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Dealing with Anxiety and Depression during Isolation

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In the last two years we have been faced with a global pandemic, isolation guidelines, mask policies, and loneliness. Many people are facing mental wellness challenges and their coping skills have been exhausted. Monitoring our own well-being, committing to healthy living, and recognizing the warning signs of depression and anxiety is more important than ever. Building resilience is essential to recognize that change is part of life.

If you have been quarantined, whether or not you caught COVID-19, what did you do with the time you were in isolation? Were you sick and could only sleep and rest? Did you spend time on the computer and online? Did you play board games or put together puzzles? Did you find new LEGOs to put together? Did you isolate and binge-watch Netflix for hours?

Looking at our well-being and being able to bounce back into our regular routines at home and at work has been a challenge for many of us, whether we are working in office, remotely from home, or a combination of both. The desire to return to “normal” has faded into the idea that this is our new world and we have to learn to adapt accordingly.
Knowing the signs of stress, anxiety, and depression and finding ways to take care of ourselves when we are feeling the effects of this ongoing pandemic are critical skills.

Know the Signs of Stress

The following behaviors are all common signs of anxiety and stress. These are the first signs of mental wellness challenges and can be the beginning of an anxious or depressive episode (SAMHSA, 2014).

  • Increasing or decreasing energy and activity levels
  • Increasing alcohol use, tobacco use, or illegal drug use
  • Increasing irritability, with outbursts of anger and frequent arguing
  • Having trouble relaxing or sleeping
  • Crying frequently
  • Worrying excessively
  • Wanting to be alone most of the time
  • Blaming other people for everything
  • Having difficulty communicating or listening
  • Having difficulty giving or accepting help
  • Inability to feel pleasure or have fun

The Five Major Types of Anxiety Disorders

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), these are the five major types of anxiety disorders (2014):

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and/or abdominal distress.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, accidents, military combat, and/or natural or human-caused disasters.

Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation—such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others—or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that people experience symptoms almost any time they are around others.

Depression

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines depression as the following (2020):

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite as well as weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression
  • Also, medical conditions (e.g., thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or a vitamin deficiency) can mimic symptoms of depression so it is important to rule out general medical causes

What Can You Do if You Start Having Symptoms?

There are lots of small and large changes we can make in our daily routines to help us manage stress and other symptoms of anxiety and depression. Keeping ourselves healthy physically is one of the best ways to keep ourselves healthy mentally. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists some small ways to fight the early signs of mental wellness challenges, including the following (2014):

  • Eat healthy foods and drink water
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol
  • Do not use tobacco or illegal drugs
  • Get enough sleep and rest
  • Get physical exercise
  • Relax your body often by doing things that work for you—take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, wash your face and hands, or engage in pleasurable hobbies
  • Pace yourself between stressful activities and do a fun thing after a hard task
  • Use time off to relax—eat a good meal, read, listen to music, take a bath, or talk to family
  • Talk about your feelings to loved ones and friends often

Conclusion

Monitoring ourselves for signs and symptoms of how we feel emotionally and physically can help to identify our needs and mental wellness so we can seek out a therapist, counselor, or peer specialist if needed. Prevention is a priority and should be taken very seriously, especially if we are impaired in any way because of the pandemic. Learning how to manage, cope, and navigate through this unprecedented event and accompanying isolation is key to taking care of our brain health and physical well-being.

Reach out if you need help and always remember you are not alone; many other Americans are going through rough times and finding ways to cope the best way they know how.

References

Kristina Padilla, MA, LAADC, ICAADC, CGS
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Kristina Padilla, MA, LAADC, ICAADC, CGS, is a leader with the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), where she serves as the vice president of strategic development and vice president of education, overseeing CCAPP’s education department. Mx. Padilla has a BS in criminal justice administration and a MA in counseling psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy. She is on the board of directors of the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and their Allies (NALGAP), where she is the vice president and the California representative. Mx. Padilla identifies as a trans, gender-fluid, two-spirit, nonbinary, biologically born woman. Her pronouns are she/her and they/them, and she goes by the suffix of Mx. Padilla.

Kristina Padilla, MA, LAADC, ICAADC, CGS

Kristina Padilla, MA, LAADC, ICAADC, CGS, is a leader with the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), where she serves as the vice president of strategic development and vice president of education, overseeing CCAPP’s education department. Mx. Padilla has a BS in criminal justice administration and a MA in counseling psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy. She is on the board of directors of the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and their Allies (NALGAP), where she is the vice president and the California representative. Mx. Padilla identifies as a trans, gender-fluid, two-spirit, nonbinary, biologically born woman. Her pronouns are she/her and they/them, and she goes by the suffix of Mx. Padilla.

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