The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that a third of Americans show signs of clinical depression and anxiety and that these conditions are becoming amplified during the recent pandemic.
Wanting to find practical tools to boost happiness and reduce anxiety and depression, I met with Pamela Boysen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Whole Heart Therapy.
When asked if she has seen an increase in depression and anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic, Pamela doesn’t hesitate to answer:
“Absolutely, and it is different between children and adults. Children are fearful of going to school and bringing home COVID19. They are bored and disengaged with online school and lonely without activities or opportunities to be with peers.”
She goes on to explain that many parents have been noticing more resistance from their children when it comes to following rules at home. Kids are withdrawing into technology, and displaying more outbursts of anger.
“Adults on the other hand are fearful of how to keep their family healthy. They are super stressed about balancing working at home and helping kids with online school, and needing a break from the outside external events of protests, the upcoming election, and basically the unknown for our country.”
According to Pamela, adults are trying to find ways to adapt to this new normal and, for those with kids, trying to share those new ways with their children.
And then there is the forgotten population; the seniors, struggling with isolation. They most likely experience higher than normal stress and are deprived of their number one comforting tool; contact with loved ones.
“They may need assistance and are not sure how to reach out for help. They are worried about others coming into their home with their increased susceptibility to the virus.”
Knowing that most of the population is affected by increased stress and anxiety, which can easily lead to depression, I asked Pamela to share some tools we can all use to feel better during this time.
Pamela explains that, when the body is stressed, chemicals are released from the brain that keep us alert to danger, which is important for an immediate threat but not helpful to a long term threat. This year, with everything that has happened; environmental disasters (fires, hurricanes, etc.), the pandemic, protesting, and the election, our brains are on overdrive to keep us alert to danger. This over activity is really challenging to the body both physically and emotionally.
SPEND TIME OUTDOOR
“The #1 tool I suggest to all clients is to spend time outdoors. I give this as homework. They are to spend some time each day outside, even if that is driving somewhere. Once outside, they are asked to slow down their mind and notice. Notice from each of their five senses. If the family is in the car, it is a great conversation to have with children; asking them what do they see, smell, hear, possibly touch or taste. Yes, that could even be french fries from their favorite take-out place!”
Pamela also likes to equip her clients with breathing techniques to calm down.
“With children, I teach calm down tools such as finger breathing. You begin by inhaling as you trace up your thumb and exhale as you trace down your thumb, repeating as you inhale up the next finger and exhale down that finger and so on.”
Pamela also uses Brainspotting, which is known for its use in healing trauma and as a technique to find calm. Pamela directs her clients to find a spot in their home that is calming to them. She asks them to focus on that spot for 5 minutes. They report a feeling noticeably more relaxed after doing so.
“A 10 year-old client informed me that when it gets stressful in her home, she goes to her room and stares at her calm spot and feels better.”
USE YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
For those experiencing depressive symptoms, Pamela talks about support systems. Most of us think about what support systems we have in place to support us. But, Pamela challenges her clients to also define when they are a support for someone else. “We all know the warmth we experience in our hearts when we help someone else. That is the goal with this tool.”
Ask yourself where and when did you recently help someone else? “This can be as easy as asking the neighbor as you are heading to the grocery store if they need anything, or making a plan to call on a friend weekly just to say hi. A senior woman shared with me how this tool really shifted her thinking away from herself to others and resulted in feeling better. “
Pamela ends by recommending reading as a helpful tool to gain knowledge and support. She mentions “Mindful Kids” which contains 50 mindfulness activities for all ages, and particularly helpful for children, as well as “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo. This one has a daily reader with a topic to reflect upon with simple suggestions for meditation. You can turn to today’s passage or pick one. They are all powerful.
With more tools in our toolbox to boost our mental and emotional well being and fight anxiety and depression, we should be able to get through these challenging times and perhaps even come out stronger!