Stress, anxiety, and sadness add up quickly and can negatively affect our lives. In the same way that we make choices to reduce risk of poor physical health and improve the way we feel, we can take steps to reduce risk of depression and anxiety and to improve our daily mental state.
Mental Discomfort vs. Mental Illness
Let’s start by clarifying that there is a difference between occasional sadness and depression. Occasional sadness, stress, and anxiety are normal in day-to-day life, and it is absolutely worth improving your mental state to reduce their occurrence.
Depression, however, is an illness no different than a physical illness. It should be treated with the help of professionals. Start by talking to your doctor, who will be knowledgeable about the symptoms of depression and what you should do to seek treatment.
The National Institute of Mental Health says this: “If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment”
The Connection Between Physical and Mental Health
Your physical and mental health are connected! According to the NIH, mental illness can cause symptoms like headaches and cramps that do not ease with treatment.
You can also increase your mental health through physical activity! Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that improve your mood.
Social Life and Mental Health
Having a strong social support network has two benefits. First, interacting with friends and family can improve your mood in the same way that physical activity can.
At the beginning of each week, I like to write a list of the people I want to reach out to. Then throughout the week I reach out to each of the people on my list. Maybe I’ll call a family member, text an old friend, and try to meet up in person with a couple people.
Second, having a support network is super important on the days when you are feeling down. Who do you reach out to when you’re having a bad day? Who do you talk to when you need to be uplifted?
If you don’t have a strong social network, there are ways to get connected with folks like you in your area! Try searching online for local senior centers; you can also find events held by libraries, churches, and fitness centers. Getting to know other older adults and people you share hobbies with is a great way to improve mental health.
Mental Health and Aging
While many people believe that decreased mental health is a normal part of aging, this is not true! No matter your age, you can take steps to work toward good mental health.