Today, let’s wrap up our weeklong discussions of COVID-19 with some new research on an issue we’ve touched on many times before: pandemic depression.
Because while the aggressive lockdowns of last spring may be behind us, the world is far from “back to normal” yet. And with another month before spring arrives, many people are still suffering through a winter like no other before it—one marked by an extra dimension of isolation and loneliness.
Obviously, there’s no easy fix. As with most things in life, the only way out is through. Thankfully, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And this latest study serves as a timely reminder that there are things you can do on a daily basis to help lighten the mental load in the meantime…
Loneliness leads to depression
This large, online study looked at more than 3,000 people in the U.K., aged 50 years or older. Subjects were participants of the existing PROTECT online study, which started in 2011 and currently has 25,000 participants.
This study was initially designed to look at the factors behind healthy aging, but researchers added a new questionnaire this past May to examine the impact of COVID-19, too. And they were able to draw from data dating all the way back to 2015.
The study is ongoing, with the goal of looking at longer-term outcomes. But here’s what surveys have shown thus far…
Before the pandemic hit, over the course of two weeks, lonely people reported symptoms of depression for at least “several” days. But these symptoms took a serious upswing during lockdown—with lonely people reporting depressive symptoms during more than half the days of the previous two weeks. Or, they reported a new symptom that lasted several days or more.
Meanwhile, people who weren’t lonely reported no difference in depression symptoms at all.
And given what we know about the consequences of isolation, I can’t say there’s anything shocking about this finding. But what might be even less surprising is the fact that these researchers also linked a decrease in exercise during the pandemic with an increase in depression and anxiety.
Stay connected and keep moving
The takeaway here is pretty clear: Loneliness and a lack of physical activity leads to depression. And sadly, many of us are learning that the hard way throughout this pandemic.
With so many of our old social routines suspended, finding new ways to stay connected remains more important than ever. So, get creative.
Join a virtual book club. Consider getting a pet. Video-chat with friends and family. Or even take up a new hobby, like cooking or crafting—and find others online who share in your same interests. (Don’t forget to check out my new show, “Cooking with Dr. Fred” while you’re at it!)
But just as importantly, make time to exercise consistently. It triggers the release of feel-good endorphins that kill pain, bust tension, elevate your mood, and offer a sense of calm. You’ll sleep better and feel better about yourself. And your immune system will benefit, to boot.
And yes, there are plenty of ways to work out at home. There are countless online videos, many of which are free, that you can attend from your own living room (or back yard!)—and many affordable apps.
You can also simply take a daily walk—which also gets you outside in nature for some fresh air and sunshine. Or simply walk up and down the steps in your home or the hallway of your apartment building.
No matter what type of exercise you choose, just make sure you take a few moments for yourself to do it—and keep doing it, every day. As always, aim for just 2.5 hours total per week… which breaks down to about 20 minutes of physical activity each day.
P.S. For additional ways to help simplify your life and help you thrive amidst the relentless chaos of this pandemic, check out my January 2021 issue of my monthly Logical Health Alternatives newsletter (“A new year with a new normal: Six resolutions to keep you thriving through the continued chaos of COVID-19”). Subscribers have access to that article and all of my past content in the archives. Not yet a subscriber? Click here to become one today!
“COVID lockdown loneliness linked to more depressive symptoms in older adults.” Science Daily, 01/22/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210122084936.htm)