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12 Tips for Managing Anxiety, Depression During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered worsening symptoms for many who are living with anxiety or depression, while simultaneously making it more difficult to get treatment. Justin Case/Getty Images
  • Prescription fills for depression and anxiety peaked in 2020.
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety have worsened during the pandemic.
  • There are ways to help with the cost of depression and anxiety medications.

The pandemic has caused mental strain for many people across the world. And for those living with anxiety and depression, the impact is harsh.

According to a report from GoodRx, prescription fills for depression and anxiety drugs reached an all-time peak in 2020.

The survey of 1,000 Americans who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression found that 63 percent of people reported their anxiety or depression symptoms were “worse” or “much worse” during the COVID-19 pandemic than they were before.

“Living through a stressful situation, such as financial insecurity, family upheaval, trauma, loss, or of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic can certainly be a trigger for worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety. For folks already managing their anxiety and/or depression, life stressors can tip the balance from healthy functioning to poor mental health,” Sasha Guttentag, PhD, a research scientist at GoodRx, told Healthline.

Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and professor at Adelphi University, says negative life events are the number one trigger that causes relapse or a worsening of symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In the GoodRx survey, the most commonly reported experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic were difficulty with motivation to eat healthy and exercise, which are two important factors for alleviating depression and anxiety symptoms.

“During times of crisis, self-care is often difficult to maintain. Because many of us are busy keeping the fires in our lives from spreading, we’re usually too fatigued to practice mindful eating, exercise or other refueling activities,” said Serani.

She suggests delegating chores to others, limiting doing too much in a day, and making the promise to do one self-soothing activity a day, such as taking a bath, drinking a cup of tea, taking a nap, or practicing deep breathing for 5 minutes.

When it comes to exercise, Guttentag points out that a small amount of exercise releases chemicals in the brain that automatically improve mood.

“Many people may not find it feasible to maintain their pre-pandemic exercise routines, and that’s okay. Regular exercise can still be beneficial for your mental health, even if it’s something as simple as going for a walk each day or taking 5 minutes to stretch or do some yoga poses. Hobbies like gardening can also count as exercise,” she said.

For those who are finding it more difficult to make healthy eating choices, consider starting with small changes.

“For instance, if you find yourself stress eating at home, try to stock up on healthy snack options and swap out processed foods for natural alternatives with more nutritional benefits,” Guttentag said.

Despite all the stress that the pandemic brings, there are ways to help manage your mental health during COVID-19. Consider these 12 simple tips:

While prioritizing sleep isn’t always easy, Guttentag says it’s crucial for well-being.

“If anxiety or depression is affecting your sleep, consider limiting your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake, creating a bedtime routine, and finding a relaxing activity — like reading, journaling, or listening to quiet music — to slow your brain down before bed,” she said.

Sticking to a routine for sleep, mealtimes, exercise, and work can help manage stress.

“Studies tell us that when we keep to a schedule during traumatic or stressful times, we cope better,” Serani said.

During challenging times, finding ways to be grateful can help cope.

“When we take note of the good things in our lives, it bumps up the feel-good hormones of serotonin and dopamine,” said Serani.

Practicing mindfulness meditation has gained popularity as a way to deal with depression, anxiety, and stress, adds Guttentag.

“If you’re new to mindfulness, you can start practicing by taking a few minutes to find a quiet place, either sitting or lying down. Try to focus on your breathing and notice your inhales and exhales, allowing your thoughts and feelings to move away from you,” she said.

Although social distancing requires more time alone, Guttentag says getting support from others can help improve depression and anxiety symptoms.

“Staying connected with loved ones can be hard during the pandemic, but over time it can help you feel less lonely. In addition, many people find it helpful to work with a peer-support group, either in person or online. There are many community resources since depression and anxiety are both very common,” she said.

If you are anxious about contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, use contactless delivery and curbside services as often as possible for items like food, clothes and medications.

“Many drug stores have free delivery that you can access as well. The added stress and worry about shopping during the pandemic can be eased with these services,” said Serani.

Consider using teletherapy to keep routine check-ins and receive therapy and treatment from a mental health professional.

“Therapy can help you find new ways of thinking about your situation and skills to cope when your thoughts and feelings take over… When choosing a therapist, make sure to explore your options to find the right fit for your treatment needs, budgetary constraints, and most importantly, who you feel the most comfortable with,” said Guttentag.

If you’re unable to connect with your mental health professional and need to talk with someone immediately, resources such as the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available 24/7 to provide support.

According to GoodRx, 20 percent of respondents who take a prescription for depression or anxiety reported that they were unable to afford one of their medications during the pandemic, limiting prescription accessibility and causing changes in adherence to medication.

Additionally, 37 percent of respondents reported at least one issue related to administration of their medication, including missing, skipping, or rationing prescriptions; changing pharmacies; or having issues with a pharmacy refilling their prescription.

If you’re unable to afford your anxiety or depression medications, consider the following.

Because medications can vary in price from pharmacy to pharmacy, research where it makes most sense to get yours. At GoodRx you can compare prescription prices and find coupons for discounts at local pharmacies, regardless of insurance.

Serani suggests contacting the pharmaceutical company that makes your medication to ask for coupons or price reduction promo codes. Pharmaceutical companies also offer patient assistance programs to help people that are struggling to afford their medications.

To ease concerns that you might run out of medication if quarantined, in some instances, insurance providers may allow you to refill your prescription sooner than the “refill date.”

“Many companies are making accommodations like this during COVID,” Serani said.

Rather than filling medication monthly, ask your doctor to write a prescription for a 3-month supply. This may reduce the total cost of the prescription.

If your pharmacy is having trouble keeping your medication in stock, Serani recommends asking for samples of medication from your physician.

She also suggests, “[Ask] your mental health practitioner if he or she can lower the session fee if job loss, financial strain or other stressors make continuing therapy questionable.”

If COVID-19 is keeping you from visiting your doctor or pharmacy, but you need a new prescription, consider using a telemedicine service.

“Now might also be a good time to check out mail-order pharmacies — they often offer great discounts and free shipping,” said Guttentag.