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Neurofeedback As A Treatment For Major Depressive Disorder

Jane was beyond discouraged. She had been diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder a year ago. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants, but none of them proved effective. Besides, some of them had horrible side effects. She was about to give up; life was not worth living this way.

Then Jane read about Neurofeedback and its positive effect on depression. She decided to give it a try and was amazed at the results.

 

The Great Disabler

The World Health Organization has called depression “the leading cause of disability worldwide,” with 300 million individuals suffering across the globe. There are treatments for depression, but up to one-third—one hundred million people—don’t respond to treatment, even after trying various antidepressant medications. This is known as TRD, or Treatment Resistant Depression. For these folks, there are few options left.

But Neurofeedback is one remaining option that works. Decades of study and research have been done on the effect of Neurofeedback on depression and, as Jane discovered, the results are amazing and give hope to those with TRD.

 

This Is Your Brain On Depression

A number of years ago a television commercial showed an egg frying and sizzling in a hot pan. The caption was, “This is your brain on drugs.”

A similar commercial for depression could show an ominous grey cloud in a darkened sky, pouring unceasing, cold, hopelessly miserable rain. That’s how Jane felt all the time. Even when happy events happened around her, she felt a constant undercurrent of sadness and despair that just wouldn’t go away.

 

Your Brain

Different parts of your brain are responsible for different functions.

Note that emotional reactions are seated in the frontal lobe (the yellow left part of the brain in the diagram above).

When seen from the top, the brain looks something like the picture below. Note that there are two halves, or “hemispheres,” of the brain. In a minute, you’ll see why this is important…

(By the way, no one’s brain is this colorful!)

 

Brainwaves

Your brain is a very complex organ made up of billions of neurons with trillions of connections. The communication between neurons is at the root of all your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Messages are relayed between neurons in fractions of a second by electrical impulses.

Brainwaves are produced by synchronized electrical pulses of masses of neurons communicating with each other. Brainwaves travel at different speeds, or frequencies, in the brain, and are associated with different brain states, as seen below.

 

What Does This Have To Do With Depression?

Different brainwaves have been shown to be associated with different moods. Scientists can see your brainwaves by placing sensors, or electrodes, on your scalp, and connecting them to a computer. The electrical activity in various parts of your brain will show up on the screen.

Your mood is happier when the left frontal area of your brain is more active than the right frontal area. When the right frontal area is more active than the left, your mood is much worse.

Here’s where Neurofeedback comes in…

 

A Gym For Your Brain

When you want to get physically fit, you exercise various parts of your body. Positive results don’t show up after your first visit to the gym. It takes time and consistent effort to develop the body you want.

Neurofeedback is a way to help your brain become “fit” through intensive brain training exercises. The process is simple, painless, and non-invasive. It’s just learning! You learn to change the activity of your brainwaves through feedback and practice.

Here’s the procedure:

A trained clinician will attach electrodes to your scalp. No electricity will go into your head—the electrodes will simply measure your brain’s electrical activity and give you feedback that you can see on the computer screen.

You’ll go through various mental exercises, and the screen will give you instantaneous information about any changes you have been able to make in your brain’s electrical activity. When you meet the goal the clinician has set for you, you’ll get a signal.

Neurofeedback allows you to change the “mood network” in your brain. Studies show that Neurofeedback for depression results in more positive thinking patterns, and a reduction in the negative ways of thinking associated with depression.

Just as reshaping your body will take more than a few sessions in the gym, reshaping your brain will take numerous sessions too. Some people feel relief after 15–20 half-hour sessions; others may take 40 or 50 sessions to feel a difference. It just depends on each individual’s brain.

 

Real-Life Stories

The following accounts of John and Mary come from The Neurodevelopment Center, Inc., in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

“John had a longstanding history of problems with mood. Like most people with depression, John also suffered from anxiety. He had been in psychotherapy several times before and was taking three medications when he began Neurofeedback. We measured his level of depression and anxiety with the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories—well-established psychological tests. His scores showed moderate depression and a mild level of anxiety, even with the three medications. After ten weeks and 20 sessions of Neurofeedback, we repeated these tests. By this time, he had stopped all three medications. His scores showed very significant improvement in mood and anxiety. After his brief course of Neurofeedback training, he showed minimal signs of depression and anxiety—this time without medication. John has visited us periodically over the course of three years. He continues to do very well, with no return of symptoms.”

