Michelle Obama Opens Up About 'Low-Grade Depression' During Quarantine and How She's Coping

"There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I've felt too low," the former first lady said on her podcast

Michelle Obama Nails
Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The same way physicians have warned the novel coronavirus “knows no bounds,” the emotional impact of quarantine is being felt by people across the U.S.

While a third of Americans have reported feelings of anxiety or depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one government survey, former First Lady Michelle Obama also says she's among those learning how to balance her mental health in isolation.

“There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I’ve felt too low,” Obama, 56, said during the second episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, released on Spotify on Wednesday.

Speaking to her guest, former NPR host Michele Norris, the former first lady said she has felt “those emotional highs and lows" over the past five months "where you just don’t feel yourself.”

Obama — a bestselling author and newly christened podcaster as well as a voting-rights and girls' education activist — said that those exhausting feelings have been a “direct result of just being out of body and out of mind” while mostly being stuck at home during the pandemic.

Since nationwide lockdowns this spring and summer, federal health officials have recommended people stay home as much as possible, continue social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks in public in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The respiratory illness has killed at least 157,300 people in the U.S., as of Wednesday, while it’s infected at least 4,778,800 million across the country, according to The New York Times.

“Spiritually, these are not fulfilling times," Obama said on her podcast, "So, I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression.”

The former first lady added that those emotions are "not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife" amid protests sparked by George Floyd's death and that "just seeing [President Donald Trump's] administration, watching the hypocrisy of it day-in and day-out, is dispiriting.”

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama in December 2018. Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Obama said she has “had to give myself ... those days, those moments” where she accepts that she’s not feeling normal and takes a break from what she’s doing — whether that means shutting off her phone and taking a moment to sit in silence by herself, or spending time with her husband, former President Barack Obama, and their two college-age daughters, Malia and Sasha.

For the most part, Mrs. Obama said that “staying in a routine, getting a workout in and trying to get outside” have been crucial in maintaining her mental health.

She said the family usually stays apart during the day, working on individual projects. However, around 5 p.m. each evening, the Obamas gather for dinner and share in calming, low-tech activities.

“Puzzles have become big,” Mrs. Obama told Norris in Wednesday's episode. “The girls are into them. We’re all sitting on the floor around the table where the puzzle is now permanently set up and then we sit down for dinner and we talk some more.”

She also said Malia, 22, and Sasha, 19, have been playing the card game spades with President Obama, 59, at the house.

“Now there’s this vicious competition,” the Becoming author joked during the episode, adding, “They wouldn’t have sat down, but for this quarantine, to learn how to play a card game with their dad."

Former US first lady Michelle Obama (C) smiles as she meets wiith Vietnamese students in Can Giuoc district, Long An province, Vietnam 09 December 2019.

Mrs. Obama and Norris focused much of the episode's discussion on advice for how others can take care of themselves during what many Americans have reported to be an emotionally difficult year — a year of plague and national demonstrations against injustice, with spasms of violence.

“It's the small things,” Mrs. Obama said. “It's the small rituals.”

“There’s a beauty of being reminded of our self-sufficiency during this time,” she said, adding that she has learned how to give herself a wax and has recently been mastering how to do her own nails at home.

But as difficult as the pandemic and ensuing quarantine has been for people around the world, including prominent figures like the former first lady, she said, "We will get through this."

"The thing we have to remember is we've been through, tough times, in this nation," she said, adding, "We are in a unique moment in history. We are living through something that no one in our lifetimes has lived through it."

The year 2020 is "just extra in all kinds of ways," Norris said, laughing, as Mrs. Obama agreed.

"Who would've thought," she said. "It's like — phew! What more do you have for us, 2020?"

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