Coping with depression can be an uphill battle. You may feel like you have a boulder in tow as you move through your day, and this weight can leave you feeling sad, upset, angry, anxious, worthless, or guilty. Depression can rob you of your will to carry out daily activities – even those that you once enjoyed. You may also have trouble thinking, sleeping, and eating. You may even think about suicide (1;2).
Some people are more at risk than others. For example, you are at a higher risk of depression if a close family member has had a mental illness, if you have a chronic illness, or if you have had depression before (2). As of 2012, about 2% of Canadians aged 65 or older were identified as having depression in the past 12 months (3). Although it is common, it is important to remember that depression is not a normal part of growing older (1).
Depression can be diagnosed by your doctor and treated with medication, psychotherapy and alternative approaches. These treatments may be prescribed alone or in combination (1). In addition to the treatment recommended by your doctor, the following self-care strategies may help.
1. Keep active
When you are depressed, motivating yourself to exercise can be a challenge. But research shows that exercise is a great antidepressant – without the negative side effects. In fact, physical activity such as aerobics, strength training, Tai Chi, or dancing can provide a big boost to your mood and sense of well-being (4). Older adults who practiced Tai Chi on a regular basis had significantly fewer symptoms of depression than people not practicing Tai Chi (5). Walking in groups were also found to keep depression at bay in older adults (6).
2. Practice mindfulness
There has been increased interest in mindfulness in recent years, and for good reason. If you have experienced recurrent depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could help prevent it from happening again. MBCT uses meditative practices that focus on being in the present moment. Research shows that people who try this type of therapy are less likely to relapse than people taking antidepressants or using other types of therapy (7). MBCT is also available over the internet, making it relatively easy to access (8).
3. Share memories
Have you ever noticed that a particular sight, sound, smell, or taste can bring forth a rush of vivid memories? Reminiscence therapy, which involves sharing personal stories and memories in groups led by a trained facilitator, can be a powerful way to remember happier times (9). Talking about accomplishments, happy memories, or sharing experiences can promote comfort and help people connect the past to the present (10). For people living in long-term care homes, this approach has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression (9).