Anxiety and Depression: Some Triggers & Self-Help

anxiety and stress: triggers & self-help

If you are seriously thinking about harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) right NOW.

Answer these questions. Then read on to find if your answers may be possible triggers for anxiety and depression.

  • Do you wake up in the morning day after day feeling as if it is hardly worth the effort to get out of bed?
  • Do you feel anxious or depressed from time to time – or are you anxious or depressed every day?
  • Do you have problems sleeping at night or do you sleep excessively?
  • Do you worry about nearly everything and feel like it is all hopeless?
  • Are you withdrawn or do you feel agitated?
  • Are you skipping meals or daily baths?
  • Do you feel so overwhelmed that they’re not sure where to begin?
  • Do you have persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment?

Nearly everyone has experienced problems from time to time. It’s a normal response to life’s stressors. But if these feelings become prolonged or disproportionate, or if that low mood lingers day after day, these feelings may be warning signs that something isn’t right.

Anxiety and depression can make your other health problems feel worse, particularly chronic pain. You’re not alone. Many seniors have chronic pain from arthritis or other ailments. Key brain chemicals influence both mood and suffering. Treating anxiety and depression can also improve co-existing illnesses.

Thankfully diagnosis and treatment methods have come a long way, with many public health campaigns working towards bringing mental illness “out of the shadows.”

Anxiety and depression typically occur with mental disorders. But behavioral and emotional symptoms may differ within the two. Even so, they are both an unnatural and unwelcome state of mental health. With anxiety comes a constant overwhelming state of fear or worry. The symptoms of depression may be similar to unrelenting feelings of sadness or despair. Both can be debilitating in their physical manifestations.

The exact cause of such mental illness is still unclear; however, changes in brain chemistry, genetic factors, and hormone function are all believed to play a role. Irrespective of the cause, mental illness requires and usually responds to professional treatment.

Our understanding of mental illness has evolved over time, yet it still presents certain difficulties. Diagnostically speaking depression and anxiety primarily affects the way you think, feel, and behave. Before seeking help from your doctor, you must note changes for yourself. Or, your family members or close friends may be able to identify the changes in your behavior and assist you in observing behavioral changes.

Some Key Triggers

Commonly, the psychologist or therapist will identify and address key triggers and ways of managing future events. He or she will also encourage you to improve your nutrition and to exercise regularly, as both good nutrition and exercise promote a healthy mental state.

Here are some possible triggers of anxiety and depression and suggestions for action. Give yourself time to adjust to the situation. If you have a disorder that may cause symptoms of anxiety or depression, check with your doctor. If you’ve been depressed for more than two weeks, you will need to check with your doctor. Anxiety and depression are serious disorders and, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.[1]

  • Low Vitamin B12 can make you feel lethargic or depressed. Golden-agers are more at risk for low B12 because your stomach may not have enough acid to release B12 from the food you eat. Have your B10 levels checked by your doctor.
  • Thyroid Disorders are common among golden-agers. In the case of overactive thyroid, you may have heart flutters, tremors, or fatigue. An underactive thyroid can cause constipation or fatigue. That’s why this very treatable problem is often mistaken for bowel or nervous system disorders in golden-agers. Have your doctor check your thyroid levels.
  • Living with Achy Joints, often triggered by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, increases your chance of being depressed or having anxiety. If you have chronic pain, you are three times as likely to have depression or an anxiety disorder. To reduce pain, you can exercise, meditate, or listen to music. An hour of classical music a day can ease arthritis pain and depression.
  • You have Type 2 Diabetes, but you feel too listless to check your blood sugar regularly. Thus, your blood sugar levels may be unpredictable, making you feel out of control. See your doctor.
  • Many older people drink heavily. If you do, perhaps you started because of a stressful event, like retirement or the death of a spouse. It’s also a time of life when you begin losing friends and siblings. Individual or group therapy can also help deal with issues that may trigger drinking.
  • Sleep disruptions, which are common as we age, are closely related to depression. Insomnia can be a sign that you are depressed, and if you have insomnia but aren’t depressed, you’re at higher risk of developing mood changes. Learn good sleep hygiene habits, such as regular bedtime hours. Exercise early regularly and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine, which interfere with sleep. Prescription medication may also help.
  • Your children have left home, and you’re now retired. You may be experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome, which can make you feel empty. Try to see this as an opportunity. Reconnect with your spouse, other family members, and friends. Pursue hobbies and interests you didn’t have time for before.
  • If you were forced into retirement – because of poor health or other reasons – you might very well be depressed. Factors such as financial insecurity or lack of social support can also make you anxious. Adjust to your situation by becoming busy. Learn new skills, take classes, volunteer, get exercise. Be flexible: For example, if your health makes activities like travel difficult, take in museums and foreign films.
  • After being diagnosed with a heart disease, you may temporarily feel some anxiety and depression. For some of you, this may turn into severe, long-term depression and continuing anxiety. And that can worsen your heart health. A healthy diet and sleep, mild exercise, relaxation techniques, and joining a support group can help you get through the blues.
  • Some medications can bring you down. Some blood pressure medicines – as well as certain antibiotics, antiarrhythmics, acne products, and steroids, among other drugs – may be related to your mood changes. Check with your doctor, but you can also check medication side effects on WebMD or the Mayo Clinic websites. Print out your findings and take the list to your doctor.
  • Retirement can bring loneliness for some, resulting in depression. But some kinds of social support may be better than others. Making new friends in a retirement community may not be the answer. Therefore, it is important for you to maintain ties with close friends and family members. One way to do this with distant friends is through the Internet. New technology can give you virtual face-time with distant friends.
  • Older individuals who feel foggy and forgetful may be having a senior moment. On the other hand, it could be depression or dementia, a condition marked by memory loss. The signs and symptoms can be similar. Or it could be both – depression is more common in older people who have dementia, especially Alzheimer’s.

