Are you a senior managing depression and anxiety? If you are, then you’re hardly alone. While precise figures are hard to quantify, the CDC estimates that as many as 13 percent of seniors suffer with depression, and the figures for anxiety may be even higher.
Managing depression and anxiety is a burden no one should have to bear alone. Untreated, these conditions can lead to isolation and substance abuse, ultimately robbing you of years of joyful living. If you’re facing depression and anxiety, or have a loved one who is, we have some encouraging suggestions for you drawn from this article recently published by NextAvenue.
Writer Paul Wynn reports on this important topic from the first-person point of view of a woman who has been there. We think her experience and recommendations can be a huge help to those managing depression and anxiety. Take a look and see if you agree.
Managing Depression and Anxiety After a Debilitating Stroke
Wynn first introduces us to Angie Read, 46, who survived a massive stroke, thanks to her husband’s quick action to call 911 and get her to the hospital. “But after the stroke that could have killed her, she faced an even more formidable opponent: debilitating depression and anxiety,” Wynn writes.
Read says she has coped with anxiety—though relatively mild—since her early 30s. But the stroke made her anxiety symptoms worse and introduced her to depression for the first time. Wynn writes, “She felt numb to the world at the height of her suffering despite wanting to be there for her kids and husband and return to her marketing career.”
Managing Depression and Anxiety: a Long Process
For Read, therapies of various types were the path to managing the effects of the stroke, both physical and mental. Through occupational and speech therapies, as well as talk therapy, in-patient mental health facility visits, and medications, Read has experienced close to the full spectrum of therapeutic recovery. She put her experiences into a book called Invisible Scars: Stroke Survival, Recovery, and the Unexpected Mental Health Fallout.
“These tips worked for me, and even if just one or two of them work for others and help them feel better, then that’s a positive step forward,” Read says.
Tip #1 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Journaling
Read was initially resistant to journaling. Even though she likes to write, she didn’t think she would enjoy writing about feelings.
“My therapist suggested that I try it and I was reluctant, but once I got started it was easier and more helpful than I ever expected,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to write about what you’re grateful for and things you like about yourself. You can write, draw, doodle and write poems — just let your feelings out and capture positive self-talk.”
Journaling has several benefits, including reducing anxiety and stress and promoting better sleep. It can also help you to prioritize the concerns that arise in your daily life, track symptoms, and recognize patterns and triggers.
“Read recommends taking a few minutes every day to write in a journal, but keep a pen and paper handy throughout the day if there’s something to write down,” Wynn writes. “If you like keeping everything on your smartphone, there are phone apps for journaling, such as Daylio, Day One and Penzu.”
Tip #2 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Meditation
Before you skip this section because you think meditation is too “new age”, Read asks you to reconsider. She also was very resistant to meditation at first, but found it a very helpful tool in her toolbox to manage her depression and anxiety.
There’s no “one size fits all” rule for meditation either. There are lots of types, each with the same goal of reducing the noise in your head by promoting mental and emotional focus.
“According to a study in JAMA Psychiatry, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was comparably effective to the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) in reducing stress and anxiety in 276 people diagnosed with anxiety,” Wynn writes. “How to get started with meditation? Find a comfortable place to sit quietly and still your mind for a few minutes. Try to keep your mind focused on observing feelings and sensations. Try these phone apps to help guide you through a meditation session: Calm, Head Space and Healthy Minds Program.”
Tip #3 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Exercise
“Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental and emotional well-being,” Wynn writes. “Exercise also helps treat some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. In fact, for mild to moderate depression, research suggests physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants or certain types of therapy, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.”
Read found this to be true as well. When her psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants, he also prescribed 30 minutes of daily exercise. So, she started with 10 minutes on the treadmill. She recalls, “The first few weeks were a massive undertaking, but he was right. I eventually increased my treadmill time to 15 minutes and eventually to 30 minutes a day. I’ve now run a few 5Ks and hopefully will run more in the future.”
Tip #4 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Enjoy Nature
You’ve no doubt heard it before, but it bears repeating: fresh air really does work wonders on your overall mood and health – whether that’s going for a walk in the park, strolling the beach, or even exploring your own neighborhood. This can be particularly helpful for isolated seniors.
“Sunlight, fresh air — and even the mood-boosting aromas from grass, flowers and trees — nourish our bodies, minds and souls,” Wynn writes. “Spending time outdoors can have many positive effects including improving your mood, reducing stress and anger, improving your physical health, boosting your confidence and self-esteem and reducing loneliness.”
