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Normal Feelings During Abnormal Times

It has been widely reported (by the New York Times, Fox News, NPR, and others) that former First Lady Michelle Obama has been struggling with depression and anxiety. She says that her “low-grade depression” is due to the Covid-19 pandemic, race relations, and political strife in the United States. She is not alone.

A recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that more than 1 in 3 Americans report symptoms of depression and anxiety. One year ago, that number was 1 in 10 Americans. Clearly, this pandemic has infected our mental health as well as our physical health.

Michelle Obama’s Depression

Michelle Obama is incredibly popular. (It should be noted here that this article is not a political endorsement or position). According to several surveys, the former First Lady is one of the most admired individuals of all time. She is highly popular, respected, and well-liked. Her approval rating has been as high as 69% nationally. It can be argued that Michelle Obama has had a fortunate, remarkable, and fulfilling life. And yet, she is depressed. What gives?

On her new podcast Obama said that she’s waking up in the middle of the night because she is worried about things and she feels a sense of “heaviness.” She said she doesn’t feel herself, and that she has emotional highs and lows. She’s also frustrated with people who refuse to wear face masks during the Covid pandemic. And she’s deeply troubled by the current political and racial strife in our country.

Reactive Depression

If Michelle Obama needed a diagnosis, it would most likely be Adjustment Disorder, Mixed (anxiety and depression). This is a type of reactive depression that results from specific stressful events or situations. Depression is sometimes called “The common cold of mental illness” and more than 50 million adults have a diagnosable depression in the United States during any given year.

A reactive depression, or adjustment disorder, may include symptoms such as:

  • Low mood (“The Blues”)
  • Nervousness and worry
  • Hopeless and helpless feelings

The symptoms of dysthymia (mild depression) may include at least two of the following:

  • Depressed and/or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Low self esteem
  • Low energy, appetite disturbance, poor concentration
  • Feelings of hopelessness

During these crazy times – with a pandemic, economic turmoil, and political upheaval – depression and anxiety are practically universal. And the loneliness due to quarantine or social distancing doesn’t help. We need connection with others, and close physical connection is too risky during this pandemic.

So Now What Do We Do?

Michelle Obama said there are times she surrendered to her depressive feelings and tried not to be so hard on herself. She decided not to struggle against the feelings and force herself to do things that just felt too hard. This is actually a cornerstone of good mental health. That is, accept your feelings fully and without judgment, allow yourself time to rest and reflect, but don’t give up entirely.

Other useful, healthy suggestions include:

  • Exercise, eat nutritionally balanced meals, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Use a feelings journal to record your feelings every day (mad, sad, glad, ashamed, and afraid)
  • Give yourself permission to feel these feelings without judgment, and reflect on their meaning and purpose in your life
  • Keep your day structured with purposeful activities
  • Connect with others in a safe manner; talk to people you trust about your feelings
  • Take a break from the news
  • Treat yourself to comfort food and a good movie (in moderation)
  • Talk to a mental health professional (video and telehealth are now widely available)

For more information about anxiety and depression, please contact us today. Our psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists are available for scheduled sessions at our Center, or by video therapy and telehealth