It's day 195ish, but it feels like it's been forever since everybody's world was rocked by COVID-19 and quarantine. Instead of things clearing up and people going on about their lives, life seems to be getting harder. For many, most days feel like slogging through thick fog and it's really hard to see the road ahead.
It's possible that you or someone you know is really struggling at the moment, wondering if the sadness is due to all that has happened or if something bigger is going on like depression or some other mental health issue.
First, let me just say, you are not alone. We're living in a moment in time where everything — marriage, parenting, work, socializing with friends, even the most normal things — seem more difficult than they should be for many people.
Second, regardless of whether you or someone you care about is sad or dealing with something else, the good news is, help is available.
Sad? Depressed? How do you know the difference? Glad you asked.
Feeling sad and down about things like job loss, finances, marital issues, a child giving you a run for your money or a breakup is normal for a period of time. But when:
* You can't seem to shake those feelings and you begin to feel hopeless and desperate;
* It feels impossible to think clearly;
* Making a decision seems out of your reach;
* Work is consistently challenging;
* Things that used to bring you joy in life don't anymore;
* Food doesn't interest you or you are eating way more than normal;
* And you're either not sleeping enough or you are sleeping all the time and still feel like you don't get enough rest.
These are like blinking caution lights warning you something is not right.
There are certain things you might be able to do to help move you to a different place such as:
* Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends — not necessarily people who are experiencing the same thing you are but people who seem to be mentally and emotionally healthy at this moment in time. Ask them to walk this road with you and help hold you accountable for changes you are trying to make.
* Create a new bedtime routine. Lying in bed watching television or scrolling through social media does not count as rest. Stop all screen time at least an hour before you plan to get some shut-eye. If silence makes it difficult for you to sleep, download a white-noise app or purchase a white-noise machine or try a simple fan in your room. Do not use your bed for anything other than sleeping and well, those things that you typically do in bed like sex. Otherwise, keep your bedroom as kind of a safe place where your body knows it's time to relax and rest.
* Get moving. Exercise has been shown to be one of the best ways to combat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise releases feel-good hormones that can make you feel better about yourself. It also can help you get out of the negative thought cycle that feeds depression. Exercising on the regular can give you more confidence, it's something you can do with others and it is a super-positive way to cope with and manage depression. Don't forget, being outside, getting enough vitamin D, drinking plenty of water and fueling your body with healthy foods are all powerful weapons for fighting depression.
* Pay attention to how much news and negative information you take in on a daily basis. Remember, the motto for some newsrooms is, "If it leads, it bleeds." Their whole goal is to be sensational to draw you in. The more you are drawn in, the more you will be affected. It's a vicious cycle. Your brain doesn't know it's the fifth time you've seen information about the plane crash, murder, latest political blunder or car wreck. All of this impacts you mentally and physically whether you realize it or not. Put a time limit on how much news you will allow yourself to watch. The same applies to social media.
* Eliminate as much stress as possible. Think through all you have on your plate. Is there anything you can let go of for a period of time in order to reduce the stress in your life? If you can't let go of certain activities, can you ask others to help you?
In addition to doing all of these things, be bold and ask for professional help. Plenty of counselors are providing telecounseling and Zoom sessions. If you don't know where to look for help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357.
If you're worried about someone you care about, don't be afraid to step up and say, "I see you. How can I help?" Guiding them through all the above is a great place to start if they are open to your support.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.