“Mary was a fifty-five-year-old woman with severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She was treated for many years with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, her treatment was overseen by one of the world’s leading experts in OCD. But years of this treatment regimen had yielded very little benefit. She came to us extremely discouraged, more or less hopeless, and largely unable to function. We used the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), a worldwide standard, to measure her depression severity before and then after 20 neurofeedback sessions. Mary’s mood had improved markedly. Her scores on the BDI decreased from a severe level score of 38 to a score of just 1! Her OCD symptoms diminished also…

“It is now five years later. Mary [does Neurofeedback training] a couple of times a month. This small amount of training maintains her with a positive mood and with very little anxiety.”

 

The Upshot

There is ample scientific proof, going back decades, that Neurofeedback works to alleviate major depression—even depression that is resistant to all other treatments. Because your brain is different from everybody else’s brain, no one outcome is guaranteed.

But it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

If you or someone you love is suffering from depression and would like to have a professional distinguish and identify the condition, please reach out to Elumind Customer Care. We can help by scheduling you for a therapeutic assessment with our clinical psychologist and create a personalized Neurofeedback protocol and training plan for you. You can literally begin recovering and healing right away.

 

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COVID-19

Why The COVID-19 Pandemic Could Become a Mental Health Pandemic

At the moment, the entire world is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its devastation on the physical bodies of millions of people is bad enough, but experts are fearful that many more millions of people will be victims of its impact on mental health.

According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), “the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning.”

 

How Is This Different?

Each year the world faces various strains of influenza. Globally, WHO estimates that influenza kills between 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. The numbers depend upon which strains of influenza predominate in any given year and how effective the vaccine is. As of this writing, the worldwide death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed 432,000 lives—right about in the middle of an estimated influenza death toll.

So why is the world terrified of COVID-19 and yet sort of  “same old, same old” about influenza?

 

The New Kid On The Block

Prior to the end of 2019, no one knew that COVID-19 even existed. And when it showed up, no one knew how to fight it, much less conquer it.

It was a brand new scary, nasty, and deadly enemy.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Earth is suddenly invaded and attacked by a species of creature we have never encountered before. The creatures don’t look like us—in fact, we can’t even see them, so we don’t even know when they are around us! They could be in our midst for days, even weeks, and we’d never know it, until it’s too late.

There are so many unanswered questions about these creatures:

  • How will they treat us?
  • Are they friendly?
  • Are they harmless?
  • Will they destroy us?
  • Will we be able to capture and control them?
  • Do we have the right weapons to fight them?
  • If we conquer them, could they ever come back?
  • Can we prevent another attack?

Continuing in our imaginations, we have always had leaders we could look to and trust to keep us safe, to answer the questions we have. But now even the smartest men and women on Earth are baffled. They have never seen anything like these creatures. They have no answers. They put forth a lot of ideas, but often the ideas contradict one another. Besides that, the experts keep changing their minds! We are incredibly confused, and we don’t know what to believe or whom to trust.

And while the experts are working day and night for solutions, the creatures keep on killing us.

Our leaders tell us to stay home, to hide from the creatures, to not go to work or school, to isolate ourselves. They’ve closed all the stores and all the places we like to go to amuse ourselves. They tell us not to associate with each other—you never know, your neighbor, who seems like a nice person, might be secretly harboring the creature…

That’s COVID-19 in a nutshell.

 

Fallout

It’s no wonder you’re afraid! And you’re not alone, either. In a recent poll, 56% of people said they have experienced at least one of the following symptoms of mental or emotional disturbance since the pandemic began:

  • Trouble eating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent headaches
  • Frequent stomach aches
  • Shorter tempers
  • Increased domestic violence
  • Increased child abuse
  • Increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self esteem

Another study reports that the pandemic could lead to tens of thousands of additional “deaths of despair” from drug and alcohol misuse and suicide due to unemployment, social isolation, and fears about the virus. (Note: If you are feeling suicidal or know of someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 now.) Those who had mental health disorders or substance abuse issues before the pandemic are likely to have an increased need for mental health services because of it.

