I am 59 and single. I work from home and look after my mother, 88, but recently I seem to have fallen into a rut: overweight, drinking too much and lazy. My doctor has put me on anti-depressants. How can I liven up?
Working from home while having to care for a frail elderly loved one is a big commitment and can leave you very isolated. There is no single magic solution to depression, but you have to start helping yourself somewhere, so here are a few thoughts.
Getting out is essential: if your mother is not mobile, it is likely that you are also spending nearly all your time stuck indoors, which means moving less, so physically you are probably burning fewer calories while eating the same (or maybe more, if you’re a bit of a comfort-eater). Make a rule to get out of the house at least once a day (but don’t just head for the car /pub!).
Talk to someone: These days the NHS recommends “talking treatments” to combat mild depression: cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and so on. As with medications, you may not get the kind of talking treatment that works for you at first try, so don’t be put off by a single negative experience.
Exercise can help: Alongside talking treatments, the health service officially recognises that exercise can be as effective as pills at beating depression. Thirty years’ worth of scientific evidence shows that regular workouts do lift your mood and help to keep you positive.
It doesn’t hugely matter what kind of exercise you do, but bear in mind your circumstances. Being largely house-bound, overweight and drinking too much, you are starting to increase your risk level for heart disease. So make a double dash for mental and physical fitness by aiming at a daily half-hour brisk (and I mean brisk enough to get you breathing quite hard) walk or cycle ride. Think creatively: can you go first thing in the morning, or last thing at night? Can you combine exercise with an outing for your mother? Is there a deal you can do, offering to walk the dog for a neighbour while they sit in with your mum?
If your time is more flexible, consider a three-times-a week visit to the local swimming pool or gym. At the gym you’ll also be able to do weight-training – very helpful for shedding unwanted flab.
Team up with others: Joining an exercise class (such as spinning at the gym or a power walking group in the park) can really boost your motivation. It will also give you a chance to meet people and chat.
Put yourself first: Be resolute in setting aside a small chunk of each day, preferably at a fixed time so you can develop a routine. Let nothing get in the way of it and before long you may find your outlook and your energy reserves are both perking up.