You would think that once seniors are no longer juggling demanding jobs while raising a family, they’d be free from stress. Unfortunately, that’s just not so.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors had to deal with stress on a regular basis. So it’s important to understand why and how stress can impact the daily life of older people.
Because the body’s cells and systems wear down with age, the ability to handle and recover from stress diminishes. Seniors also feel pressure more intensely. What are some of the common stressors that bedevil older adults and how can they manage them more effectively?
What causes stress for older adults?
Financial obligations and family problems are common causes of stress for people of all ages. However, as seniors get older additional stressors may come into play. Disappointment about how their children turned out or frustration over unfulfilled dreams are very real issues for many older people.
The reality of death also becomes more tangible. The passing of a spouse or the multiple deaths of loved ones and friends over time can be overwhelming and trigger intense loneliness. Thoughts of the inevitability of their own death can cause serious anxiety and chronic stress.
Moreover, physical abilities such as mobility, hearing and sight can start to deteriorate. Seniors understandably begin to worry about losing their independence. They dread the thought of having to rely on family members or caregivers.
Older adults may also feel useless as they age. Psychology Today says that when a person is no longer working or earning any income, they may become bored and feel a lack of purpose in life. This can explain why some seniors undergo “reverse retirement” and return to the work force on a part-time or full-time basis. Others seek volunteer opportunities to ease the boredom.
What are the signs and effects of stress in seniors?
Stress can make older people feel fatigued, irritable and withdrawn. Ongoing stress can lead to gastrointestinal issues, headaches and insomnia, as well as anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
Physically, stress can suppress the immune system, making a person more susceptible to illness. Because older adults often have suppressed immune systems already due to age, this becomes a double whammy. It’s easier for stressed seniors to get sick and it takes longer for them to recover.
Stress can raise a person’s blood pressure and heart rate because it can boost adrenaline in the body. Moreover, stress can trigger excessive drinking and eating, which can increase the risk of heart disease and other health conditions. For the sake of both physical and mental health, it’s vital to decrease stress whenever possible and learn to cope in healthy ways.
How can older people combat and cope with stress?
So, what can seniors do about stress? Removing them from stressful situations is a start, but there are numerous stressors that we can’t control. However, they can better cope with stress by addressing their finances and finding debt relief programs if money is an issue, eating a nutritious, balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, trying meditation techniques, and staying active in their community.
One physical activity that has proven benefits for seniors is yoga. Yoga poses can improve balance and flexibility which can reduce the risk of falling. A regular yoga practice also can soothe aches and pains, improve mental health, promote better sleep, and even aid digestion.
Additionally, even if physical exercise isn’t possible due to health reasons, mental exercise like keeping a journal has been proven to help with stress.
If you feel stress is causing uncontrollable feelings of frustration, sadness, self-harm or other severe problems in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for an evaluation. If you are on Medicare, Medicare.org notes you are eligible for a depression screening every year with your doctor. Psychiatric evaluations, testing, therapy and treatment from psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals may also be available depending on your Medicare plan.
Reducing stress and its effects is essential for long-term mental and physical health. If you are overwhelmed by stress for any reason, develop a plan and stick to it to reduce the pressure in your life. Ask for professional help if you need it. Getting a handle on stress is vital for your longevity, happiness and overall well-being.
Our thanks to Karen Weeks with www.elderwellness.net for contributing this column.