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Self-Isolation & Depression: What You Can Do, From A Psychiatrist

May 21, 2020

If you're feeling depressed from all the social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, you've got company. According to a recent report, the number of new prescriptions for antidepressants filled during the pandemic jumped by nearly 19%. At our clinics, calls from people who have depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have spiked.

If you're facing a similar experience, know that you're not alone. Here are some brain-based ways to boost mood that I recommend to patients who are trying to feel better during this uncertain time.

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Rewire your brain's "negativity bias."

The human brain is hardwired for negativity—it's part of what has helped us survive since our cave-dwelling ancestors were on the lookout for creatures that could kill us. But now is not the time to let your brain wallow in fearful, depressing thoughts. Did you know that whenever you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals? We typically have about 60,000 thoughts a day, so that's a lot of chemicals flooding our systems.

Whenever you have a sad, hopeless, or worthless thought, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad. On the flip side, hopeful, loving, happy thoughts release chemicals that make you feel good. While you're sheltering at home, if most of your thoughts are focused on what you hate about self-isolation, your brain and body will be drowning in feel-bad chemicals.

To trigger the release of those feel-good neurochemicals while you're practicing social distancing, you have to proactively search out the silver linings of self-isolation. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What's great about staying home?
  • Are you loving that you don't have to sit in traffic or get on a packed subway to get to work?
  • Do you have more time to learn something new, like how to meditate?
  • Do you have more time to spend with your pup or kitty?
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In addition, be sure to bookend your days with a dose of positivity. First thing in the morning, tell yourself, "Today is going to be a great day!" And at night when you're ready to fall asleep, ask yourself, "What went well today?" 

Each of these natural remedies may help aid your mood, but if you're experiencing prolonged symptoms of depression, consider reaching out to a medical professional. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal depression, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Daniel Amen, M.D.
Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist

Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.