 

Effects Of Closures and Mandatory Isolation

One of the main problems stemming from the pandemic is the isolation that is imposed upon us to prevent the spread of the virus.

Isolation affects people of all age groups, but older folks—who are especially at risk for dying from the virus—are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness, despair, anxiety, and depression as interactions with family and caregivers are severely limited.

Mental health issues may arise among people of school age due to fewer opportunities to engage with peers. Graduation ceremonies, proms, school attendance and other normal activities are cancelled. Students who live in violent or otherwise unhappy homes used to find school attendance a relief; now that relief is denied them.

Parents are suddenly called upon to be homeschool teachers, as some school districts mandate that learning continue while school buildings are closed. And if these parents work essential jobs outside the home, who will oversee their children, much less teach them, while they are at work?

If you’ve lost your job, you have an entirely new set of worries—paying bills, providing food, and keeping that roof over your head—not to mention trying to avoid the virus.

 

Front Line Heroes

And what about the people who are caring for the millions with the virus?

Recent research indicates that the rate of professional burnout in hospitals is especially high for young nurses, nurses in hospitals with lower nurse-to-patient ratios, and physicians. The risk of suicide is also high among physicians as they do all they can to heal patients, but are ultimately helpless to prevent tens of thousands of deaths.

In another recent poll, 51% of people who live with a healthcare worker in the household said worry and stress has had a negative impact on them, compared to 44% of people who do not live with a healthcare worker.

 

Other Vulnerable Populations

In some places, language is a barrier to understanding the virus and getting help. For example, in a shrimp processing plant in Newport, Oregon, USA, 124 cases of COVID-19 were recently detected. Among the afflicted are many Spanish-speaking workers. But also among them are people who belong to an indigenous group from Guatemala who don’t speak Spanish, but instead speak Mam, a language that is largely unwritten. As a consequence, many of the Mam-speakers did not understand that even though they felt all right, they tested positive and needed to stay home for 14 days. So they continued to circulate in the community, potentially spreading the virus, until an English-Mam speaker was located and was able to convince them to isolate themselves.

People of color and other ethnicities also account for a large proportion of the “essential” workforce, which means they are more at risk of contracting COVID-19. In fact, there are a higher proportion of deaths among people of color than among whites. The significant exposure of people of color to COVID-19 is likely to leave a lasting effect on their mental health.

 

Reasons For Hope

There are reasons for fear and depression during the pandemic. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if you are experiencing some of these issues. But the good news is, there are also reasons for hope.

And hope always overshadows fear and depression!

The pandemic will not last forever; it will end. In the meantime, practice isolation and other safety measures as advised or mandated by your national and local governments—but also keep in touch via social media with your family and friends. Connect with others who may benefit from your friendship and help. Giving service to others will always make you feel better.

Humans are social creatures. We need each other to survive all sorts of life’s problems. The pandemic is but a small moment in the vast scheme of things.

 

One More Thing…

A vaccination for the coronavirus is in the works. Look at this list of diseases that—not that long ago—used to maim or kill people, but are now prevented with vaccines:

  • Polio
  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza
  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Hib (a type of flu of kids under five; caused brain damage or death)
  • Measles
  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
  • Pneumococcal Disease (again, affected primarily children)
  • Rotavirus
  • Mumps
  • Chicken Pox
  • Diphtheria

Someday soon, the coronavirus will be on this list too!

 

No Need To Suffer!

If you are experiencing some mental health symptoms, please contact a mental health treatment provider. During the pandemic, many of us are offering “telehealth” services, which are services provided electronically, such as through an online video chat.

 (Again, if you are feeling suicidal or know of someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 now.)

Take care of your mental health. We’re in this together, and we’ll get through it together.

 

 

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The Surprising Effects of Depression On Your Thoughts and Senses

Like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we grow older. We become more forgetful; We have a more difficult time remembering what we had for dinner last night, or the name of the person we were introduced to last week. We used to remember appointments without writing them down, but now we have to keep an organizer.

The words on a page start getting fuzzy when we approach the age of 40, and we say “What?” more often as we ask people to repeat what they’ve said to us. Food we used to enjoy might start to smell or taste different.

It’s all a normal part of being human.

Did you know, though, that depression could have these same effects on us, no matter our age?

