By Bonnie Hagen
A common misconception about older adults is that they must be depressed or anxious simply because they’ve gotten older. This is certainly not true of most seniors. Surveys report that most are happy and content in their lives. But it is true that older adults face challenges in maintaining mental health that younger people do not. These include the deaths of spouses and friends, age-related health problems, stress from caregiving, social isolation due to retirement or relocation, and changes in parenting roles.
Wow, that’s quite a lineup of difficulties. On the other side of the scale, seniors are a resilient group who have developed coping mechanisms through the decades.
Probably the three most effective coping mechanisms are maintaining social connections, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
Many mental health professionals believe that sleep problems aren’t taken seriously enough by doctors. Insomnia and other sleep problems create symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as memory loss or cognitive impairment. Fatigue can be misinterpreted as depression. The interplay between mental health and insomnia is complex.
Insomnia often leads to mental unwellness and mental unwellness leads to more sleep problems.
In the past few years, many older adults have turned to CBD to help with a range of mental and physical issues. CBD stands for Cannabidiol, a compound extracted from the hemp plant that requires no prescription. (The hemp plant is the botanical cousin to the marijuana plant but, unlike marijuana, hemp contains only minuscule amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets you high.) In many ways, CBD is perfect for seniors. Enthusiastic users of CBD take it for three principal reasons: to alleviate inflammation, particularly from arthritis; relieve anxiety and depression, and treat insomnia.
Science is beginning to document CBD’s benefits in peer-review journals. One 2011 study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, found CBD significantly reduced anxiety and discomfort in test participants undergoing a simulated public speaking test. Another study done in 2019, published in the Permanente Journal, found that within one month of use, CBD relieved anxiety among 79% of participants, and 48% reported improvements in sleep. A third study, conducted in New Zealand in 2020, tested 397 patients and found that a significant portion reported improvement in anxiety and depression using CBD and that it helped them complete their usual activities.
Another complication for seniors’ mental health, and one unique to our era, has been the Covid-19 pandemic. Like the rest of the population, many seniors have suffered from “languishing,” the term therapists assign to the mix of fatigue, inertia, loss of enthusiasm, and joylessness that cropped up as the pandemic stretched on. Languishing isn’t as severe as depression but it’s clearly a mental ailment. According to psychologist Dr. Adam Grant, “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being.”
Languishing is very common, although you may not even be aware that you have it. One of its deceptive symptoms is general indifference. In fact, you may be indifferent to the fact that you’re suffering indifference. To spot that in yourself, step back and ask yourself if the things that used to animate you still do: Have you experienced joy lately? Are you looking forward to anything in the future? If you have some or all of those symptoms, you’re probably languishing. As we know, it’s very common.
Another emotion arising from the pandemic is grief or a sense of loss. Approximately 1.2 million Americans lost a family member or friend to Covid-19. A disproportionate number of the deaths were seniors, so as a group, older adults were hit very hard. But even if they haven’t lost a friend or family member, most seniors are experiencing a more modest grief from the loss of social connections, new experiences such as travel, or optimism for the future. Indeed, the simple loss of normalcy was enough to create grief in many people. When the Harvard Business Review published an article about the loss of normalcy and called it “grief,” it became the most viral post in the history of the publication.
What to do? Psychologists recommend the following strategies to overcome or at least moderate depression, anxiety, and languishing:
-Seek professional help. This may include a social worker, mental health therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the growth of telehealth. Many more people can access therapists through their phone or computer today than before the pandemic.
-Maintain your social connections and expand them if you can. Many studies have concluded that seniors with a wide network of friends and family enjoy better medical outcomes, longer life expectancy, and fewer cases of depression when they participate in social activities.
-Ask your doctor to review your medications to minimize side effects such as insomnia.
-Treat your insomnia if you suffer from it. Exercise, meditation, subdued lighting, and removing the TV and cell phone from your bedroom calm the mind and prepare you for sleep. If sleeplessness persists, see a somnologist, or a sleep doctor.
-Exercise. It’s been said a million times but it’s no less true that exercise benefits your body and your mind. If you haven’t exercised for a while, get back into the swing with a daily walk.
-Try CBD, the nonprescriptive, natural compound that many people believe helps with pain, depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Speak to your healthcare provider about various formulations and delivery systems, proper dosing, and timing for optimal effect.
If depression and anxiety have compromised the quality of your life, taking any of these steps should improve matters. In fact, just making the effort will boost your optimism- and optimism is very healthy.
Bonnie Hagen is the principal and founder of Bright Formulations LLC, a health and wellness company that specializes in hemp extract with CBD. The Bright Energy ® brand of hemp extract with CBD was launched with the intention of helping people achieve their health and well-being goals, using the all-natural hemp plant. Bonnie helps people use the hemp plant to free themselves from pain, insomnia, stress, and discomfort. Seeing repeatedly how this incredible plant provides protection, grounding, balance, regeneration, clarity, purpose, and peace to those who use it wisely, Bonnie decided to build a different kind of company around it. Using clean and sustainably grown ingredients in her formulations, Bonnie brings to the marketplace hemp extract with CBD that is grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, is extracted without using harmful solvents and is bottled without any artificial ingredients or fillers.