Help Yourself

You may want to take steps toward self-empowerment before seeking professional help (see list of triggers above). For example, take control of your diet. The benefits are both psychological and physiological.

You can reduce or eliminate spikes caused by sugar-laden foods (like candy and white bread) and stimulants (like excess coffee or cigarettes). Just this step alone will help reduce the debilitating feelings associated with general anxiety.

  • Avoid caffeine, such as coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine can keep you in a tense, aroused condition.
  • Do not smoke or use smokeless (spit) tobacco products. Nicotine stimulates many physical and psychological processes, causes your blood vessels to constrict, and makes your heart work harder. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
  • Exercise during the day. Even a brisk walk around the block may help you stay calm.

Research suggests exercise is a potent weapon against mild to moderate depression. Physical activity releases endorphins that can help boost mood. Regular exercise promotes higher self-esteem, better sleep, less stress, and more energy. Any moderate activity, from swimming to housework, can help. Choose something you enjoy and aim for 20 to 30 minutes four or five times a week.

A playful puppy or wise-mouthed parrot is no substitute for medication or talk therapy. But researchers say pets can ease the symptoms of mild to moderate depression in many people. Pets provide unconditional love, relieve loneliness, and give patients a sense of purpose. Studies have found pet owners have less trouble sleeping and better overall health. Pets are friends with other benefits, too. Walking a dog, for example, is good exercise and an excellent way to meet people.

Because loneliness goes hand-in-hand with depression, developing a social support network can be an important part of treatment. Some self-help ideas to boost your mood follow:

  • Join a support group, find an online support community, or make a genuine effort to see friends and family more often.
  • Join a book club or taking classes at your gym can help you connect with people on a regular basis.
  • Volunteering feels good at any age, but it may hold special benefits for golden-agers. If retirement has you adrift, for example, it can give your life a new sense of purpose and satisfaction. Recent research suggests that it may even prevent frailty in older people. Find a cause that has special importance to you and get involved. Helping others can help you forget your own problems.
  • Laughter is good medicine. A good laugh can relax muscles, reduce stress, and relieve pain. And research suggests that a good sense of humor can take the bite out of anxiety and depression. For humor on demand, create a laugh library of funny books, cartoons, and DVDs. Or try laughter yoga, which uses playful activities and breathing exercises to provoke giggles.

Seek Help

The sooner you seek help for anxiety and depression, the better your chances of recovery. But before you can do anything else, you must recognize that you need help. Identifying the way your behaviors have changed is the first step. The triggers listed above may help you identify an event or illness that may have initiated your behavioral changes and negative thinking.

Acknowledging the adverse effect on your life and seeking help can be challenging. But it is a step you need to take before you can get well.

Be open and honest with your doctor. Anxiety and depression are real medical conditions. It is not about your character, willpower, or value as a person. Your doctor is specially trained and will not pass judgment or make your feel uncomfortable.

If you don’t have insurance or can’t afford to visit a primary care doctor, try visiting a:

  • Community mental health center
  • University-affiliated health center
  • Faith-based clinic or clergy
  • Family and social service agency or social worker
  • Free health clinic

The professionals at these locations can help you find the resources you need, either referring you to another professional or providing free or low-cost diagnoses and treatment options.

Good Outlook

Once diagnosed, treatment can be quite successful. Doctors use a variety of approaches to help you. The most common approach is psychological therapies or “talking therapies.” Typically, your doctor will refer you to a qualified psychologist or therapist, who will use either behavior modification (Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT) or exam your intrapersonal and interpersonal patterns and behaviors.

Work closely with your therapist to come up with the best treatment plan for you. Your plan may include psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle changes (diet and exercise), and alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, and visualization.

In the midst of major depression, you may feel hopeless and helpless. But there’s great news: anxiety and depression are highly treatable. More than 80% of people get better with an overall treatment plan and go on to live fulfilling, productive lives. Even when these therapies fail to help, there are cutting-edge treatments that pick up the slack.

If you are into herbal supplements, you may want to consider St. John’s wort. Caution, however, because this herb has been the subject of extensive debate. There is some evidence that St. John’s wort can fight mild depression, but two large studies have shown it is ineffective against moderately severe major depression. St. John’s wort can interact with other medications you may be taking for medical conditions or birth control. Talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement.

[1] These triggers were adapted from WebMD (

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