Why Women Over 40 Experience Depression
"Women aged 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression out of any group based on age and gender in the United States."
In today’s part one of a two-part series, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist talks about depression. In particular, we will be focusing on depression in women over the age of 40. Dr. Nancy will share reasons why women over 40 tend to experience more symptoms of depression. She’ll go through the specific signs and symptoms of depression in women, and provide some of her holistic tips that can make a big difference.
- 1:58: Introduction
- 6:55: New Statistics
- 8:35: Signs and symptoms Associated with depression in women
- 13:57: Causes of Depression in women
- 16:25: The Female Physiological Response to Stress
- 19:12: Natural Tips and Advice to treat depression in women over 40
- 17:59: Other Common Causes of Depression
- 23:39: Ways to improve your quality of sleep
- 25:58: All natural essential room spray
- 33:55: Wrap Up
Contrary to what many believe, clinical depression is not a normal part of being a woman nor is it a female weakness. Most of us have experienced depression in some form or another, such as feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and feeling drained of energy and motivation.
For women, and especially women over the age of 40, depression is complicated by the addition of hormonal changes and thyroid issues, changing of social pressures, and one additional factor that many don’t recognize or talk about, which is the female’s body unique response to stress. The female’s body natural response to stress has a significant impact on depression.
Depression affects every part of your life, including physical, emotional and mental health. It especially affects the relationships around you. If left untreated, it can seriously affect your finances and your career as well. Depression isn’t something that you can just “snap out of”. However, it’s really important to realize that you are not in your struggle alone and that you’re not abnormal. In fact women are nearly twice as likely than men to suffer from depression. This rate is much higher for women over the age of 40.
New Statistics on Depression
- New statistics released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that one in eight middle-aged women in the United States has depression.
- Women aged 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression out of any group based on age and gender in the United States. In fact they have an incredible 30% higher likelihood of experiencing depression than other groups.
- Approximately 12 million women in the US experience clinical depression each year.
- About one in eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during her lifetime.
- Women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men.
- Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30% to 50% of the time.
- Fewer than half of the women who have experienced clinical depression will ever seek care.
- Research shows that one out of three depressed people also suffers from some sort of abuse or dependence.
Signs and symptoms associated with depression in women
There are general signs and symptoms associated with depression. Women tend to also experience certain symptoms more frequently than men. Here are some signs and symptoms of depression in women. The symptoms often vary from mild to severe and are distinguished by the impacts they have on your ability to function efficiently in your daily life. These symptoms include:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Lack of interest in former hobbies, pastimes, or social activities that you used to enjoy
- Appetite changes often leading to significant weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in your sleep pattern or quality of sleep
- Feeling angry, agitated and restless
- Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and drained of energy
- Trouble concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
- Increase in aches and pains, including headaches and cramps, breast tenderness, and bloating
Depression in the winter months is also common. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It occurs often as a result of exposure to lower levels of sunlight. This is a real problem and is a diagnosable form of depression that occurs seasonally and is directly related to a lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency causes issues with how the hypothalamus in the brain functions and this leads to a disruption in your body’s sleep pattern, or circadian rhythm. This causes increased production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes you feel tired and lethargic.
SAD also decreases our levels of serotonin, which is a hormone that affects our appetite and our mood. SAD has shown to be a major contributor to depression in the winter months for women.
Atypical depression means that your depressed mood can brighten in response to positive events but quickly return to serious depression. Symptoms of atypical depression can vary from person to person. Key signs and symptoms may include:
- Depression that temporarily lifts in response to really good news or positive events
- Increased appetite or weight gain
- Sleeping too much, but still feeling sleepy in the daytime
- Heavy latent feelings in your arms and your legs that last for an hour or more in the day
- Sensitivity to rejection or criticism, which affects your relationship, social life, or job
- Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness. Women tend to harshly criticize themselves for perceived faults and mistakes much more frequently than men.
Causes of Depression in Women
The disparity in rates of depression between men and women may be explained by a number of social, biological, and hormonal factors that are specific to women, especially over the age of 40, such as menopause and perimenopause. Women may be at an increased risk of depression during perimenopause, which is the stage leading to menopause. During these stages, progesterone levels decrease which results in irregularity in the menstrual cycle. It also results in headaches or migraines and significant mood changes, including anxiety, or periods of a strong depression.
Women with histories of past depression are at a significantly increased risk of depression during menopause.
People with thyroid conditions become depressed or experience depression as a symptom of the condition. In fact, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness in general. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of people with serious medical conditions have symptoms of depression.
