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If It Can Happen to Michelle Obama…

Wow, did Michelle Obama ever hit a nerve when, in a recent interview, she alluded to her “low-level-depression.”

Trump, the pandemic, Trump’s handling of the pandemic, voter suppression, racial and social injustice – it’s no wonder we’re all experiencing at least some degree of anxiety and even depression.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease control demonstrated something that comes as no surprise: anxiety and depression have increased considerably in the U.S., especially among young adults, Black and Hispanic people, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers for adults.

We all need to take care of ourselves and one another, but those soothing cucumbers on the eyelids aren’t exactly doing the trick as self-care measures right now. We’re in a lot of pain, and we need some tools for coping and, hopefully, becoming even more resilient to stress. Here are a just a few ideas:

Get enough sleep

You cannot train your brain and body to need less sleep. You simply need what you need. Inadequate sleep first worsens your mood, then your cognitive function, and then your immune system – and you can’t afford any of that right now. Turn off Netflix an hour earlier. And, God knows, turn off the news earlier. Which brings us to the effect of anxiety on sleep. Many people are dealing with insomnia right now. And the time to approach anxiety-associated insomnia is during the day. Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness/relaxation measures are fantastic ways to calm, soothe, and focus the brain; but there are powerful tools as well:

Write It Down

  • Expressive writing is a term that refers to writing about emotionally-laden concerns and experiences. For some people, expressive writing, even just five minutes per day, has improves the negative emotions associated with distressing experiences.
  • Gratitude writing, on the other hand, may be equally – or in the case of at least one study – even more effective than expressive writing with regard to improved mental health. My personal variation on this theme, especially if I’m having trouble falling asleep, is to think about three good things that happened on that day. These items may range from the garbage being picked up to my not killing someone who really had it coming – whatever I want to think of that was a good thing.

Move More

Physical activity is brain therapy. Period. Exercise helps both treat and prevent depression, in both children and adults.

Outdoor exercise is, for most people, a more potent mood elevator than is indoor. The added benefit is that being exposed to more daylight helps your circadian rhythm support a healthy sleep cycle.

Have as Much Routine and Structure in the Day as Possible

It’s not good when every meal consists of opening the refrigerator and stabbing around with a fork. Take the time to plan, shop for, and cook at least some healthy food on a regular basis. If you have kids, definitely include them in this.

Try to get up at roughly the same time every day. This routine will help you feel more organized and in control – and it is definitely conducive to improved sleep.

Make sure that every day includes something healthy to eat, some physical movement, and some conversation with someone you care about.

Get Support

At a time when we’re all physically distant, being socially connected is more important than ever. By that, I do not mean going down a Twitter rabbit hole for hours. But do take the time to call, FaceTime, Zoom, email, text, or whatever people do to stay in touch. Share photos of your kids and yard and your out-of-control hair. Whatever feels safe and smile-inducing for yourself and others.

If you’re suffering way too much – having trouble getting out of bed, feeling hopeless about the future, or thinking really, really dark thoughts – please, please seek out professional help. I realize how difficult that may be right now in terms of social distancing and strained finances. You may want to call your health insurer to find out what options are available. Consider on-line counseling. For example, one resource I’ve heard good things about in terms of quality and affordability is BetterHelp.

Give Support

One of the most effective ways to alleviate your suffering is to help alleviate the suffering of others. Look for opportunities, whether it’s chatting on the phone with &/or dropping off a meal for a stay-at-home caregiver, donating to or working at a local food bank, participating in election issues – something that helps others and that helps get you out of yourself.

 

That’s all I’ve got in me right now. I’m going to unplug for a while. But I sure will plug back in to watch Michelle Obama at the opening night of the Democratic Convention tonight. I feel calmer already.

Stay well. Stay kind. You’re good enough already.