Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called a major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living.
Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:
Memory difficulties or personality changes
Physical aches or pain
Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men
A sense of impending panic, danger or doom
Increased heart rate
Obsessively thinking about the panic trigger
These feelings of anxiety and panic can interfere with daily activities and be difficult to control. They are out of proportion to the actual danger and can cause you to avoid places or situations.
You should see your health care provider if your anxiety is affecting your life and relationships. Your provider can help rule out any underlying physical health issue before seeing a mental health professional.
While most people with anxiety disorders need psychotherapy or medications to get anxiety under control, lifestyle changes and coping strategies also can make a difference.
Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
1. Keep physically active.
Develop a routine so that you're physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It can improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start out slowly, and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.
2. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
These substances can cause or worsen anxiety. If you can't quit on your own, see your health care provider or find a support group to help you.
3. Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages.
Nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
4. Use stress management and relaxation techniques.
Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques that can ease anxiety.
5. Eat healthy foods.
A healthy diet that incorporates vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish may be linked to reduced anxiety, but more research is needed.
6. Learn about your disorder.
Talk to your health care provider to find out what might be causing your specific condition and what treatments might be best for you. Involve your family and friends, and ask for their support.
7. Stick to your treatment plan.
Take medications as directed. Keep therapy appointments and complete any assignments your therapist gives. Consistency can make a big difference, especially when it comes to taking your medication.
8. Get a check-up.
This may seem like a no-brainer, especially if you’ve already been to your doctor for your diagnosis and treatment of depression. But many long-standing health conditions can contribute to reduced brain fitness, while not being the primary cause of your depression. Being overweight, for example, has been shown to reduce brain function and can contribute to depression. It may also lower your ability to exercise, robbing you of a key brain- and mood-booster. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, anemia, thyroid problems, concussions or other brain injuries, stroke and other health problems can all take a toll on brain fitness, as can low levels of Vitamins B12 and D, and testosterone (in men).
9. Check your medications.
I often see patients who have no idea their medications are causing side effects. In particular, medications given for anxiety, insomnia, pain and even depression can cause mood changes, brain fog, or other cognitive and health problems, so it’s a good idea to review your total medication list with your doctor to ensure they’re not interfering unnecessarily with your brain function or health.
Insomnia and sleep apnea, in particular, have been shown to reduce brain function, which can contribute to depression. Many people put up with sleep disorders and incorrectly assume they’re untreatable. Not only are both conditions often treatable, but treatment can help reverse the damage done to the brain and lead to dramatic improvements in brain function. My sleep apnea patients are often amazed at how different they feel after treatment. And diagnosis is easier than ever before – with a small device provided by your doctor you can do a sleep study in your own home.
Don't let worries isolate you from loved ones or activities. Close and supportive relationships with family and friends can improve your self-worth, lower depressive symptoms and help you feel accepted. When you have people to lean on for emotional support and do enriching activities with, you're less likely to struggle with depression and anxiety.
Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
Before a diagnosis or treatment, a health professional should conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation, including an interview and a physical examination. In some cases, a blood test might be done to make sure the depression is not due to a medical condition like a thyroid problem or a vitamin deficiency (reversing the medical cause would alleviate the depression-like symptoms). The evaluation will identify specific symptoms and explore medical and family histories as well as cultural and environmental factors with the goal of arriving at a diagnosis and planning a course of action.