Thursday, August 8, 2019

Aging and Depression


Aging and Depression

Feeling blue occasionally is a natural part of life. But when the sadness persists and interferes with everyday life, it may be depression, a medical condition that plagues many seniors as they continue to age. As a matter of fact, depression is a serious disease itself affecting approximately 15 percent of the senior population in the United States, in particular, those in hospitals and nursing homes.

When depression occurs in late life, it may be a relapse of an earlier depression, or its onset is due to another chronic or life-threatening illness. When one is afflicted with a disease, the depression can be more serious and more difficult to deal with or recover from.

The loss of a lifelong partner or a close friend is a frequent but inevitable occurrence in later life. Although bereavement is part and parcel of life, it is another major cause of depression.

Physical disability and its accompaniment of worthlessness may also bring about depression in the golden years.

Act Like Santa, who is always cheerful, not depressed. Like Santa, you must remain cheerful and positive despite your current medical conditions or environmental problems. You must control all your negative emotions. Not controlling your negative emotions is like drinking salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you become.

Debug depression myths

First and foremost, depression is not a normal part of growing older. It is a myth that all seniors experience some form of depression as they age. Nothing is further from the truth!

Research studies at the UCLA School of Medicine have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy alone can actually cause chemical changes in the brain. In other words, it is a depression myth that chemical imbalance cannot be changed by thinking and behavior alone, other than by the use of medications. Unless the depression is post-traumatic, you can increase your neurotransmitters (the brain chemicals) with or without antidepressants. Therefore, it is important to train your mind to control your production of brain chemicals through positive thinking, instead of solely relying on medications.

It is also a depression myth that depression is caused entirely by chemical imbalance in the brain. Although the many symptoms of depression, such as guilt unconnected with the loss of a loved one, thoughts of suicide, difficulty in sleeping, inability to function normally, weight loss, and among others, are associated with chemical imbalance, there is no absolute scientific evidence that low levels of serotonin (a brain chemical) actually cause depression. At any rate, chemical imbalance may be the result, not necessarily, the cause of depression.

It is a depression myth that your behavior is primarily the result of environmental stress or conditioning. The truth is that people and events do not necessarily cause your moodiness, irritability, negative thinking, decreased motivation, loss of appetite, and insomnia—they are all common symptoms of depression.

It is a depression myth that you are powerless against a malfunctioning mind. The truth is that your brain is the hardware of your whole being. If you want to be what you really want to be, you must control your mind, and not letting your mind control you, making you become lethargic and unproductive. It is you who control your own thinking, and not your medications; and it is your brain that creates your own world—how you live your life, and how happy you are in your golden years. It is all in your deep limbic system (near the center of your brain). Your deep limbic system may be the culprit—the underlying cause of your depression. How is that? Your deficiency of neurotransmitters may increase metabolism or inflammation in your deep limbic system, leading to its malfunctioning. An overactive deep limbic system may make you do the following: looking back at the past, you feel regret; looking at the future, you feel anxiety; looking at the present, you feel only dissatisfaction. All these negative thoughts are known as automatic negative thoughts (ANT).

It is a myth that you can heal your deep limbic system only with antidepressants to enhance your neurotransmitters. Even if that were true, all depression medications come with a hefty price—their long-term adverse side effects that may offset the immediate benefits.

Rethink depression. Rethink any depression myth that may have been wrongly inculcated in your mind. You are what you think, and depression can be a choice—your choice, if you choose not to rethink your thinking of depression. You are responsible for your own thoughts. Create your own realty, and change your thinking mind about your depression.

Heal your deep limbic system

Without antidepressants, you can still heal your deep limbic system and enhance its functioning to increase the production of your neurotransmitters to overcome your depression.

Step 1

Understand that your thoughts are real to you. They are not imaginary, but as real as life to you alone.

Now, you have a thought in your mind. Your thought sends electrical signals to your brain. Your brain processes these signals and releases brain chemicals. You become aware of your own thinking. No matter what you think, your thoughts are real to you, and must be treated as real. The goal is to change your perception of these “real” thoughts.

Step 2

Be aware of your body’s reactions to the chemicals released by your brain as these thoughts occur. For example, if you are angry, notice how your muscles tense up and how your heart beats faster; if you are happy, notice how your body responds with a smile or a feeling of euphoria.

