social media about having video “Happy Hour” with colleagues or even having dinner with friends (at your own respective dinner tables!). Whatever your “cup of tea”, now is a great time to reach out and strengthen your social support base.
MAKE SPACE FOR YOUR FEELINGS
Finally, it’s okay to feel sad. In fact, sadness is adaptive. It encourages us to slow down and reflect, it can help us ask for help when we need it, and it also allows us to feel positive emotions more strongly. Here’s a LINK to great video explaining the function of sadness. While many of the above strategies are designed to fight sadness, it’s also important to be able to sit with it, embrace it, and accept it.
Many parents are concerned about letting their feelings show in front of their children. However, the best way to teach your kids how to manage their own negative emotions is to show them how you manage yours. It’s okay to talk to your children about how you’re feeling (in kid-friendly language!) and normalize feeling sad from time to time. Labeling your emotions helps them learn to label and understand their own, and this practice can lead to productive conversations about what helps each of you feel better when you’re down – and sometimes what helps the most is a good cry!