MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE PANDEMIC
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According to the data above from the Office for National Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 42% of people experienced depression or anxiety in the US in 2020 which was an 11% increase from 2019.
What caused this increase?
Adolescents have always been at higher risk for developing depression and anxiety, but the isolation and change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic only heightened the risk. Quarantine and isolation became the new norm in early 2020, but the big shift from daily social interaction to stay-at-home procedures took a big toll on people’s mental health. Being alone for long periods of time has long been linked to symptoms of depression and that was combined with the stress and anxiety that came with all of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.
Research shows that adolescents specifically experienced depression or anxiety at rates of about 56% in 2020, whereas adults (24 and older) averaged about 39%. As stated previously, young adults are already at higher risk for poor mental health and there was a multitude of factors that could have worsened their pandemic experience. These factors include online learning, closure of schools, and lack of social interaction that is necessary for development. And beyond just symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, adolescents also had an increased risk for difficulty sleeping and suicidal thoughts.
There is a lot of research that demonstrates the positive neurological impacts that gratitude practice has. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude increases activity levels in the hypothalamus, which is the area of the brain that has control over stress levels. Gratitude also increases our dopamine levels, which is also known as the “reward neurotransmitter” because it makes us feel good.
Below are links to more information on the positive effects of gratitude practice:
Image via natalieheeley.com
So how can we use it?
Because gratitude practice is very useful in improving our mental health, we should be using it as a tool during the pandemic to help us cope with our current situations as well as to prevent long-term effects.
There are many ways to practice gratitude, none of which are incredibly challenging or time-consuming…
Journaling: This practice entails writing down 3-5 things that you’re grateful for on a given day. This exercise encourages us to think back on the day and recognize the good things that happened. It works best if you do it at least a few times per week, but not too much where it feels unnatural or forced. There are also guided journals with pre-made prompts that can be helpful like The Five Minute Journal.
Meditation: This exercise is simply setting aside 15-30 minutes to sit calmly and quietly, devoting this time solely to reflecting on the things you’re grateful for. This is similar to regular meditation but instead of focusing on your breathing, you focus on anything you can think of to express gratitude towards and how that expression makes you feel.
Letter: This one has a lot of research to back up how impactful it is! All you have to do is write a spontaneous letter to someone in your life. Think of all the reasons why they are important to you and write them in the letter. Then, the most important part of the process is that you deliver (or read aloud) the letter to that person.
“The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”Zig Zigler
LET’S GET STARTED!
Here are some quick gratitude prompts to get you started with practicing gratitude:
I’m grateful for these three things I hear:
I’m grateful for these three things I see:
I’m grateful for these three things I smell:
I’m grateful for these three things I touch/feel:
I’m grateful for these three things I taste:
I’m grateful for these three colorful things:
I’m grateful for these three animals/birds:
I’m grateful for these three friends:
I’m grateful for these three teachers:
I’m grateful for these three family members:
I’m grateful for these three things in my home:
I’m grateful for these three experiences:
(Prompts via positivepsychology.com)
I hope you enjoyed reading my project. I would love any/all feedback you have for me so feel free to leave a comment! And if you have already tried or are planning to try any of these gratitude practices, let me know in the comments!