Train yourself to notice the differences in your deep limbic system when your thoughts are happy and when they are sad, and notice the different reactions of your body to these different thoughts.
Step 3

Think of negative thoughts as bad. Talk back to your negative thoughts whenever they occur.

Remember, your automatic negative thoughts (ANT) come to your brain involuntarily and spontaneously. But they are NOT correct, and they do not reflect the WHOLE truth.

Change your thoughts, and do not believe them. Learn how to train your mind to change your thoughts, and accordingly change your feelings. Reinforce your changed feelings by talking back to those negative thoughts.

Step 4

Do not focus on negative thoughts. Do not predict the future: you are not supposed to know your fate, and you will never know it anyway. Do not read into someone else’s mind: you have enough trouble reading your own mind, let alone that of others. Do not think with your feelings: they often “lie” to you because they are based on powerful memories from the past, which may be distorted and untrue. Do not cherish the feeling of guilt: remove from your vocabulary “could have”, “should have”, and “ought to have.” Do not label or generalize anyone or anything with words, such as “arrogant”, “dishonest” or “a liar”: judging or labeling prevents you from getting a clear picture of someone or a real situation. Do not explain someone else’s action or intention: that is, attributing any reason or explanation why things happen. Do not play the blame game: stop blaming anyone or anything because you are responsible for own your feelings, and no one else is!

The above are all common patterns of thoughts that come to you naturally simply because you permit them. They all upset your deep limbic system. Learn to talk back to them whenever they surface in your mind. That you cannot control your thoughts is a depression myth. That you must use medications to suppress your negative thoughts is another depression myth.

Banish your negative thoughts

Exercise can help you banish negative thoughts from your mind by increasing your energy output, by accelerating your metabolism, by normalizing your melatonin production to induce restful sleep; by improving your mood with more of the natural amino acid tryptophan.

Nutrition, too, can help your deep limbic system function optimally. Essentially, your deep limbic system needs fat, specifically, omega 3 fatty acids. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, men who had the highest suicide rates had the lowest cholesterol levels. So some fats may not be too bad after all.

Your body needs proteins, which are building blocks of brain neurotransmitters. Eat more protein.

Balanced meals with complex carbohydrates, milk, meat, and eggs may boost the levels of dopaimine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—their insufficiency is implicated in the cause of depression.

According to Buddha, depression is an illness not just of the body and mind, but also of the heart. The heart or the spirit is where the key to healing lies, contrary to the depression myth that only medications and talk therapy hold the key to recovery.

If your life does not have a real purpose, the worldliness of life may become like quicksand sucking you into a spiritual vacuum, which can only be filled by depressive negative thoughts. When that happens in your golden years, you are not living but merely staying alive.

Emotions are both psychological (what we think) and biological (what we feel). Recognize the power of emotions, but not the truths they necessarily represent. Learn to manage your emotions to free yourself of depression when you grow older in your golden years.  All emotions have an “inner voice” that must be acknowledged first or it will not go away. In addition to talking back to that voice, you may have to talk to someone else, such as someone close to you, to avoid being at risk for trapped emotions, especially when you are all alone by yourself. Always cherish a positive attitude towards yourself as well as others.

According to a pioneering study at Yale University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, seniors are more likely to recover from a disability if they have a positive attitude about aging. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston also conducted a survey to assess the frailty of the elderly based on their weight loss, extent of exhaustion, walking speed, and grip strength. One of the findings was that there was a link between positive thinking and frailty in that those who scored high on positive thinking were significantly less likely to become frail in their senior years. Their positive thoughts included being hopeful about the future, being happy and content with life, and believing that they were just as good as other younger people.

To sum up, positive mentality means hope rather than just optimism. There is a difference between hope and optimism. With optimism, you believe that things are going to turn out for the best; optimism, however, has to be realistic and should not exclude grief, hurt, sadness, and sorrow. Hope, on the other hand, shows you a possible and realistic path to a better outcome despite all the challenges, obstacles, and problems you may encounter in your golden years. Your future is always unknown and unknowable, but it is your readiness to get new information and to use your new experience to reassess your current situation that provides a light at the end of the tunnel.

If you have already developed depression in your golden years, you don’t have to struggle with it for the rest of your life. Now is the time to wake up from your nightmare and live a life that you deserve in your golden years.



Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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