The Female Physiological Response to Stress
Women, and particularly women over the age of 40, produce more of the stress hormone cortisol than men. The female sex hormone progesterone prevents the stress hormone system from turning itself off as it does in men. Since depression is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause, and progesterone levels fluctuate during this time, chronic stress in women over the age of 40 not only leads to depression but also contributes to chronic inflammation, which also affects your immune system. It affects your blood sugar, metabolism, and gut health.
In addition to being at a greater risk for depression caused by hormonal changes, women who are stressed often neglect healthy lifestyle practices. They may not eat a healthy diet or drink more than normal and neglect regular exercise. Frequent stress leads to behaviors and patterns that in turn can lead to chronic stress, which can further lead to a decline in lifestyle practices.
Other Common Causes of Depression
Other common causes of depression include:
- Loneliness and isolation
- Lack of social support
- Family history of depression
- Early childhood trauma or abuse
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Marital or relationship problems
- Balancing the pressures of a career and home life
- Family responsibilities such as caring for children, spouse, or aging parents
- Persistent financial problems
Natural tips and advice to treat depression in women over 40
Here are five tips that have proven to be effective when dealing with depression. They include:
Support your overall health and wellness
In addition to exercising, and in order to overcome depression, you have to do things that help you relax, reenergize you, and support your overall health and wellbeing. This includes following a healthy lifestyle and learning how to better manage your stress, setting realistic limits on what you’re able to do, and finding things that spark joy and fun in your everyday life.
Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night
This ensures that your body and your brain have enough time to rest and repair themselves. It also helps to balance hormones, reduce stress levels, reduce inflammation, increase energy, and decrease your risk of serious depression. This is not just from a physical, mechanical standpoint but also from an emotional space, you are able to relax the neurons that are always engaged in critical thinking and trying to categorize and run your world. When you sleep, you give your neurons a chance to hit pause and just relax. You can accompany good sleep with some meditation as well.
Depression often involves sleep problems. So if you’re not sleeping enough, your mood is going to suffer. You need to find a way to sleep solidly at night. You can get on a better sleep schedule by adopting healthier sleep habits if you’re suffering from lack of sleep.
Ways to improve your quality of sleep
There are a number of recommendations that you can implement for improving sleep. These include:
- Practicing deep belly breathing in order to relax and fall asleep. This is so beneficial right before bed. Include a couple of deep breaths out loud as you sigh or keep it quiet as you sigh. Just three deep breaths are going to calm your central nervous system and bring you back to a place of calm.
- Unplug your phones and electronic devices a least an hour before bed. These gadgets emit a blue light that alters your body’s production of melatonin which is a hormone essential in regulating your sleep cycle.
- Use lavender essential oil to help you relax. You can diffuse it throughout your bedroom or take a nice bath with it before you go to bed.
All natural essential room spray
Here is a quick, easy way to make a great smelling all natural essential oil room spray. You can do this and spray it on your pillow right before bed to relax.
- 1 tbsp rubbing alcohol
- 6 tbsp filtered water
- 10 to 40 drops of a natural essential oil. You can use your favorite scent such as lavender, sandalwood, and wild orange.
Mix the liquids together and place in your desired spray bottle.
Sleep is so important. Do whatever you can to get enough of it. Use black out shades to keep your bedroom dark, use a white noise machine or noise-canceling headphones.
Keep stress in check
Not only does stress prolong and worsen depression, it can also trigger or contribute to a whole host of health issues including chronic inflammation and all the unwanted effects that come with that. Practice relaxation techniques to reduce your stress and depression. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce your stress, boost feelings of joy and also improve your well-being. Try yoga, deep stretching, and forward fold, relax your muscles, go get a massage, go for a walk, use your oils, read a book, or go outside and listen to the birds and wind go through trees. Take some time for yourself.
Do things that you enjoy or you used to enjoy
You can push yourself to do things even if you don’t want to. Pick up a form of hobby or a sport that you used to like is a really great way to de-stress and focus on something other than your stress or depression. You can dance, draw and color, write, or create a journal, hang out with friends and/or surround yourself with people and or get out of your house.
Depression is much more common in women over the age of 40 and it’s not just a normal part of being a woman or not a female weakness. Changing hormones, thyroid issues and inflammation, Seasonal Affective Disorder and increased levels of cortisol all contribute greatly to higher levels of stress in women than in men.
We talked in detail about a number of signs and symptoms, as well as causes of depression in women. The doctor shared a few tips for dealing with depression for women over the age of 40, and supporting overall health and wellness.