 

Cognitive Decline

“Cognitive” refers to the intellectual skills of our brains, such as memory, decision-making, judgment, attention, and reason. There are several areas of our brains that assist in cognition, and they are fueled and maintained by chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that travel with lightning speed along a path of trillions of nerve cells.

When we are depressed, the journey of the neurotransmitters from one nerve cell to the next is interrupted or slowed down, which has a profound effect on our thinking.

 

Executive Function

“Executive function” is your brain’s air traffic controller. It takes a jumble of thoughts and impulses and steers them in the appropriate directions, resulting in safe and productive outcomes. It allows you to plan, focus your attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks.

Executive function consists of three primary parts:
  • Working memory—allows you to process information, solve complex tasks, and understand deep ideas
  • Inhibitory control—allows you to concentrate, regulate your emotions, and control your behavior
  • Cognitive flexibility—allows you to adapt to new tasks quickly, and change your perspective. If you can’t adapt, you get stuck in old thought patterns, and people might think you stubborn and uncooperative.

Now let’s break these down.

 

Memory

If you’re suffering from depression you may have trouble remembering things—where you put your keys, the name of that person you were supposed to call, that really important dentist appointment that was—oops, last week… or someone takes the time to explain how to do something and you when you try it, you can’t remember a thing…

 

Attention

People with depression are more likely to experience problems with attention. You start a task, but just can’t concentrate enough to complete it. You get distracted easily and can’t focus. You just started a new book by your favorite author—and you’ve read the first page ten times but can’t recall a single word.

And then you lose patience and explode in anger or dissolve in tears.

 

Decision Making

Depression may render you unable to make even the smallest decisions. You can’t decide what to have for breakfast, what shoes to wear, or whether it would be better to run errands after work today or to wait until tomorrow. Such simple choices completely overwhelm you and you feel so paralyzed with indecision that you don’t make any choices at all.

When you arrive at work your boss lets you know that he’s decided to take a different approach to that project you’ve been working on for three weeks. He wants you to start over. You resist and begin arguing with him. You just can’t bear the thought of making the change. The very thought of starting again makes you feel absolutely exhausted, and you simply don’t know how you’re going to handle this…

And once again, you lose patience and explode in frustration…

 

And Now To Your Senses…

Scientific studies have shown that depression affects all five senses.

Sight

A Harvard University study revealed that when you experience depression, you’re not always able to detect differences in black and white contrasts, so the world takes on more of a grey hue. And the more depressed you are, the greyer the world seems.

Depression may also cause you to be more sensitive to light. This means that light levels that other people find normal can feel almost blinding or painful to you.

Smell

In the brain, olfactory bulbs are responsible for the sense of smell. Scientists have discovered that olfactory bulbs in depressed people are smaller than people who are not depressed. And the more depressed you are, the smaller your olfactory bulbs are likely to be.

Taste

Even your sense of taste can be altered by depression. Food you once loved now tastes bland and unappealing. So you add more seasoning a dish you’re cooking, and your family complains that it’s too salty or spicy (it tastes just fine to you).

Sound

When we feel depressed, many of us are more sensitive to sounds and noise. Everyday sounds can thus be difficult to cope with, resulting in more depression, irritability, and anxiety. Turn down the volume on the television or radio. To dull bothersome sounds you can’t control, you might want to wear ear protectors—the kind construction workers wear when they are using a jackhammer—or the spongy earplugs that fit in your ear canal.

Touch

When you live with depression, it’s common to feel more sensitive to pain and touch. An otherwise-welcome hug may be unpleasant or even painful to you. Different types of textures may seem intolerable. If this is the case, try to make your environment more acceptable and comfortable. If the texture of your clothing bothers you, wear a thin cotton layer under clothes that are more abrasive. Wrap yourself in a fluffy throw when you read or watch television.

Often being under something heavy can help you feel calm. Weighted blankets are great for this. Put one on your bed and snuggle underneath it. It’s liable to make you feel safe and restful.

 

There Is Hope

If you live with depression, don’t despair. There are ways to mitigate the effect it has on you.

 

Feed your brain

The link between diet and good mental health is growing. Eating a balanced diet and high quality foods will nourish your brain and give it the fuel it needs to keep your cognitive processes in top form.

