Everyone gets blue now and then, especially if there has been a recent loss or significant life change. While it is normal to experience occasional feelings of being down in the dumps, it is not normal to be depressed on an ongoing basis. Discerning the difference is important. One of the main factors to consider is persistence.
If you are having symptoms like loss of interest in usual activities, changes in eating or sleeping, frequent bouts of crying or intense sadness AND they last more than two weeks, see the help of a medical professional. If on the other hand you have, like most of us, the occasional “down day” then self-care measures can go a long way towards lifting your spirits. Alone or in combination with medical or psychological help, the following suggestions are things you can do for yourself when you are “in a rut” or just now feeling like yourself.
Physical activity has been shown in numerous research trials to have a beneficial effect on mild depression or anxiety. The exact reason for this is not known. What is known is that levels of endorphins-the body’s natural “feel good” hormones and some neurotransmitters in the brain are increased through regular physical activity. Other benefits of exercise that may contribute to feeling better are improved sleep, fewer aches and pains and having a sense of accomplishment.
The recommended amount of exercise for older adults is 30 minutes of moderately intense activity on most days of the week. This should include aerobic activities like walking or biking, strength training, flexibility or stretching and balance activities.
Laughter has been shown to produce a number of bio-chemical responses in the body, among them the reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, an increase in immune fighting cells, and increase in endorphins and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Those changes result in feeling better and having an improved response. Laughter is also good exercise, increasing oxygen levels and giving the internal organs a “massage”. Obviously if you are feeling blue, you may not feel like laughing. Here are some ways to get laughter in to your life.
Movies or TV. Many of us have a favorite funny show or movie that never fails to bring a smile to our face. If that is the case for you, make it a point to watch those often.
Jokes. Look for jokes in Readers Digest, the Sunday paper, and other publications. Go out and buy a joke book. Share a joke with someone every day.
Laugh at your self and your own situation. Think about what you may be going through and blow it way out of proportion until it become absurd. This is an often used and health coping mechanism. Attend a humor club or a laughter yoga session. If you don’t have one, why not start one?
Get around people, even if you don’t feel like it. If you are not feeling like talking much, attend a class, bingo game or other event that places you side by side with others. If you feel the need for conversation, look for a support group or other more social setting. Being with others will be a distraction from thinking about yourself and can help you to be in the moment. Finding one or two people with whom you can connect and share concerns will help you to live a more Optimum Life.
Help Someone Else
Studies show that older adults who are involved in volunteer activities have less depression. Having a purpose outside of yourself helps you to forget your troubles. Find a way to help others that matches your time and abilities. Simple ways to do this are to:
- Send birthday cards to those around you, even if you don’t know them well.
- Take some soup to a sick friend
- Call an old friend to say hello
- Support a third world child through a charitable organization
- Smile at everyone you see
Learning to be thankful helps to move the focus from what you don’t have to what you do have. Keep a gratitude journal where you write down 5 things you are grateful for every day. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
Learn a New Skill
Much as been written in recent months and years about the importance of learning new things to keep the brain active. In addition to “building the brain”, mastering a new skill helps to increase your sense that you can handle life’s challenges. It helps you to feel good about yourself and gives you a renewed sense of purpose. Remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? You were most likely excited and proud of yourself and you wanted to tell and show everyone. Renew that sense of fun and passion by learning a new skill, you are never too old.
Watch your Diet-Especially Vitamin D
For some people, certain foods and drink can impact the way they feel. Pay close attention to what you are eating and try to stick to healthy foods. Stay away from junk food and be mindful about consuming too much alcohol. These things may be done in an effort to “self-medicate”, but will have the opposite effect in the end.
Researchers reporting in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry have linked low blood levels of Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin” – and increased parathyroid hormone levels to depression among older adults.
The findings from this study suggest that some forms of depression can be treated by consuming more Vitamin D and increasing sensible sunlight exposure (15 minutes of unprotected sunlight during non-peak hours). The body makes Vitamin D from sunlight exposure to the skin. Milk is fortified with Vitamin D as are some orange juices. Vitamin D deficiency has also recently been implicated as contributing to falls in older adults. Be sure you are getting proper amounts of Vitamin D and talk with your doctor about supplements.
Know when to get help
If you are having symptoms of depression that won’t go away and are interfering with your normal activities, seek the help of a medical professional. According to the National Institute on Aging, symptoms of depression may include the following:
- An “empty” feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety
- Tiredness, lack of energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, including sex
- Sleep problems, including trouble getting to sleep, very early morning waking, and sleeping too much
- Eating more or less than usual
- Crying too often or too much
- Aches and pains that don’t go away when treated
- A hard time focusing, remembering, or making decisions
- Feeling guilty, helpless, worthless, or hopeless
- Being irritable
- Thoughts of death or suicide, a suicide attempt
Some people will have difficulty recognizing that they are depressed. If you have a friend or family member that you are concerned about, assist them in taking the proper steps to get help. Depression is not normal at any age and it can be very successfully treated. Together we can chase those blues away!