Stress Management for Seniors: Tips for Improving Health and Wellbeing
Written by tyemedical on April 22, 2020
You probably never imagined Googling stress management as a senior adult. After all, these are your “golden years,” and you likely envisioned a more carefree life. Unfortunately, reality tends to bring in the clouds, and our daydreams become a little less rosy. But the truth is, with some awareness and the right knowledge, you can enjoy life and experience more lighthearted days.
Begin by asking yourself a few questions. Are you feeling stressed but don’t know why? If you know your stress triggers, do they feel impossible to overcome? Does it seem that simple responsibilities are more taxing lately? If so, you’re not alone. Many seniors struggle to manage stress but aren’t sure where to turn for help. Getting help and support is important because chronic stress negatively affects both your mental and physical health.
Why Does Managing Stress Seem More Difficult?
No, you’re not imagining it. It was easier to cope with stress when you were younger, because it affects us differently as the years pass. Our bodies get older as our cells age, which also means that organ functions decline. Stress takes a serious toll on the body, and we don’t have the same physical resilience as we did in our younger years. So, stress feels worse as you get older, making stress management more critical.
Also, you’ve likely picked up a couple more medical diagnoses that you didn’t have years ago. If you’ve developed a chronic illness like heart disease or diabetes, then your body is already burdened and strained. This means it’s even more difficult to bounce back from stressful situations or stressful days.
You might also notice a difference in how stress affects you mentally. Regardless of age, internal and external stressors cause hormones to flood the brain as well as the rest of the body. That’s why it’s tough for us to concentrate or make decisions when we’re stressing. If you live with chronic stress, you might even experience problems with short-term memory that aren’t associated with dementia or other age-related memory issues.
So how do our bodies recover from this flood of hormones? We flush out stress hormones while we’re sleeping, which is why we feel better about something after “sleeping on it.” Sleep serves as a time of restoration for your mind as well as your body.
However, many senior adults struggle to get the hours of quality sleep that they need, which means these stress hormones carry over from today to tomorrow. Over time, this increases the mental effects of stress and many aspects of life become more difficult to deal with.
It might seem all doom and gloom so far but, stress doesn’t have to control your life. Successful stress management is possible, so read on!
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress
You might think detecting signs of stress would be easy, but it’s often not the case. Stress is so common in our modern lives that we simply get used to it. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re experiencing it or exhibiting any physical or mental symptoms. More often, we know we’re stressed but don’t recognize the severity. Eventually it accumulates and we might begin to recognize it as a problem.
Once you begin to experience more frequent states of relaxation and learn how to live in the moment, you’ll be more equipped to recognize stress or anxiety symptoms sooner. Awareness is a critical factor in stress management.
Are Stress and Anxiety the Same?
It’s an important question, because we hear much about anxiety these days. Stress and anxiety are related but don’t originate from the same place. Stress is a response to an external challenge or difficulty like an argument with your spouse or a recent move. It feels like being under too much mental or emotional pressure and causes symptoms in your body. However, prolonged or chronic stress can cause anxiety. Anxiety is a specific reaction to stress and makes you feel uneasy, worried, or fearful. It comes from within: its origin is internal.
The American Institute of Stress summarizes it this way: Worry happens in your mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body.
Signs of Senior Stress
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Changes in eating habits
- Short-term memory problems
- Changes in mood (increased irritability, sadness, indifference, etc.)
- Trouble Concentrating
- Tension headaches
- Frequent sickness
- Poorer hygiene
- Increased aches and pains
- Weight gain or loss
- Low energy, fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Negative attitude
- Shortness of breath
What’s Stressing You?
Family and friends might wonder why their loved one feels so pressured. After all, senior adults have already raised their children and seem to have fewer responsibilities. However, as life situations change, stressors simply take on new forms. Many seniors face a list of life changes that bring about stress or anxiety symptoms. Can you identify with any of these life stressors?