A brain-friendly, mood-boosting diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. A diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can impair brain functions and worsen symptoms of depression.

 

Move Your Body

If you are someone who is depressed and finds it difficult to get out of bed, exercise is the last word you want to hear and the last thing you want to do. But if you force yourself to get up, get dressed, and get out the door—whether to a gym or on a walk around your neighborhood—you will feel better. Exercise stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain whose job it is to make you feel good. You’ll be glad you made the effort!

 

Engage in Therapy.

Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness; quite the opposite. Those who recognize they need help are the strongest among us. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you don’t need therapy, or that all therapists are “quacks,” or that you should be able to handle your problems by yourself. If you feel you could benefit from therapy, make the call and set up an appointment. Just doing so will make you feel better (it’s called “pre-session change”), and you’ll be on your way to living your best life.

 

Try Neurofeedback Therapy

The good news is that this is an exciting tie for neuroscience.  For example, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) recently studied the effectiveness of Neurofeedback as a complementary treatment of depression. Their results suggested that Neurofeedback treatments helped those patients feel well again and positively engage with life. Elumind is having great success with treating people through this therapy. So, brain-based therapies are also part of the solution to helping people with their experience with depression.

We understand what you are going through and are ready and willing to assist you.

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How to Manage Pandemic Depression

The current pandemic has physicians and other caregivers worried about more than the physical effects of the virus. Equally important, they are discovering that the virus is having negative effects on worldwide mental health—effects that may last much longer than the pandemic itself does.

It’s safe to say that no one living on earth today has any memory of the last great pandemic, which occurred in 1918. Therefore, 7.5 billion people are together experiencing something horrific for the very first time. And even more frightening, perhaps, is the fact that even the world’s best scientists—the ones we depend on for answers to get us through this—are having a hard time coming to an agreement about how to deal with the situation.

 

What Am I Supposed to Feel?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to believe that there are “acceptable” ways to feel in any given situation, and if you feel something other than those “acceptable” feelings, there’s something wrong with you. Let’s dispel that right now: Any way you feel is the right way for you to feel. No feeling is ever “wrong,” no matter what the circumstances.

Here’s a real-life example (though names have been changed): Tom and Jeannie had been married over 40 years and had four grown children. Jeannie contracted terminal cancer, and Tom took care of her at home the best he could, with help from medical professionals.

Tom came to work one day and said, “Jeannie died this morning.” His co-workers were horrified. “Tom, why are you here? You should be home! I certainly wouldn’t come to work if my spouse had just died!” Tom was gracious enough to forgive them their judgmental sentiments and simply said, “This is the best way for me to face this.”

Three months later, Tom met Elaine and fell in love. They were soon married. This time, it was his children who were horrified. “How could Dad do that to Mom?”

You might be judging Tom’s decisions and/or the children’s reactions, but here’s the truth—Tom and his children were all entitled to their feelings. None were right or wrong.

 

Common Reactions to Uncertainty

It’s natural—and absolutely acceptable—to be afraid in the current pandemic situation. We have no idea what’s going to happen, and fear of an uncertain outcome can cause depression.

But just because depression is a natural feeling doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t mitigate the depression to feel better. You aren’t obligated to be depressed until the pandemic passes!

 

Possible Mitigations

Following are some things to try to help boost your mood. They are not one size fits all—what works for you may not work for someone else. Just as emotional reactions to any given situation are individual, so are reactions to efforts at feeling better.

 

Deep Breathing

When we are under stress, our breathing tends to speed up; it’s a normal response. However, if we consciously slow down our breathing, our brains get the message that “all is well.” Concentrate on each slow breath, and think, “In…Out…” as you inhale and exhale. Do this as often as you feel the need.

 

Listen to Inspiring Music

Not everyone’s taste in music is the same, so choose the type that relaxes you. For some that may be classical; others may respond better to soft rock, jazz, or New Age. Sit or lie in a comfortable place and position, and lose yourself in the tunes. Hum or sing along, if you feel so inclined. Music brings joy to the soul.

 

Repeat a Meaningful Phrase

You may have been inspired by a phrase that means a lot to you. Maybe it’s “this too shall pass” or “I’m all right” or “I’ll get through this.” Whatever it is, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and repeat the phrase to yourself until you feel its calming influence.

