Depression and COVID-19

We regularly hear that Depression has increased since the advent of the Corona Virus. COVID-19 has changed the world, possibly forever. Life has pretty well been turned upside down. Daily routines are not what they used to be. School and work life are unrecognisable for many people. And the change was sudden and unexpected. Depression and COVID-19 are not a good combination.

To help us navigate the world of COVID-19, national state and territory governments tell us what we can and cannot do. By now you will be familiar with how far you can physically place yourself in relation to others and how to wash your hands. In addition, many of us are learning how to use Zoom, Skype and other distance communication platforms. Also, we know that self-care is crucial to our well-being, such as eating well and talking to friends. In particular, keeping in touch with vulnerable others is important. Furthermore, we know when to and when not to go to the supermarket and how to order food on-line. As a starting point to your wellbeing, please adhere to these guidelines and those issued by health experts from time to time. Regardless of all this helpful information, however, many people are suffering serious depression.

The Impact of COVID-19

While the practical information we receive (in spite of its at times inconsistencies) is helping to limit the virus’ spread, many of us are still reeling at the sudden change in life as we knew it. While some people have little or nothing to do, others are thrust into steering a precarious path between work, teaching, caring for elderly relatives and generally trying to get on with life as normally as possible. Numerous businesses are struggling to stay afloat, while jobs have disappeared and unemployment queues soared. It is little wonder that anxiety and depression is increasing across all age-groups and demographics. Many people are struggling to make meaning of what has happened. Because the world around them has become unrecognisable, they don’t know where they fit anymore. Alienation, loneliness, depression and COVID-19 are words we hear almost daily.

A Philosophical Perspective on Depression and COVID-19

While at any time, adopting a philosophical perspective on events is helpful, never was this more true than right now. In fact, it really is the only way to make sense of what has happened. What many people do not realise is that recent events are not unique. They have happened many times before – and probably will again. Pandemics have occurred throughout history. So we should not be as surprised as we are. Moreover, the world is unpredictable, capricious and not always as knowable as we take it to be. In fact, it was this realisation that fed much of the early philosophers’ musings as they, like us, tried to make sense of their world. From their observations and conclusions, developed philosophies and principles that still serve us well today.

Depression and Stoicism

In particular, the Stoic approach to Philosophy has much to teach us about depression and COVID-19. Especially, if you are anxious, alienated or lonely, you will benefit by a little excursion into Philosophy. Ideas and principles gleaned centuries ago are as valid now as they were then. In fact, modern day therapies, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, originate directly from ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Epictetus. While there is much to draw on in Philosophy, two simple ideas or principles will get you started.

Principle 1: Determine what is and what is not under your control.

When clients come for help, one of the first things I ask them is to ascertain what is and what is not in their control. We waste much energy and angst by worrying about things that we cannot change. Epictetus eloquently expressed this two centuries ago: “Some things are in our control and others are not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions….” In other words, make a distinction between what you can control and what you cannot. Once you do, you realise that it is fruitless to fret over what you cannot change. It follows that you are doing absolutely nothing useful by worrying about things outside your control (and probably doing a lot of harm to yourself). Better to focus on the things that you can change, such as  following the self-care recommendations outlined earlier.

Catastrophising, exaggerating and ruminating likewise change nothing, except maybe your blood pressure. Undue emotional reactions deplete energy that invariably leads to depression and hopelessness. Instead, direct your energy towards the things that you can actually do. Think about what you can do to ease the situation – there is always something. What is the best action that you could take right now? Whatever is happening, you know that it will not last.

Principle 2: Your perspective on events determines how you feel, not the events themselves.

The same event  does not evoke the same feelings and reactions in everyone. Also from Epictetus: “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things ….” In other words, what we think about events determines how we feel about them, and is therefore, under our control. Important to realise is that our it is our beliefs about a situation that generates our views, feelings and reactions, not the situation itself. If I have a belief that life will always go as I want it to, then I am going to be disappointed when it doesn’t. Conversely, if I recognise that there are many things in life that are beyond my control, I will not be surprised when the unexpected occurs.

Widening Your Perspective

Furthermore, if we take a backwards step and look at things ‘from above,’ we notice that the present events, the Corona Virus, the deaths, the sufferings and all the fall-out, are all part of a much bigger picture. Sure, we are caught in the middle of those events, but they are not the whole history of the universe or even close to it. Putting things in perspective helps us to better appreciate our place in the grand scheme of things. Consequently, current events are much easier to comprehend, relieving some of the pressures of loneliness, depression and alienation.

Like all emotions, anxiety and depression result from our views on things. If we have unrealistic views, that is, contrary to reality, then our feelings and reactions will be also. This does not mean we have to like what is happening right now or that we won’t have an adverse reaction to it. Accepting the reality of things is not the same as approving of them or liking them. But life consists of the things we like and want, and of things we don’t like and don’t want. So, always being prepared for the fact that the unexpected or unwanted will occur helps us to better deal with it when it does. It follows, as explained above, that focusing our emotional energy on tackling unwanted events is better than worrying about them.

Depression and COVID-19 – Final Words

If you are suffering from depression or other adverse feelings about the Corona Virus, remember that it is part of a bigger picture and will pass. Finally, as explained above, how you think affects how you feel and how you feel affects how you act. These are things that you can control. For further help, check out the Counselling On-line Booking Calendar.

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Between Stimulus and Response, man has the freedom to choose (Stephen Covey)