When you talk about your “new normal,” are you speaking in hopeful terms? Or is there a sense of resignation, sadness, and powerlessness that comes with thoughts about your life and future right now?
A global health crisis, economic shutdown, and widening social division can have that effect.
Recently, the “COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-being” study found that the rate of depression for American adults has tripled. This increase is consistent across all demographic groups but most prevalent among those dealing with financial issues.
It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to be upbeat. In fact, without redirection, dark thoughts, and moods can become a dangerous and unhelpful emotional baseline.
So, how can you find relief? How can you manage joy again when depression is your new norm?
First, There is No Shame in Depression
There is no shame in feeling depressed.
Unfortunately, depression is often just the collateral damage of sudden change and uncertainty. If you were prone to mental health challenges before, then our current collective struggle may have even been a catalyst for deeper upset.
COVID or no COVID, depression happens. Don’t let self-blame or stigma hinder you further.
Finding ways to combat fatigue and isolation by embracing life’s joys intentionally and routinely is paramount.
In addition to professional help and support, consider these mood-boosting self-help measures to encourage you along the way:
How You Can Embrace Life’s Little Joys When Depression is Your New Norm
Look Up, Out, and Beyond
Depression loves to keep your head down, mind enclosed in a dark, self-defeating headspace.
There is little room for growth and perspective there. Push back with a routine of exercise, fresh air, and appreciation for the natural world.
Get outside and breathe deeply. Look at the sky, notice the growth cycle of plants, and look for wildlife. Light and nature can help put dark times and dark feelings in perspective.
Catalog Your Bright Moments
Depression creates a sort of emotional amnesia. You can forget what made you feel good or happy not so long ago. Sometimes, you have to intentionally recall what makes you smile each day.
Write those things down. Re-read the list before you start the day or retire at night. Mentally replay the little joys that made your day memorable and meaningful. Put your list where you will see it throughout the day as a visual reminder of what brings you joy.
Set Small Goals
Be proactive in realistic, achievable ways. Set a small goal early each day and aim to start working on it as soon as possible. This simply sets an intention that positively influences your entire day.
The sense of accomplishment and forward movement is key. They can help draw you out of unproductive rumination and halt negative thinking before it takes hold.
Care For a Pet
If you have a pet, direct your attention toward caretaking and making it happy. Depressive thinking steals a sense of purpose and connection. Allow your pet’s needs to get you out of bed in the morning. Absorb some of their energy and accept their unconditional love and attention to help boost your mood.
If you are currently without a pet, ask to help care for a friend’s animal or seek out how to support a local animal shelter.
Practice Being Fully Present
Open your mind to positive, self-loving emotions. Seek to enjoy the present moment, fully living in it, and soaking it in without the negativity and judgment that may have become so automatic. Give yourself some mental space to “just be.”
Use all of your senses. Be aware of but do not control your thoughts and responses. Letting thoughts come and go can empower you. Being present restores the joy of experiencing life as it happens with less fear about the future or regrets about the past.
Practice Forgiving Yourself and Others
Depression isolates you and may cause you to question whether you are likable or lovable. You can start to feel angry and resentful. If stress and conflict are coming between you and those you care about, be quick to repair relationship damage. Forgive yourself and others to preserve cherished connections.
Remember to Laugh
Tap into humor. Read funny books and magazines. Watch comedies. Recall funny memories. Write a silly note. Laugh as much as possible every day.
Help Other People Often
Study after study demonstrates the healing power of altruism. Generous, community-minded people just tend to be happier. If nothing else, this can be the one goal you set each day. Discovering ways to improve the lives of others is truly one of life’s little joys.
Create a Support System
Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Stay connected. You may soon realize that many of the entries on your gratitude list are actually related to good news from other people. It is important to share your life and let people know how you feel. If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s yet another reason to start working with a therapist. Being seen and known is a joy you are hard-wired for. Therapy can help you practice building (or rebuilding) your network.
Do Not Tackle This Problem All Alone
Feeling pessimistic and discouraged at times is a normal part of life. Depression, however, is a diagnosable mental health disorder. It requires treatment and you deserve support.
Working with a counselor enables you to work toward recovery on two tracks. You can develop ways to embrace life’s little joys, of course. But also, you’ll work on identifying underlying issues as you move forward into helpful, hopeful new patterns.