 

Connect Through Technology

Even the most curmudgeonly among us needs human contact, and social isolation can get pretty lonely. Thank goodness for technology! (What did the people during the 1918 pandemic do without it?!) You can keep in contact with your loved ones, and even though you can’t hug them for now, seeing a smiling face reassuring you that they are all right will make you feel better too.

 

Work on That To-do List

Remember that closet you have been intending to clean out for a couple of years? Now would be a good time to tackle it, or any other chore you’ve been putting off (no judgment—we all do it!) Staying busy alleviates depression, and you’ll also get a fair amount of exercise while you do it.

 

And Speaking of Exercise…

The “E” word…it sends some people into a funk just hearing it! But studies have shown that exercise alleviates depression. YouTube has many exercise videos that make it fun to work out. Or find a video with a steady beat and dance around your living room. You might even laugh as you try to revive your disco moves. Whatever form of exercise you choose, you’ll feel better when you’re done—guaranteed.

 

Let Nature Heal You

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. The world’s population may be in chaos, but nature is still on schedule. Flowers are blooming, just as they always have. Birds are singing and building their nests. Trees are leafing out. The sun still rises and sets and affords us some beautifully colored skies.

Even if the weather is not suitable for taking a walk, you can still participate in nature electronically as others have documented their journeys and experiences. There are plenty of nature-related videos available at the click of a remote.

 

Learn!

A lot of streaming services are very kindly offering extended free trials or greatly reduced annual fees during this pandemic. Through these services you can learn more about history; science; travel; photography; music; art; drawing; literature; architecture. You can even learn a new language. The possibilities are many and varied.

 

Cry

This may seem like a strange suggestion, but crying is actually very good for you. When you experience stressful situations (the pandemic counts!), the body produces cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol attacks and damages the body’s organs. But here’s the cool thing: Scientists who have studied tears have discovered cortisol in tears—meaning that crying is the body’s natural way of getting rid of this harmful hormone. So, if you feel like crying—do it. Your internal organs will thank you.

 

Service to Others

Humans have an innate need to feel that their lives have meaning and purpose. Nothing gives us greater joy than helping others. Think about a time when you helped someone—didn’t it feel good?

Giving service to others greatly benefits your mental health. It makes you happy and increases your self-confidence, your sense of purpose, and your self-worth. It imparts a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. It’s a proven way to counteract the effects of depression.

 

One Final Word…

If you feel depressed to the point of being suicidal, please seek immediate help. In Canada, call 1-833-456-4566. If you are in the United States, call 1-800-273-8255. Don’t wait. The hotlines are available 24/7/365.

Choose life. The pandemic will pass. We’ll all feel better when it does, but in the meantime, take steps to alleviate depression. You’re worth it!

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Grief and Loss—Pandemic Style

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health care professionals have expressed concern about the short-term and long-term effects the pandemic may have on mental health. Not surprisingly, the concern most often expressed is depression and anxiety. However, there is one very real, very present aspect of mental health that needs immediate emphasis: grief and loss.

 

What Is Grief, Exactly?

When you hear the words “grief and loss,” chances are you immediately think of losing someone through death—and rightly so. But did you know that it is not only appropriate but also necessary, to grieve other kinds of losses?

Grief is the process our brains go through as we adapt to new circumstances brought about by a loss of some kind.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, studied grief and loss extensively. She theorized that in the process of grieving, the human mind goes through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (It’s beyond the scope of this article to examine each stage in detail, but if you’re interested, please read her book On Death and Dying.) She said that the stages didn’t always come one right after the other. For example, a person could be sad and depressed at the loss (“I miss Dad so much I can’t stand it…”) and feel angry (“Dad shouldn’t have driven when he’d been drinking!”) and be in denial (“I just can’t believe Dad is dead…”), all at the same time.

As you can see, grief can be a mish-mash of different unbearable emotions unrelentingly crushing the mind and heart.

 

Unbearable Distancing

We humans are “programmed” to socialize. As a result, cultures all over the world have rituals around death and mourning, and they generally include getting together in large groups to remember the dead and to comfort one another. But these days, when we are mandated to stay away from each other, the comforting rituals are interrupted, making grieving especially difficult. In fact, if a loved one has the coronavirus, we cannot be near them to hug them, to give them encouragement, or to say goodbye. Our grief is multiplied as we, and the dying, face death in isolation.

