Dealing with depression: thinking errors to avoid during the lockdown

By Dr. Herbert Zirima
Our nation is now into its second week of the lockdown declared by the Government to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The message is still that people should stay at home and practice all other regulations put in place to minimize the spread of the infection. At this point, most people have coped with the lockdown; they came up with routines, activities and programs to take them through the lockdown. However, there are some who may still be struggling to cope with the temporary change in lifestyle. They could be feeling as if they are ‘holed up’ and wandering when the lockdown will end. They could be seeing the world, their environment in a gloomy way, feeling persistently sad, lacking sleep or sleeping way too much and generally losing interest in activities. That person could be a close family member, a child, parent, spouse, friend or yourself. This short article seeks to briefly explains how you can identify if someone is tilting towards depression during this lockdown which I may just refer to here as ‘lockdown depression’. Falling into lockdown depression is a real possibility during this period due to the inactivity that some people may experience and a change in social life caused by staying or working from home.
Depression is defined as a mental health disorder characterised by a persistently depressed mood, intense sadness or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life lasting for many days to weeks. Following this definition, it may not be possible to diagnose someone as depressed when they exhibit symptoms in just a few days. However, it is important to identify and arrest thinking errors that may lead to depression. The first thing that we have to realize is that thoughts are just interpretations of reality. When we are depressed our interpretations can be very biased and the bias is always negative. The list that follows shows the errors that you must look out for.
Overgeneralising – in this case you think because an unpleasant thing has happened to you once, it will always happen and as such you feel upset. In this lockdown, when you virtually spend the whole day at home, it is likely that someone may pass an unpleasant comment on you. Overgeneralising is when you label yourself as ‘stupid’ or ‘totally hopeless’ or as ‘a loser’ simply because of one or a few unpleasant comments. Understand that people may pass negative comments on you because of their own frustrations; you can also make mistakes and failures because you are human. Do not use overgeneralisations by giving yourself a general label on the basis of perhaps one mistake or one failure. Do not let a few errors; a few reckless comments push you into lockdown depression.
Personalising – here you think you are solely responsible for a negative or unpleasant event, when often there is little basis for this conclusion in fact. For example, people do not seem to be enjoying themselves very much at home during this lockdown and you think ‘it is my fault, I am not entertaining enough’. You carry the weight for everything that goes wrong; you think everything is related to some deficiency or inadequacy in yourself. When you notice such kind of thinking, realize that you may be tilting towards lockdown depression. You are not and you cannot be solely responsible for all the bad things that happen around you.
Black and white thinking – in this case you may evaluate yourself or other people and situations in extreme categories. For example, the thinking that either you succeed at everything or you are a failure; either you are a good mother at all times or you are a bad mother. When you see yourself or your loved one get into that kind of thinking help them to realize that life is not all about black and white, there are a lot of other colours in between. They do not have to take extreme positions. Show the right kind of thinking by being rational. Demonstrate to them that situations in life do not exist on the extremes. It is usually because of taking such extreme positions that people end up in constant conflict.
Jumping to conclusions – you or your loved one may jump to a negative conclusion even when there is insufficient evidence to do so, even when there is no evidence at all. For example, if you delay preparing their meal, they may conclude that ‘you don’t care about me’. When you see someone rushing to such kind of negative conclusions, know that they maybe tilting towards lockdown depression. You need to assist them by making them realize that the evidence that they have may not be sufficient to make such a conclusion. Sometimes you can jump to unrealistic negative conclusions about the future. We have probably seen by now some people who already state that ‘this COVID-19 pandemic will only get worse’, ‘the lockdown will last for several months’, ‘I’m going to lose my job’. This negatively biased fortune-telling can only increase depressed feelings and create intense hopelessness regarding the future. There is no reason to jump to negative conclusions without sufficient evidence, it does not benefit anyone, it only creates lockdown depression in yourself or others. It would be beneficial to be optimistic, have a positive outlook.
Catastrophising – in this case, you say to yourself ‘I am ruined’, ‘I made a dreadful mistake’ or ‘this is terrible’. Such phrases indicate that you are likely blowing a mistake, a fault or an ailment out of proportion. You are magnifying your faults or liabilities and minimizing your qualities. This biased view leads to low self-esteem and lack of confidence in oneself.
As we move towards the last week of the lockdown period, ensure that you do not suffer from lockdown depression by monitoring your thinking patterns. Your feelings are inextricably tied up with your thoughts or interpretations. You can change the depressed feelings and your behaviour by learning to correct these negative biases in your thinking.
Thank you for reading. I wish you a fruitful and depression-free lockdown period. Use this period to invest in yourself and your loved ones.
(Herbert Zirima is a registered educational psychologist, a full member of the Zimbabwe Psychological Association, a senior lecturer and chairperson in the department of psychology at Great Zimbabwe University. He can be contacted at hzirima@gzu.ac.zw).

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