Depression During Coronavirus Quarantine? Could be The Dip

Worried about depression during coronavirus quarantine because you feel you’re In a funk? Lack concentration? Can’t focus? Feeling resistance? Grumpy? Overly tired despite not doing much?

If you are worried it is depression or have a history of mental health challenges call a professional to get support. If you don’t those feelings could be The Dip.

Change Theory

Psychiatrists, psychologists and professors have often mapped out the process human beings go through during change; outlining the emotions felt throughout the experience. One of the most famous is the Kübler-Ross grief curve. She was a pioneer in near-death studies developing the theory of 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The emotions of depression – sadness, why bother, sullen, quiet – are the downward dip in the curve before transcending to acceptance. We are suffering with grief through this pandemic. Grief is the loss of someone (or something) with which we had a bond or affection towards. We are experiencing loss – loss of ‘our normal’, loss of routine, loss of our freedom and liberty (albeit for the greater good), loss of socialization and broad physical interaction.

This grief curve concept is the same for most any change including Coronavirus Quarantine. I coach on the Leading Change programme at London Business School. The programme is directed at those tasked with leading change in their organizations. People often resist change as it takes them outside of what they know, what is familiar. Part of the curriculum covers how to win peoples’ hearts and minds in order to enable the change, how to ensure that both the emotional aspects and not just the intellectual rationale are covered when communicating through the change.

I remember when I was transferred to Switzerland as an expat with Nestlé. Part of the induction programme talked about change, the emotional rollercoaster I might go through with the relocation. It involved 5 stages very similar to the grief process – leaving, honeymoon, crisis/depression, experimentation/recovery and integration. The excitement about the move and the novelty would fade as the realization that it’s not easy hits and the fact so many things are different is more of a pain then a quaint occurrence. You would not have believed how often every single expat in Switzerland talked about their ‘allocated laundry hours’ while in temporary accommodations.

Leading Up to Depression or to The Dip

The grief curve or change models all have a series of phases to them that we journey through in times of change including coronavirus crisis. These curves or models are not consecutive phases or steps, we can shift from one to the other and back. Each model has a crisis point or depression. When the realization of the magnitude of the loss or change hits us; the initial denial or even hope diminishes. With my Mum’s death one of my initial emotions was relief, might seem shameful to admit that and it’s true. My Mum lingered in essentially a coma for a long time so when she died it was a relief that whatever had held her back had been released (as a side note, the doctor who said her time was limited to days was surprised when it became weeks and said “there is clearly something she needs to work through to let go and she’ll do that on her own schedule”. This from a medical professional).

For Coronavirus Quarantine I’ve heard things from friends and coaching clients that the joy of Netflix binge-watching, opportunity for daily exercise, the extra time from shorter or non-existent commute, the time with close family and the productivity of working from home have dissipated. There’s been anger at the restrictions, at the lack of physical closeness, variety, freedom, the frustration of repetition especially around meal prep from what I hear and experience. There are even protests happening against quarantine, for the lockdown to be lifted. Bargaining is happening as people sneak an extra walk in each day, sunbathe in parks in London, go for a non-essential drive for a change of scenery, ‘permission from advisors’ to go to a friend’s if you’re challenged mentally if you maintain social distance and some plead ‘if we social distance could you open the pub?’

The Dip

Many people are now in the dip. Fed up. Totally “over” the initial obligation, understanding and unexpected benefits. People are sad. This is not a change we asked for, it has been imposed on us. The rational and emotional reasons for quarantine are still understood however, don’t comfort or motivate us in the same way they did at the beginning. Patience is waning, disagreements are more pronounced.

10 Tips on How to Navigate The Dip

Whether you’re thinking of how to manage The Dip as an individual, as a leader, or as an organization, here are some things to consider:

  1. Recognize where you and/or others are in the curve. That creates cognitive understanding of what’s going on and also illustrates there is a pathway forward.
  2. Be intentional about creating the way forward to experimentation, recovery and acceptance.
  3. Show compassion. If you read my article on ‘Myths about Emotions at Work’ then you know the nuances for emotions is important. Compassion means you can be with someone’s emotional state without losing your emotional centre vs empathy meaning you feel their emotional state too, you share it with them without trying to set something done or shift it. Be compassionate to others and yourself – listen, repeat what they say, ask about the physical sensations they are feeling, take time, don’t take ‘I’m fine’ as an answer, have softness in your voice and manner. What would you say to a friend who was struggling? Have that same compassion for yourself. Ask for praise and encouragement as you move forward. Give praise to others for any glimmer of light.
  4. Accept the feelings. When we try to avoid or deny emotions they do not go away. Suppression of intense emotions can lead to mental and physical health issues. When we acknowledge the emotion, name the emotion and feel it the emotion shifts. Humans have the capacity and incidence of many emotions simultaneously and consecutively.
  5. Practice wellbeing tools – cuddle a pet, listen to calm music, practice mindfulness, touch another human (if you share a household), exercise, read an engaging book, take a bath, dance or move in some fashion.
  6. Give yourself some time – don’t beat yourself up for feeling low and not getting over it quickly. That disappointment and shame in yourself exacerbates the negativity.
  7. Set some goals – set some short-term, easier goals for yourself to create some momentum. Make an actual list of a few daily activities to accomplish. Do this after you’ve given yourself some time just to feel low and tired.
  8. Practice health basics – get plenty of sleep (in a dark, cool room, no screens an hour before bedtime, a bedtime ritual to wind down, go to bed and wake up at the same times each day), stay hydrated (min 1.5L of water per day), eat healthy food (limit sugar, alcohol, simple carbs) in reasonable portions for your energy expenditure.
  9. Talk to someone – really talk to someone that really listens. There are many mental health charities, therapists and counsellors working remotely that can help. Many of my colleagues, like me, have volunteered to coach NHS staff. Reach out.
  10. Visualize the way forward – not in a way that punishes you for not being there already. Rather imagine how you’d like to feel; what acceptance and hope feel like in you. Imagine the future of meeting up with friends and family ago, going out and moving freely.

Be kind to yourself and others. Be reassured that acceptance and integration are in your future. Know that we will be creating a new normal and you will create that for yourself and your loved ones.