Depression is a common problem, affecting about 16 million adults in the U.S. One of the biggest challenges is how to manage depression symptoms so that they minimize the impact on your life.
While studies show depression often starts in teenage years, older adults are also prone to depression. It’s normal to feel blue when you’re struggling with pain, coping with a serious health issue, job changes, or having lost a spouse or partner and feeling alone. The difference is major depression interferes with daily functioning over a period of time.
Here are five ways to help manage depression symptoms, caused by everyday life stressors:
- Take back control. Life is full of the unexpected, which can lead to depression. Whether you are getting divorced, witnessed an accident or feeling stressed by a constant stream of negative news stories, how you respond makes a world of difference.
Taking control means looking at a challenging situation and deciding to move forward in a positive manner, rather than dwelling on the negative. If you suffered the loss of a loved one, join a support group. If you’re feeling down, confide in someone you trust. If a friend or colleague is affecting your mood due to their negativity, limit contact to what is essential.
- Get adequate sleep. Research has shown insomnia is a risk factor for depression. Sleeping problems can impact severity and recurrence of depressive episodes. Obstructive sleep apnea often goes hand in hand with insomnia. Accordingly, both insomnia and sleep apnea may worsen depression.
If you are having difficulty sleeping and/or think you might have sleep apnea, consult your doctor. Getting proper treatment can help prevent an occasional problem from becoming chronic. If you are considering taking a sleeping aid, it’s important to talk to your doctor due to potential side effects and interactions with other medications and with alcohol.
- Watch what you eat. Numerous studies have analyzed the link between diet and depression. Vitamins B12, D, and folate can play a role in alleviating mood disorders, so it’s vital to get adequate amounts. Older adults are especially vulnerable to vitamin D deficiencies.
A Mediterranean diet has been widely studied and has many physical and mental health benefits, including fending off depression. A recent Australian study found after 12 weeks of healthy eating, one-third of participants reported a big improvement in their mood and depression symptoms.
There are a few ingredients, foods and drinks that people should consider using in moderation or eliminating from their diets. For example, the artificial sweetener aspartame has been shown in some studies to decrease serotonin, the “happiness” hormone. Alcohol, caffeine, and food high in refined sugars also have the potential to increase the risk of depression.
- Exercise regularly. Studies show exercise reduces depression, negative moods, and anxiety, while improving cognitive functioning and self-esteem. The brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins are released during exercise.
Serotonin helps regulate mood, appetite, and sleep, as well as easing pain. Depressed people often have low serotonin levels, which is why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed to patients suffering from depression. Dopamine is key part of the brain’s reward system, but too much or too little can result in problems.
A low level of norepinephrine can cause fatigue, mental fog, and a loss of interest in life. Research shows medications that increase norepinephrine activity are effective antidepressants. Endorphins are even more powerful than serotonin in boosting mood. Yoga and walking are great choices for older adults and helpful for reducing stress and depression. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Alternative therapies. A growing body of research shows alternative therapies like acupuncture and meditation can help reduce depression. For those new to meditation, there are a number of new mobile phone apps to guide you on your path.
Depression is a complex disorder influenced by a combination of factors. If you are finding that you can’t use these techniques to manage your depression, ask your doctor for the help that you need. Managing depression and its symptoms is a fight worth fighting.