Situational Depression vs. Quarantine Fatigue

And how to care for your mental health in isolation.

Situational Depression

Situational depression is defined as “a short-term, stress-related type of depression.” It often comes after a traumatic event (or series of events) and is sometimes called “reactive depression.”

As it is due to a situation or event and not a general long-term clinical depression, some examples of stressful things that can cause situational depression include:

  • Relationship problems
  • Death of a loved one
  • Problems at work or school
  • Illness
  • Financial issues
  • Big life changes like having a baby, retiring, or moving to a new city.

Much like clinical or long-term depression, symptoms include things like lack of motivation to do even important things, crying more often, anxiety, trouble focusing, feeling overwhelmed, avoiding social interactions, sadness, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, and fatigue.

Quarantine Fatigue

Quarantine fatigue is being explained by experts as “feeling physically and emotionally drained.”

Symptoms of quarantine fatigue include:

  • Irritability
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Eating more
  • Eating less
  • Unable to sleep
  • Feeling unmotivated or less productive
  • Having racing thoughts
  • Feeling on edge in general

In an article in The Atlantic, Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School states:

“Quarantine fatigue is real. I’m not talking about the people who are staging militaristic protests against the supposed coronavirus hoax. I’m talking about those who are experiencing the profound burden of extreme physical and social distancing. In addition to the economic hardship it causes, isolation can severely damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the crisis started. In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans said that the coronavirus pandemic has harmed their mental health.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic’s article on quarantine fatigue, the symptoms listed above are:

“That’s part of the stress from all of this,” says behavioral health therapist and mind-body coach Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd. “It’s just overwhelming and part of the fatigue is the uncertainty, unpredictability and the unknowns in all of this.” To put things in perspective, Ehrman makes this comparison.

“It’s like we’re in the middle of the ocean. The ocean is COVID-19 and we’re not seeing land anywhere. It’s that feeling of helplessness. Like there’s nothing you can do — or you can do everything right and still get sick.”

Ehrman goes on to say, “This kind of fatigue drains our motivation. We just want to go lie down on the couch and do nothing. Because of these difficult situations, we’re in a kind of shock and we don’t know what to do.”

What can you do to cope?

Experts say we need to be focusing on recharging in a healthy way and focusing on our health. Ehrman recommends self-care practices like yoga, meditation, going out into nature, and watching funny movies to clear your mind.

Experts also say to stop focusing so much on the news, allow yourself to grieve the loss of regular life and experiences, and find ways to adjust your mindset to what you CAN accomplish in quarantine versus only thinking about what you’re missing out on.

The CDC specifically lists these ways to help cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body: Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. For example, when schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities for kids or create a work schedule with specific tasks as an adult.

The CDC also urges everyone to take care of their mental health, whether that is adjusting medications with your doctor, starting online teletherapy, speaking to your doctor, going on medication, or finding healthy ways to de-stress and quell your fears and anxiety.

Check in with your loved ones and check in with yourself.

You are not alone. This is one of the few times when we can say something like “we are all in this together” and it really is true. The world is going through this, not just you and your family and friends.

Even when you aren’t feeling like it or feel unmotivated to do so, check in with the people you love and stay connected with your friends. Force yourself to get on that zoom call or chat with your mom even with you don’t feel like it. I’ve found that it inevitably feels good to talk to people, despite not really wanting to dial the phone.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re stressed and this is a long-term situation that feels unknown and unending. You’re allowed to be sad and stressed and tired.

Give yourself permission to not be okay sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

I’m on week 9 of isolation and I am bored and exhausted and anxious and stressed. I’ve recently become completely unmotivated to do work, despite needing to do it. I have to force myself to get on the computer and get stuff done. Making a task list and going back on anxiety medication has helped somewhat, but it is an ongoing process.

Take care of yourself, you’re important.

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