- Increased dependence on others
- Restricted mobility
- More health problems
- Loss of a spouse or other family members
- Recent retirement
- Financial dependence
- Losing a sense of purpose
Tips for Stress Management
Exercise in nearly any form combats stress with “feel good” hormones like endorphins. So when worries and stress begin to infiltrate your mind or body, consider trying some gentle yoga, walking, or other manageable activity to enhance your mood. If you want to make your daily exercising more interesting, try getting outside or going mall browsing.
Many times, our feelings and worries stay bottled up inside, and we often don’t understand the root of what’s stressing us. Daily journaling allows private time for exploring your innermost thoughts and feelings. Write down what you’re worrying about or what’s causing you to feel stress symptoms. Once you pinpoint the cause, the stressor often becomes more manageable, allowing you to problem solve from a more centered frame of mind. It’s sometimes helpful to bring in family and friends as you explore solutions to specific problems.
Sometimes, our reflections reveal deeper problems or concerns that require more than logical problem solving. It’s often helpful to talk to a counselor who can assist you in uncovering some of those deeper roots that trigger stress or anxiety. Simply talking to a neutral third party often helps people relive some stress.
It’s also important to set boundaries by learning to say “no” compassionately. As your life situations change, you’ll need some new boundaries with loved ones and friends. If you don’t, you might find that you’re overcommitted, agreeing to do too much for too many people. Of course, they don’t realize you’ve stretch yourself too thin. It’s important that you’re both kind and clear when setting these boundaries. If you learn to say no with compassion, you’ll reduce stress without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Meditation is an important tool for stress management. In this modern era, people use meditation as tool for enhancing relaxation and calm. It helps by focusing your attention, which frees your mind from distracting or stressful thoughts. Another key aspect of meditation (and yoga) is deep breathing. A physical symptom of stress and anxiety is shallow breathing, which only perpetuates the stress cycle. However, when you breathe deeply, the oxygen supply to your brain increases. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which increases calmness throughout your body. Deep breathing is a simple way to reduce stress and anxiety even when you’re not meditating. A popular deep breathing technique is the 4-7-8 method.
While you’re working on reducing the physical symptoms of stress, it’s also helpful to address the worry and anxiety that creeps into your mind. Inspirational reading such as quotes, uplifting books, or religious materials help to set your thinking on a more positive track. Many people find greater calm and peace from the spiritual teachings of their choice.
Fun and laughter produce the good kind of stress – excitement. They also promote a positive attitude that counteracts your stress response. So, for stress management, it’s important to make time for pleasurable activities every day. Try engaging in hobbies in like leisure reading, gardening, putting together puzzles, working on art projects, or attending a musical event.
Many people find stress relief when playing with their pet and find that it’s great exercise too. If you enjoy animals, consider what kind of pet is right for your situation. Time spent with your favorite furry friend helps to combat both stress and loneliness.
How Stress Impacts Your Health
Stress management is vital to your health at any age. Unmanaged stress is known to cause certain health conditions or worsen existing conditions. So, if you’re tempted to ignore the problem, you might find that it becomes much larger down the road.
What conditions does chronic stress lead to?
When stress floods your body with adrenaline, your blood pressure increases along with your heart rate. The long-term effects of these stress reactions take a toll on your heart. Additionally, stress sometimes leads to excessive drinking, overeating, and drug use, all of which dramatically increase your risk of heart disease.
Suppressed Immune System
Stressed out people tend to get sick more often, because stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes (infection-fighting white blood cells), hampering the immune system. Frequent sickness tends to cause even more stress, which creates a vicious cycle.
Have you ever been stress sick? It can literally make you feel sick to your stomach, because stress activates your body’s “fight or flight” response. When this happens, it shuts down blood flow, which limits secretion of digestive juices necessary for digestion. Over time, chronic or acute stress can cause irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.
Stress management is crucial to disease prevention and general health.
Incontinence and Overactive Bladder
Studies show that 48% of patients with overactive bladder also have anxiety symptoms. According to the National Association for Continence, anxiety is a risk factor for incontinence, because of how the “fight or flight” response affects the bladder. Over time, chronic stress or anxiety can cause overactive bladder and incontinence.
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