One year from the first COVID-19 cases in the U.S., large scale vaccination efforts provide some hope as frontline workers and long-term care residents are immunized. 

However, with COVID-19 cases rising daily, we are still left with much uncertainty as we enter the first weeks of 2021. Uncertainty about vaccine availability, employment, finances, childcare, and when and if schools will reopen. Uncertainty about when we can get up close and personal and have social interactions with friends and family.

As sheltering in place and social isolation continues, the risk of depression and anxiety increases. If you want to fight COVID-19 effectively, you have to manage anxiety and depression first. I know this because I have studied depression for the past 18 years.

A leading cause of disability, depression affects 17.3 million adults in the U.S. with higher rates noted during the pandemic disproportionately affecting racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers with increased substance use and suicidal ideation. 

We are constantly being bombarded with news and social media on how to prevent exposure and reduce the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and sanitizing our hands. COVID-19 has turned every facet of our lives upside down from sheltering in place, social distancing, rising unemployment, fear of eviction, and food insecurity. On top of this, much of the population has had to rethink their home spaces. Once a place of sanctuary, people must now accommodate a multitude of tasks including working from home, providing childcare, homeschooling, exercising, and spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with family members, creating a new set of challenges. Many families are also accommodating returning college kids. 

Many of the feelings are to be expected given the challenges and chaos. However, there appears to be no end in sight as COVID-19 has settled in like an extended and unwanted houseguest. Continued uneasiness and hopelessness with no end in sight can lead to despair, anxiety, and even depression.

How do you know if you have depression? If you start withdrawing from activities you normally like to do or you start feeling sad and hopeless, reach out to your healthcare provider. You can also take this short test from Mental Health America which will provide mental health resources based on your score.  In the meantime, get vaccinated once the COVID-19 vaccine is available and here are 4 things you can start doing to help you stay mentally and physically healthy:

  1. Maintain a consistent routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Studies show that consistency in routine maintains our circadian rhythm (internal clock) with any changes, contributing to depressive symptoms.  
  2. Get physical! Get out of bed, get outside, and do some form of physical activity every day. Studies consistently report the “feel good” euphoria after physical activity due to the release of endorphins.  
  3. Be social, talk with your friends and family, or arrange safe and socially distant visits. The mental health benefits of social support are well documented.
  4. Follow CDC guidelines, wear masks, stay at least 6 feet away from anyone living outside your home, and please avoid crowds.  

Deepika Goyal, PhD, FNP-C, Professor of Nursing at San Jose State University, Nurse Scientist, Nurse Practitioner, Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.