When people think about aging, they tend to associate it with physical symptoms like gray hair and wrinkles. However, mental health issues such as depression can also impact how you age in ways that may surprise you. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental illness each year. And while most people associate mental illness with young people, it can also affect seniors.
Anxiety or Depression Can Raise Your Risk of Early Death
Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are associated with many fatal medical conditions, such as heart attacks. Studies have proven that if you have anxiety or depression, your risk of heart disease is higher than someone without mental illness.
Depression can also cause people to neglect their health, which increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It may also make it harder to sleep well and get adequate exercise. If you have depression or anxiety, you must see a doctor and work with them on a treatment plan.
The good news is that many effective treatments for anxiety and depression exist. A therapist or counselor can help develop an effective treatment plan and work on it to get results. You can easily find a therapist by looking for one on the internet. You can also ask your doctor, friends, or family for references. Regardless of how you search, find a therapist who can work well with you and with whom you are comfortable sharing your thoughts.
Mental Health Issues Can Cause Physical Symptoms
If you have a mental health issue, you’ve likely also experienced physical symptoms. Depression can cause headaches and stomach problems. Anxiety can cause chest pain, back pain, and stomach issues. Stress can contribute to sleep problems or make existing ones worse.
In addition to causing changes in mood and energy levels, depression may also affect cortisol levels. This can lead to “emotional eating,” in which a person eats in response to negative emotions. The foods people turn to when emotional eating tends to be high in fat and sugar. This can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Linked to a Higher Risk of Developing Dementia
A recent study funded by the National Institute of Aging concludes that mental health issues can lead to dementia. The study examined the health records of over 1.7 million people. It was found that people with mental disorders were four times more likely to develop dementia than others.
Dementia is a disease that affects the brain and causes problems with your memory, thinking, and behavior. It’s normal for people to develop dementia as they age, but many factors determine whether you’ll experience symptoms of this terrible condition.
It’s important to know that mental health issues are not considered a normal part of aging. However, someone with mental health issues can go on to develop dementia later in life.
Affects Your Overall Well-Being as You Age
Your mental health affects your overall well-being as you age. Your physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health depend on your mind’s strength. The same is true for financial health.
When you’re in good mental shape, it’s easier to successfully manage all of these areas of life. On the other hand, when you’re struggling with mental issues or feeling depressed, anxiety or other mood disorders can make everything much harder and potentially take a toll on your physical health.
Mental Health Can Affect Your Immune System
If you’re like most people, your immune system might be a little worse for wear. When your mental health is poor, the functioning of your immune system may also be compromised. That’s because the body’s defense against disease is affected by stress and sleep deprivation, which are common in modern society. Sleep-deprived people often have increased cortisol levels in their bloodstream, which can wreak havoc on the immune system and other body systems.
The result? Your white blood cells may not function correctly, and your body won’t be able to fight off infections. Some research suggests that even healthy adults who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are more likely to develop colds or flu if exposed to viruses than those who get eight hours or more each night.
Your Mind Can Impact Aging a Lot More Than You Might Think
While physical health is important, mental health significantly impacts how you age. You may think that depression and anxiety are the only problems when it comes to mental health, but they’re not. If your brain isn’t working correctly, you won’t be able to remember things as well, and you could have trouble with everything from finding your way around a new neighborhood to remembering what someone said at dinner last week.
Mental health issues can make life harder in many ways:
- They can affect relationships with family members and friends
- Cause people who are suffering from them to stay away from social gatherings
- Make it hard for them to get through their daily routines (like getting out of bed)
- Make it difficult for them to do everyday tasks such as cooking meals and cleaning up after themselves
- Prevent people from working at their jobs effectively because they’re distracted by what’s going on inside their heads all day long
Mental health problems can affect all areas of your life, including how you feel about yourself and how others see you.
What Can You Do?
If you are struggling with mental health issues, the first thing to do is seek help. Many resources are available for people who want to improve their emotional well-being, including therapy and medication.
If this feels daunting, don’t worry. There are many options. Your doctor may be able to suggest someone, or there are even online options. Try searching for “online therapist” and see what comes up. You can also ask friends and family for recommendations.
The second thing you can do is take care of your body. This means eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, consider adding in some mindfulness exercises as well. Finding ways to manage stress and reduce negative thinking patterns will help improve both mental and physical health.
The bottom line is that everybody is going to age, and it may not be for the reasons you initially thought. So now you know. But no matter what kind of older adult you become, as long as you’re happy and well adjusted, that’s what matters most.