Reducing Depression and Anxiety During 2020
The year 2020 has been one of the most challenging in our lifetimes. The pandemic itself is unprecedented with few people still alive during the last global pandemic, The Spanish Flu, who remember the difficulties of that time. Yet, 2020 has more to offer than just a pandemic: political divisions, record- breaking heat waves, unparalleled wildfires, extraordinary numbers of massive hurricanes, ongoing protests, violent rioting, and a rancorous presidential election. No wonder most of us are exhausted and even depressed.
Psychological research during this time has shown that already high levels of anxiety and depression have significantly gone up. Adults, teenagers, and even children are showing growing signs of emotional distress. Some people show symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in response to the losses experienced during the pandemic and the uncertain aspects of the future. Women and younger people may be more likely to experience these emotions. Loneliness is a driving factor for increasing emotional problems. All of us are experiencing this to some extent, as our ability to connect with those we care about has diminished.
Except when it’s not! Many of us are at home with our children 24/7 now. We all love our children, but staying at home with young children can be maddening. Although many of us were able to cope in the beginning, maybe even excel as we first adapted to our new lifestyle, but forced change and ongoing uncertainty eventually wear us down. Our internal emergency resources are eventually depleted and we become overwhelmed by daily tasks, exceptionally fatigued throughout each day, irritable, and find it difficult to get anything done.
That’s when the self blame starts. We have always been people who can get things done. We work, we take care of the household, and we actively parent our children. “What’s wrong with me, why can’t I keep up?” Our sense of self-worth goes down as our depression and anxiety rise.
Despite this emotional chaos, we try to pretend that everything is OK. We don’t want to worry the kids. Hiding our personal struggles from our children is a common tactic. It turns out that it doesn’t work. Research shows that there is a significant link between children and the physiological stress of their mothers. Trying to pretend we are doing fine when we’re not doesn’t work because our kids, even very young children, know us well enough to recognize the pretense.
So, what can we do to right our personal ship as we navigate these violent waters?
As described in a previous blog, self-awareness provides a key to living lives that are more in line with our personal values and goals. Instead of hiding from our challenges and fears, which takes us only deeper into despair, turning and looking them in the face is the answer. The more we recognize what we’re doing, the better we can decide on a strategy to improve things.
One aspect of our own consciousness we all have is the internal voice that we hear throughout our day. It’s the voice that goes over our task list, criticizes our behavior, or it may cuss silently at the driver who cut you off while you stay quiet in the car because the kids are with you.
Our mind is a double-edged sword. It enables us to plan, solve problems, and set goals for ourselves. But it can also haunt us with unhelpful and painful thoughts. For some people or in dark times, that voice can become your tormentor as it reminds you of your limitations or goads you about your fears.
In fact, we sometimes talk to ourselves in a critical way that we would never use with friends & family. Can you think of examples from your own life in which your internal voice was helpful and some when it was hurtful? We all can.
Becoming aware of the thoughts you have is the first step in learning to use your internal voice as a support to help meet your own goals.
1. When you find yourself becoming negative, make a conscious effort to change the message. Ex. “you are so stupid” can become “I won’t make that mistake again.” Purposefully change the channel to a more positive one! Then, repeat no matter how many times you need to. That negative voice will eventually start to change.
2. When you are trying to do something challenging, your internal voice can be your instructional coach, giving you positive messages along the way and outlining the steps that need to be taken. Ex. “good job on step one, now for step two.” This can enhance our focus and hone execution.
3. Inner speech can also be a source of motivation or confidence by simple encouraging statements. “I can do this!” This can boost confidence and mood, as well as increase the energy devoted to a task.
Now that you know more about consciousness, as you move through your day, try to recognize when your internal voice is speaking to you. Is it helpful or hurtful or just in the background? Becoming more aware of this voice puts you in the director’s chair to make sure your voice works for you.
Please share this blog with anyone you know who might need a boost.
If you would like to learn more about how to increase your self-awareness and to befriend your own internal voice, please sign up to receive my monthly newsletter.