And, if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—which, incidentally, is very common in the Pacific Northwest, where Aging Options is headquartered—being outside in the natural light can go a long way to alleviating your symptoms and making the long winter months more bearable.
Tip #5 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Music Therapy
“The benefits of music therapy have been widely studied in those living with depression,” Wynn writes. “A 2017 Cochrane Review examined nine studies with 421 people that compared the benefits of music therapy with and without psychological or talk therapy. Researchers found that music therapy with treatment compared to treatment alone was more effective in reducing symptoms of depression and improved participants’ involvement in work, activities and relationships.”
For Read, this means listening to upbeat music as she gets ready in the morning. “This can temporarily transport you elsewhere and give you a short break from your concerns, just like reading a good book,” she says. Many studies also point to the power of music to improve some symptoms of cognitive decline, as we’ve written about here on the Blog.
Tip #6 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Eat Well
Eating a balanced diet has an incredible array of benefits, and not just for our physical bodies, but for our minds as well. Eating well helps us to think clearly, concentrate, and be more alert and attentive. Seniors living alone are especially prone to letting good eating habits slide.
“On the other hand,” Wynn warns, “a bad diet can lead to fatigue, stress and our capacity to work over time. Processed foods are high in flour and sugar and train the brain to crave more of them rather than nutrient-rich foods.”
Read’s suggestion for improving your mental health through your diet includes eating more fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Dark green leafy vegetables protect the brain, along with nuts, seeds, and legumes (like beans and lentils). And paying attention to how the food she eats makes her feel is essential. She says, “It’s helpful to write in a journal what you’re eating to gain insight into your eating patterns.”
Tip #7 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Get Better Sleep
Chronic sleep problems can make managing depression and anxiety—along with other mental health issues—so much more difficult. “About three-quarters of depressed people show signs of sleep problems, according to one study,” Wynn writes.
Read struggled with horrible insomnia during her lowest points with depression and anxiety. “The sleepless nights fueled my anxiety and depression to the point of requiring in-patient mental health care help,” she says. Prescription sleep medicine eventually helped her to get regular rest.
Wynn shares the following tips for better sleep: “Go to sleep at a consistent bedtime every night, wind down with relaxation techniques like journaling or meditation, avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants in the early evening, and turn off TVs and smartphones close to bedtime.”
Tip #8 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Busy Hands
Wynn writes, “According to researchers, activities that use your hands and do repetitive tasks relieve stress and help solve problems and clear our minds. Read suggests finding something you love to do that requires using your hands, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes a day. This could mean cooking, folding laundry, crafting, gardening or writing in a journal.”
In Read’s case, her therapist recommended taking up a new hobby, like knitting. She did try this, but her hand-eye coordination after the stroke made it difficult. So instead, she plays with doing her makeup, as well as writing. “When I’m doing these activities, I zone out and forget my worries,” she says. “Try to combine the joy of working on a favorite project with keeping your hands busy, and you’ll likely notice you’re calmer and more relaxed.”
Tip #9 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Establish a Routine
While many of us have a sort of routine built into our days between work and/or school and family obligations, it can be helpful to the anxious mind to build an even stronger routine for our tasks, habits, and cultivating relationships.
“Read realized how important a daily routine is to her state of mind,” Wynn writes. “About a month into the pandemic, when Read started working from home full-time, she started a ‘fake commute.’ Rather than just rolling out of bed and into her desk chair, she showered, changed, fixed her hair and makeup, and got in her car to drive halfway downtown and return home.”
Read explains, “For me, restoring this piece of my former routine helped me balance my mental health during a difficult transition period. And when I told my psychiatrist what I was doing, he said it was brilliant and started suggesting the ‘fake commute’ to his other patients.”
Tip #10 for Managing Depression and Anxiety: Talk It Out
When managing depression and anxiety, finding people you trust to talk to about your feelings is paramount. “Read says that talking to someone can help you feel less alone, help lighten the load of your concerns, and help you look at your circumstances differently, making them easier to handle,” Wynn writes. “Talk therapy with doctors or therapists is a safe place to discuss feelings and emotions, but it’s also important to find family and friends with whom you can share your feelings.”
And Read’s wisdom concludes the article, saying, “I don’t advise talking to someone who can’t empathize with or understand your situation. Seek out those who are good listeners and will sympathize with your situation.”
Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!
We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public. As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.
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Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.
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Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)