How to Battle Pandemic Winter Blues

Good news seems in short supply these days, so when I find some, I like to pass it along. Older people, it turns out, are more resistant to mental stress and depression than younger age groups. As winter approaches with alarming COVID-19 case counts and lockdown protocols, resistance to stress and depression is a valuable attribute.

“Approximately eight months into the pandemic, multiple studies have indicated that older adults may be less negatively affected by mental health outcomes than other age groups,” a recent piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association said.

“Older adults tend to have lower stress reactivity, and in general, better emotional regulation and well-being than younger adults,” it noted. In reviewing research on how older persons have been affected by the disease, it added, “there was concern about a mental health crisis among older adults.”

This has not happened.

Research finds that the main reason for this is an accumulation of coping skills the article’s authors label as wisdom, particularly compassion for the needs and problems of others. Having “seen it all,” or at least more than younger age groups, older persons often react to problems surprisingly well, including their ability to successfully weather isolation.

I prefer the term resilience to wisdom, especially after seeing the authors of the JAMA paper provide this definition: “a complex personality trait comprised of specific components, including prosocial behaviors like empathy and compassion, emotional regulation, the ability to self-reflect, decisiveness while accepting uncertainty and diversity of perspectives, social advising, and spirituality.”

I’m sure you couldn’t have said it better yourself, right?

While older people have admirable skills to weather this pandemic, understanding and access to communications technology can be their Achilles Heel. Without good internet access and tools to use it, including software apps, seniors in isolation may struggle to make the social and commercial connections essential to remote living. This is true of all groups, of course, particularly those in rural communications with poor access to internet broadband services.

If you have older family members and friends, reach out to them and see if they need technology help. Focus on these capabilities:

A robust internet connection and a strong Wi-Fi signal for smartphones and the growing array of home-based smart devices now available. Availability and price may be issues, of course, but getting the biggest internet “pipe” and fastest Wi-Fi speed usually is money well spent.

Use and shopping trips for the aforesaid smartphones and devices.

Virtual meetings tools and how-to help, including a video camera, audio capabilities, and ease-of-use tutorials. Check out free Apple and Android meeting tools, or the popular Zoom, if comfortable with a slightly more powerful (and technically demanding) platform. Being able to see and socialize with other people is essential these days.

And you seniors out there, if you have younger family members and friends, perhaps you can use some of your hard-won wisdom to help strengthen their coping skills.

As we all navigate the next several months, and eagerly await COVID-19 vaccines, reaching out to one another can be the strongest medicine we have.