 

It’s Not Only Death…

As if the massive loss of life caused by the pandemic weren’t enough to have to come to grips with, we face other types of losses that cause just as much grief as death does.

 

Here are a few scenarios that may trigger a grief response:

  • Loss of job
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of sense of safety and security
  • Loss of a sense of being carefree
  • Loss of control over one’s daily life and destiny
  • Loss of contact with loved ones
  • Loss of daily routine
  • Loss of freedom to live life without a mask or social distancing
  • Loss of planned events (graduations, weddings, funerals)
  • Loss of traditions to support the grieving process
  • Loss of the world you knew

 

Each of these significant losses requires that you grieve in order to adapt to a “new normal.”

 

But I Feel Guilty…And So Should You!

An unfortunate characteristic of us humans is that we tend to judge—not only judge others, but also judge ourselves. It’s something we need to avoid like the plague, because it’s incredibly destructive. Following are two examples:

  1. Mary lived in a region that was subject to tornados. One summer day the unthinkable happened: a tornado destroyed her home and those of several of her neighbors. Mary survived by sheltering in place. Her next-door neighbor Penny lost not only her home, but also her mother, who was in Penny’s back yard and was unable to get to safety in time.

Mary was grateful to have survived, but she was devastated that the storm destroyed all her children’s baby pictures and other precious, irreplaceable family mementos. She wept when she thought of that part of her history being gone forever.

Then she started feeling guilty for feeling bad. “Penny lost her mother, after all! I shouldn’t feel sad. I’ve just lost ‘things’.” Every time Mary started to cry over her own loss, she started feeling guilty and told herself, “You have no right to feel sad! Shame on you!”

The Lesson: Don’t compare your loss to anyone else’s. You have the right to feel any way that you feel, no matter what your circumstances or the circumstances of others. Grief is valid for any loss, not only when someone dies. And no loss is “better” or “worse” than another. Your healing will come more quickly if you acknowledge the fullness of your loss.

  1. Sandra had been divorced for four years when she heard that her ex-husband Jim had died in a traffic accident. Although the marriage had been difficult, not all of the times had been bad ones. She began to cry uncontrollably when she learned of his death.

When Sandra told her friend Linda about Jim’s death, she was shocked at Linda’s angry response: “You have no right to feel sad after all he put you through! You should be glad he’s dead! I don’t feel one bit of sympathy for you!”

The Lesson: No one has the right to tell you how you should or should not feel in any given circumstance. The truth is you are entitled to feel whatever you feel. Ignore the judgmental comments of others and grieve your loss freely.

 

Care For Yourself

It’s extremely important to take good care of yourself as you grieve the losses the pandemic has produced in your life. Grief applies an inordinate amount of stress to body, mind, and spirit, and stress can have negative consequences on your wellbeing. Get enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition.

Even though the grieving process is healing, it’s no fun. That being said, humour is an innate coping strategy and is an important part of healing. Don’t judge yourself, or anyone else, if you experience light moments. It’s an important part of the restorative process.

Try to continue your hobbies or other activities you can safely enjoy. Set and maintain healthy boundaries. If someone comes to you with a request, don’t be afraid to say no if you feel you can’t deal with it. Be good to yourself.

 

You Can Do This!

Remember when we used to be able to board an airplane without going through security checks? When we could take our computers and other electronics with us—no questions asked? When we didn’t have to take off our shoes in order to be approved to fly? When we could get on the plane with a bottle of water brought from home?

There was grumbling when the new restrictions were imposed. Grumbling at change is human nature; we love routine and predictability. It makes us feel safe and in control.

But we survived the changes in air travel. What initially felt like such huge impositions on our freedom are now routine. We hardly give them a second thought. Maybe we have to get to the airport earlier than we used have to so that we can stand in line at security. But we adapted. Now it’s no big deal.

You’ll get through this pandemic. Allow yourself to grieve your losses, but look toward the future too, because it will come and will bring new and rewarding aspects to life.

And remember, even though we must physically distance ourselves from each other, we are all in this together. We at Elumind Centres for Brain Excellence understand what you are going through and are ready and willing to assist you.