Managing your depression during Covid19 - A sensorimotor approach
So, we're six weeks in... In a very short space of time the world we have always known has suddenly ceased to exist and life is very different. In the wake of all this we are facing isolation, joblessness, fear, and anxiety—a lot of us may already be exhibiting signs of depression, especially those with a history of depressive disorders. A lot of us will also be feeling sadness brought on by a grief from the various losses we may be experiencing.
So what is the difference between sadness and depression? It is important to make this distinction as they are two separate states that are often confused. Sadness is a normal healthy emotion brought on by loss – it is transient and will come and go. Many of us may well be feeling this under the circumstances. Depression is a mental health condition, much more enduring, debilitating and oppressive. Dr Janina Fisher, clinical psychologist at the Trauma Center in Boston, and senior faculty member of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute suggests some simple Sensorimotor techniques below that can help if you are feeling depressed and alone.
Lengthen your Spine
This technique is deceptively simple — just lengthen your spine from the lower back up. With depression the heaviness of even just saying the words ‘I'm depressed’, tends to collapse the spine. Because depression is such a physical experience this technique can be very helpful. It is not difficult to do and can be effective in the moment as it doesn't require much effort if you are depressed and have no energy.
This is a technique used to ground yourself during panic attacks. It’s done by visually noticing/naming things in your environment, or using your auditory sense if you are visually impaired. It’s helpful because when you look around and notice where you are, it usually regulates autonomic arousal and brings your nervous system up into window of tolerance.
Dr Fisher suggests this useful tip: “Just look very, very carefully around the whole room and one thing you like the least in the room. Then look around again very carefully and find the two things that you dislike the most?”
Orienting and lengthening the spine represent somatic (bodily) techniques. Using words is important too because they have such a strong impact on body experience. The impact of negative words, such as “I'm hopeless” may leave you feeling worse. It’s much more helpful to repeat the words, “I’m doing the best I can”, which is likely to make you to feel a little bit better.
If you are feeling very depressed - numb and passive with no energy or interest, try your best to get your body moving. Movement might seem harder in these days of isolation, but we can still do it, with more access to online exercise resources than ever before! Talking about COVID-19 generally increases anxiety. If you are feeling very anxious right now, try standing up and rocking from foot to foot. This can be very soothing and regulating.
Dropping the Content
Another very simple Sensorimotor technique for depressed or anxious people who tend to ruminate on negative thoughts or fears, which can exacerbate self-loathing and a sense of unworthiness is to notice it out loud, “There is that thought again, that __________,” ask yourself, “When I have that thought, do I feel better or worse?” If the answer is worse, then you could try this exercise:
Hold out your hand, palm up, then imagine someone putting a burning hot potato onto the palm of your hand. . . . What is your hand going to do? Every time you have one of those toxic thoughts, drop it immediately—just like a hot potato.
NOTE: During this time of isolation and crisis, we will have frequent negative thoughts and predictions. That is fairly normal in this situation but can also add to the stress involved in dealing with the crisis. I’m not suggesting that it’s abnormal to feel anxiety and depression in a state of emergency, but as normal as it is to have such thoughts, they are toxic for you, so work on putting them aside because that will support your mental health and your immune system.
It might seem counterintuitive during these serious times, but try to have some fun. It can be the best medicine in the world!!
When is it time to seek help for depression?
If you have been struggling with severe depression which you cannot shift, it is really important to get some professional help. Contact your GP as soon as possible, particularly if you are having suicidal thoughts. If you are not at immediate risk you could consider online support. The Health Hub is an online resource for people in isolation, so you are able to access the support and get the help you need right now.
Take care. Stay safe