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Managing Stress and Depression in Trying Times

We at LifeCare Advocates have been hearing about general underlying stress from so many people these days. The presidential election is very divisive, a second wave of COVID-19 infections is looming, and social problems are driving unrest. Millions of people are newly unemployed or under-insured, or both.

Older people, especially, are stressed. They may be more isolated than usual, may be exposed to more stressful TV programs than usual, and may have a general sense of uncertainty about the future.

According to the CDC, “Older adults are at increased risk [for depression]. We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited.”

Because October is National Depression Awareness Month, we want to remind our readers that it’s OK to acknowledge that these (and other) stressors have a major impact on our lives, and can lead to depression. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that for older people can be worsened by poor nutrition and inactivity, and by stressful life events. According to University of Arkansas research, “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and psychological trauma.”

If you think you or an older loved one may be suffering from depression, it’s important to contact a doctor. In the meantime, healthy lifestyle choices can help:

Improve nutrition. Older people have been eating more prepackaged, less healthy food these days. Instead, we can order grocery delivery or takeout food from our favorite restaurants that are practicing no-touch delivery. Be sure to make healthy choices when grocery shopping for yourself or an older loved one. 

Step away from the screen. Whether it’s a big, flat one on your wall or the distracting device in your hand, it’s mostly not your friend when you’re stressed. If you need your screen time, find programs that are fun and lighthearted – laughter is a great remedy.

Add more physical activity to your days. Exercise might be the No. 1 prescription for depression. Go for walks if it’s safe. See if the local gym or senior center offers virtual exercise classes. Check out exercise videos – YouTube has a lot of free exercise videos for people of all ages.

Have your medications reviewed. Depression is a possible side effect of many of the prescription and even nonprescription drugs older people take. Discuss this with the doctor or pharmacist.

Spend more time with others – safely. Socialization is another top “cure” for depression. Today, of course, that’s not so easy for many of us. But safe, socially distanced gatherings can be arranged. If your aging loved one is not tech savvy, help them with virtual socializing. Or call them more often.

Online depression assessment tool

Healthcare company Kaiser Permanente offers a quick, free online assessment tool to help you gauge your level of depression. You can discuss the results with your doctor.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. The WHO reports that fear of stigma can stand in the way of accessing evaluation and treatment. Says WHO expert Dr. Shekhar Saxena, also of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”

LCA’s professionally trained staff provides holistic mental, emotional and cognitive health assessments. We can help identify and manage depression and locate qualified resources, such as therapists, for ongoing treatment.