Find out and develop a plan by Dr. Mike Dow.
Former first lady Michelle Obama recently revealed that she was suffering from, what she calls, low-grade depression. Between the pandemic, civil unrest, and the political strife surrounding it all, 2020 has been hard on all of us. And because we are social distancing, many of us are going at it alone.
But not anymore. Psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow stopped by The Dr. Oz Show on Dec. 7, 2020 to check in. He helped develop a simple quiz you can take at home and share with your friends to see if you're exhibiting signs of low-grade depression.
1. You read the news on your social media feed and the headlines are mostly negative – focusing on the virus, unrest, and violence. How do you feel after watching?
- A. Helpless… the problems seem too overwhelming to do anything about them.
- B. Anxious and a little nauseous
- C. Angry, but energized to do something and make a change!
ANSWER: According to Dr. Dow, if you answered A or B to this question, you may have symptoms of low-grade depression. Why? Anger doesn’t always mean depression. It’s okay to be angry about the things that should make you angry. Feelings are good! What's worrisome is not anger, but the feeling of helplessness. Helplessness is the first step to hopelessness, which is a big symptom of depression. And anxiety and depression have a closer relationship than you may realize. People who are depressed often feel anxious and worried, and people who worry are more likely to end up depressed. They kind of go hand in hand.
2. How has your schedule changed since the pandemic?
- A. It hasn’t… I still follow my pre-pandemic routine
- B. Somewhat— for example—maybe you hit the snooze a few times because you aren’t commuting
- C. I no longer follow a schedule – we take each day as it comes…
ANSWER: If you answered C to this question, you may have a symptom of low-grade depression—why? We’ve learned that when people experience significant disruptions in their daily routines, those disruptions can predispose people to depression. While many of us complain about how busy our schedules are, it represents expectations and patterns that are an important component of good mental health. The pandemic has left many people feeling adrift because those daily routines that were essential to us before the COVID-19 crisis have evaporated and been replaced by uncertainty and a lack of structure that can contribute to stress, anxiety and even clinical depression.
3. Describe your eating habits since the start of the pandemic…
- A. I’ve been snacking all day long
- B. I’m eating the same way I used to
- C. I’ve lost weight – sometimes I feel so anxious, I can’t stomach food…
ANSWER: If you answered a or C to this question, you may have a symptom of low-grade depression—why? When you’re struggling with depression, your eating habits often suffer. Some people overeat and gain weight, turning to food to lift their mood. Others find they’re too exhausted to prepare balanced meals or that they’ve lost their appetite.
4. It’s 4 p.m. and you get to pick a treat—which one sounds the most enticing?
- A. A nap!
- B. A big glass of wine
- C. A call with a friend
ANSWER: If you choose A or B, you may have a symptom of low-grade depression. Why? Dr. Dow wants to be clear that if you like wine or naps doesn’t automatically mean you are depressed. Sometimes we need both those things, and that’s okay. But, if you're continuously choosing activities of escapism vs. engagement, it could be a sign you are suffering from low-key depression. Pay special attention to your sleep cycle. People with depression have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep at night, prompting you to want to mid-day snooze.
The more questions you found pointing to low grade depression, the more likely you may have it. Of course, a depression diagnosis requires an evaluation from your doctor, so if you have chronic feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, or have suicidal thoughts, get in touch with your doctor right away. If you don't feel all of the symptoms of depression, but want to improve some of your tendencies of escapism or hopelessness, here are a few things you can try to counteract these feelings according to Dr. Dow.
Give social media a break
It’s important to stay up to date on the news, especially important findings related to COVID-19 and how to keep ourselves and our communities safe. But, our brains were not meant to process this constant stream of bad news bombarding every screen we’re staring at.
One study out of Wuhan, China found that social media use was rewarding up to a point, but excessive use of social media led to mental health issues and secondary trauma. Turn off the social media at 6 p.m. You want to read your news earlier in the day, so it gives you time to process. Don’t bring the anxiety to bed with you. Lack of sleep is also linked to depression. You can do this easily by going to the settings app in your phone, select “downtime” and it will shut off your apps at the time you specify.
Develop a schedule – even if you're staying at home
Lots of folks have lost their usual routines, and that unstructured time can also lead to rumination and passivity, high risk factors for depression. At the end of the day, check things off and make a to-do list for the next day, so you can look forward to things. It’s especially important to keep structure if you’ve lost your job. It’s natural for people to be upset when they’re unemployed. In addition to the financial issues, they lose the structure in their lives. One way of coping is to structure your time down to the hour.
Schedule an outdoor date with a friend or walk daily
According to Dr. Dow, we are social beings and we need to connect. That vitamin D from the sun is an instant mood-booster.
Instead of turning on the TV or mindlessly scrolling on your smartphone, try one of these tips. Something as simple as going on a walk can have real (and fast!) benefits on your mental health.