Uncertainty + Idle time = Pandemic Depression


Erich Miller

When people have too much time on their hands, they can get trapped in negative thoughts.

by Gillian Humphreys and Cameron Pattison

New baby, bundled up, headed home from the hospital… but instead of welcome home banners and the family waiting to cook you a meal, advise you from experience, and shower the baby with love… you feel trapped, alone, and confused. You’re a parent for the first time, trying to recover your body, running on no sleep, while also trying to learn how to raise an infant. With no support, help, or voice of reason, one of the hardest things in life becomes even harder. 

Rebecca Howes had to navigate this scenario in Summer 2020.

 “I’m not able to visit my friends and family for them to meet my baby,” said Rebecca Howes, LHS behavioral support specialist.

Not only has COVID-19 quarantine affected new parents, but it has also impacted everyone in some way, shape or form both positively and negatively. The struggle is real.

With the new uncharted territory comes a lot of uncertainty, which for most people can induce anxiety.

Besides uncertainty, the quarantine has created pockets of extra time, and too much idle time can also lead to anxiety, depression, concentration issues, and memory loss.

The numbers for both depression and anxiety in America have been on the rise through the year of 2020.

Having too much free time can be just as bad, or even worse, than not having enough of it. When people are disengaged in activities or anything to keep themselves distracted from their suffering, it’s very easy to get trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions, which is really hard to pull themselves out of. 

According to The Atlantic‘s Joe Pinsker, the healthy amount of free time for a person to have in a day is two and a half hours.

“Quarantine has caused me major anxiety,”  said Pam Knight, a graduate of Linganore High School and now addiction counselor. “When I’m feeling anxious, I spend my time journaling and outside.”

Even though times like these may leave people feeling hopeless, there are some relatively easy solutions.

The more time we spend occupying ourselves with activities that make us happy, the less time we have to dwell on negative thoughts, and the happier we will feel.

For example, in the SEL lessons, Coach Rudy talked about making time for the most important things in our lives, the big rocks.  He made an analogy about the big rocks being family, school and other demands–they come first.  The little pebbles are the extras and can fit in after the big rocks.

Depression and anxiety, especially from extra time on a person’s hands, can be due to lack of positive reinforcement. 

Behavioral activation forces a person to get into a schedule to reduce them from having too much idle time. This helps many people become busy with positive and enjoyable activities rather than negative.

Victoria Chamberlain said, “I usually watch YouTube and Netflix and take my dog out on many walks a day.”

There are a lot of activities that can be done to cope with these emotions, like engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness and meditation, eating healthy, seeking support from friends and family, having healthy sleeping habits, and many more.

Reinforcing healthy behaviors on oneself may be the first step to recovery from idle time induced depression and anxiety.