If you’ve been feeling more anxious or depressed lately, you’re absolutely not alone. During stay-at-home orders, we have not only been sheltering in our homes all day but have also been cut off from spending time with loved ones, going out to eat, and enjoying many other simple pleasures that many of us use to take care of ourselves. Since our current political climate is so tense, we also spend a lot of time scanning the news and taking in a lot of intense information. The combination of living in chronic uncertainty and being isolated from friends and family is enough to make anybody’s mental health go south.
“The stress, anxiety, and depression that people are feeling right now in reaction to their environment is completely normal and understandable,” Amanda Sellers, a licensed psychologist based in Pennsylvania who specializes in women’s health and anxiety, tells Allure. “You’re having a very normal reaction to very abnormal circumstances.”
If you are experiencing poor mental health for the first time, it can feel hard to take care of yourself. There are many ways you can tend to your mental health, including talking to a therapist or trying medication, even if it feels like the world is falling apart.
How do I know if I have anxiety or depression?
For people who have never experienced poor mental health before, it can be difficult to know whether you’re just having a series of bad days or are dealing with a mental health issue.
“It's normal to feel anxious, sad, frustrated, and exhausted in response to various life stressors, especially given all that's going on in the world right now,” says Sellers. “But if your strong feelings are getting in the way of you taking care of yourself or completing tasks, if they are negatively impacting your sleep or appetite, if your worries are all-consuming and all you can think about, or if you are feeling hopeless and suicidal, those are definitely signs to seek professional help.”
Remember that you are never alone in feeling anxious or depressed about life.
There are many helpful resources and screening tools available online, including Psychology Today and Mental Health America to help you determine if you are anxious, depressed, or if this may just be a period of increased stress. If you determine that you might be dealing with anxiety or depression or if you feel like you just want someone to talk to about how you’re feeling, seeking therapy could be a good option for you.
How can I talk to a doctor about my mental health?
If you’ve never spoken to a doctor about your mental health or sought out therapy to help you cope, it can feel overwhelming. This is true t under normal circumstances, let alone the state of the world right now. And while dealing with poor mental health can feel isolating, it’s important to remember that you are never alone in feeling anxious or depressed about life.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, I have seen an uptick in the number of people seeking therapy to address grief, anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms,” Anisah Miley, a licensed clinical social worker based in New York City, tells Allure. “People are struggling to cope with grief associated with the loss of family and friends, the loss of livelihood, financial resources, role, and purpose, the loss of everyday social connections, and the loss of one's sense that the world is a safe place.”
But seeking therapy can still feel scary, especially if you are experiencing anxiety or depression for the first time. One barrier that often prevents people from speaking to a doctor about their mental health is a lack of familiarity with the language needed to talk about your feelings with a professional. Luckily, Sellers says, there are ways to learn more about your feelings even before you call a doctor.
“It can definitely feel a little scary if you don’t know the jargon for symptoms you’re experiencing prior to meeting with a therapist,” she explains. “But there’s a lot to read online that can help you even before you make contact with a doctor. I would recommend following psychologists on Twitter, or doing some reading from the American Psychological Association and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.”
Because people are social distancing right now, nearly everyone has to attend therapy virtually, which can present its own set of challenges. It’s difficult to recreate the intimate setting of a therapist’s office over Zoom, and especially if you are new to speaking with a psychologist, this can add another level of intimidation. But, according to Sellers, there can also be upsides to teletherapy, and you shouldn’t feel discouraged by this change in format.
“With COVID-19 still lingering, most psychologists are providing telehealth, which I think makes it easier for a lot of patients to seek therapy,” she says. “You don't have to go to anyone’s office, you can speak from the privacy of your own home, and in some ways, it’s a lot more comfortable than the way people normally start therapy for the first time. That’s why I think now is a really great time to seek psychotherapy.”
How do I know if I need to take medication?
If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression for the first time, it’s natural to be interested in taking medication that may help ease these feelings. While that might be the right course of action for some people, starting medication should be taken seriously, and therapy is usually the better first move before you take anything that a doctor prescribes you, according to Sellers.
“If you wanted to start medication, you should consult with your primary care physician or a psychiatrist,” Sellers explains. “While it’s totally fine to consult with a medical doctor about medication, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed because of your current situation, these issues normally aren’t chronic, they’re acute.”
According to Sellers, therapy would often be a starting point when first addressing your mental health, and adding medication to therapy over time can be a viable option, if needed. Your therapist or psychologist, while they offer valuable resources, cannot prescribe medication but can refer you to a psychiatrist who can.
Although medication has helped many people with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, it’s also important to know that different medications can affect people differently, and it can also take a while to find the correct dosage or create medication to fit your needs. There are many helpful guides available to help you determine whether medication is the right move for you, but it’s important to get a consultation with a licensed therapist first, especially if you are dealing with mental health problems for the first time.
How do I get started when I can’t even get out of bed?
While most of us understand that therapy can be a very useful way to process our emotions or get a better handle on our mental health, it can still be difficult to take the first steps to seeking out a doctor. One of the main reasons people don’t seek therapy is due to lack of motivation.
“Low motivation is a typical symptom of depression,” Sellers says. “When you’re depressed, it can be hard to take care of oneself on a basic hygiene level let alone seek therapy. When we’re feeling this way, it’s important to push ourselves to do things like eat, take a shower, and call a therapist, even if we don’t really want to, because we know that it’s what’s best for us and we’re going to feel better afterwards even if doing it is hard.”
Even when we know it’s important to do these things, it can still feel impossible to start on rough days. According to Sellers, it’s important to start small: break big tasks into smaller ones, and don’t put yourself on too rigid of a schedule. Even if you just reach out to one therapist a day or make a to do list and slowly complete tasks on it, Sellers says, it will help you in the long run.
How can I get over the stigma attached to therapy?
Another reason many people don’t seek therapy is due to the stigma around therapy and poor mental health. While the negative connotation around therapy in the United States has significantly lessened in recent years, there is still a big stigma around therapy and discussions of mental health in certain communities, particularly in the Black community. This negative connotation can be debilitating for Black people, especially right now, as the escalated racial tension in America can be particularly draining and emotionally upsetting for Black Americans.
Getting over the stigma attached to therapy is certainly easier said than done. If the thought of speaking to a therapist is too anxiety-inducing for you at the moment, it might be helpful to follow therapists on social media (particularly Black therapists, like Dr Thema, a licensed psychologist on Twitter) who explicitly address why therapy is important for Black people and how regularly checking in on your mental health can be beneficial to every aspect of your life.
Miley tells Allure that it’s imperative that Black people tend to their mental health in every way possible right now. “To Black people who may be struggling and are hesitant to reach out due to stigma around pursuing therapy, I would encourage you to spend some time with your negative thoughts about therapy and question if they are serving you in a meaningful way,” Miley says. “Many people can be misguided by the idea that seeing a mental health care provider is ‘weak,’ or they may think their concerns aren’t serious enough to seek help. I counter those thoughts and inform clients that seeking care is one of the most empowering things you can do. By doing this, you are actively taking control of life and driving it in the direction you want to go.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure