It’s not uncommon for depression to develop (or recur if you have a history) later in life. This can be due to a variety of reasons – both psychological (e.g. suddenly coping with an empty nest) and physiological (e.g. age-related health issues, menopause). Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe. They may include low energy, changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, irritability, difficulties concentrating and making decisions, social withdrawal, and having difficulties finding pleasure in things you once enjoyed. In some cases, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Not everyone who struggles with a low mood meets the clinical criteria for depression. Treatment for those who do may involve psychotherapy and or medication. Regardless of where you fit on the continuum – mild to moderate blues to full-blown major depression, there are things you can do to help boost your mood. In fact, it’s always best to make beneficial lifestyle changes even if you’re in therapy. Following are some helpful mood boosters that are great if you’re middle-aged or older (although they can be great for younger individuals as well). If you’re feeling depressed or blue, consider adding these to your life.
It may sound trite or overly simplistic, but laughter truly is one of the best medicines known to man. Studies have even shown the health benefits of laughter. If possible, spend time with friends and family members who are fun and make you laugh. When you’re feeling down it’s tempting to avoid happy people, but the reality is that their upbeat spirit can help boost yours if you let it. You can also boost your mood by reading funny stories, watching a comedy, fun animal videos (check out YouTube – they have thousands of cute cat, dog, and other pet videos), or watching an upbeat talk show (e.g. Ellen DeGeneres is well-known for her light-hearted and good-natured humor). Spending time with children will almost always make you laugh – their laughter is infectious! You might also try laughter yoga – it sounds silly but those who have tried do it rave about its mood-boosting benefits.
If you’re like a lot of older adults, you’ve stopped being as physically active as you once were. You may have good intentions of working out, but never seem to find the time or motivation. And if you’re depressed, it can be especially hard to find the energy. But here’s the deal. If you keep waiting to exercise until you “feel” like it, you’ll probably never do it. But if you choose to do it – regardless of whether or not you feel like it – you’ll likely yourself being very glad you did. Getting up off the couch is the first step. It’ll be even easier if you 1) have a workout buddy who’ll keep you accountable and 2) if you choose a type of exercise that you enjoy. Here’s another great benefit of regular aerobic types of exercise (e.g. brisk walking, swimming laps, jogging, biking, etc.): research has shown that it’s just as beneficial for depression as taking an antidepressant – and minus the cost and unpleasant side effects. And, it will also help you sleep better and boost your self-confidence! (Just be sure to get your doctor’s OK before starting an exercise program.)
Volunteer work has amazing mood-boosting benefits. You see, when you focus on helping others who are less fortunate, it takes your mind off the things troubling you. Not only that, but it can help you put your own situation in perspective. For example, your recent divorce may have been very painful, but serving food to homeless people will help you realize how much you have to be grateful for. Volunteer work also gets you involved with other people. This is a good thing, especially if you’ve been isolating due to your depression. If you’re retired, doing a volunteer work is also a great way to spend your time and feel useful and needed again. You’ll gain the most fulfillment and joy if you volunteer for a charity or cause that is especially meaningful to you.
Damaged relationships and unresolved hurts and conflicts can make anyone more vulnerable to depression. Sigmund Freud asserted that depression is really “anger turned inward.” Forgiving others – as well as yourself – is very powerful in terms of lifting your spirits. True forgiveness is like having a huge burden lifted from your life. Although you have no control over others, you do have control over your own choices. Make it a point to start making amends and doing what you can to repair damaged relationships. For those who aren’t receptive, you can rest knowing that you made the effort to heal the past. And for those who are, you can take joy in the fact that healing is finally taking place for both of you. And that’s almost certain to put a smile on your face and make your step a bit lighter!
Get a Furry Friend
Or feathered. Or scaled. Whatever your preference. Animals bring great joy into people’s lives. Not only do they never judge you or talk back, they love you unconditionally. They can also be incredibly loyal. Pets are especially good mood boosters because they ease the loneliness and make you feel needed. They make few, if any, demands, and give so much joy in return. If you can’t have a pet due to allergies, your living situation, or some other reason, you can always find other ways to spend time with animals. Volunteer at the zoo or local animal shelter, or offer to walk your neighbor’s dog or pet sit for them when they’re out of town. Any time you can spend time with these little angels in fur coats, the more your mood will benefit.
Depression often makes people want to isolate – and, conversely, loneliness contributes to depression. If you’re spending a lot of time alone, or feel your support system has dwindled, make it a point to get and stay connected with others. Pick up the phone or send an email to reconnect with family members or old friends – perhaps they’ve been waiting to hear from you. You can also make it a point to make new connections. Join a few local Meet Up groups that appeal to your interests, take a class, or join a book club. Like exercise, you often have to decide to be social rather than wait until you feel like it. Isolation tends to feed depressive thoughts and feelings, while spending time with others can help pull you out of your slump. A caveat about connecting with others – while it’s true, to some degree, that “misery loves company,” choose to surround yourself with people who are upbeat and positive, not negative and gloomy. The mood of those around you can impact yours – choose to spend time with those who uplift you rather than pull you down even further.
Find or Rekindle Your Passion
Everyone has something that makes them feel excited – that causes their eyes to light up when they talk about it or think about it. It may be a hobby or unfulfilled goal or dream. Finding something you’re passionate about can make you feel alive and enthusiastic – and feel happier and more excited about life and your future. If you’re not sure how to tap into your passion, think back on your life and remember the times when you felt the most alive. Perhaps you were helping a child learn something new, playing an instrument, or spending time in nature. Those moments are a clue to your passion. Consider ways you can reconnect with those feelings, such as teaching a class or coaching a Little League team. If it excites you and give you joy, you’re on the right track!
None of the things listed above are meant to take the place of professional help if you are clinically depressed. If your depression is interfering with your life, and you aren’t currently in treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Don’t let pride get in your way. Seeking and needing help from others doesn’t mean you are weak or deficient. It just means you are human. Pick up the phone and contact a mental health professional today. Depression is a serious disorder that impacts millions of older adults. It is treatable. Proper treatment combined with lifestyle changes is the best recipe for bringing joy back into your life!