Managing Anxiety and Stress as We Age

The traditional view most people have when they think about retirement is that it sounds like a permanent vacation. For most adults, that seems like a far-off promise of a life free of troubles and worries. No more deadlines at work. The kids are all grown up and off on their own. Maybe the house his paid off and you’re free of debt. Sounds like paradise, right?

Not so fast. For many seniors, even as some stressors in life go away, they are replaced by new ones. Health concerns are one of the main reasons that people have anxiety as they age, along with worries that their money may not last long enough. And ironically, as much as we look forward to not having the pressures of a full-time job, the end of a career can often mean a loss of one’s self-identity, which can be very stressful.

There’s also a physiological aspect to how we manage stress as we age. The older we get, the more difficult it is for our brains to regulate stress-induced hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol has been shown to damage the part of the brain that retrieves and stores memories, known as the hippocampus. Plus, when we’re stressed out, we are in fight-or-flight mode and our bodies react accordingly, which means a higher likelihood of high blood pressure, heart disease, and a compromised immune system.

Some of the signs you can look for that may indicate that you or a senior loved one in your care is having difficulty managing stress include issues like depression, irritability, and mood swings, as well as occasional memory problems or forgetfulness. Other symptoms include:

  • Insomnia or noticeable changes in sleep patterns
  • Becoming socially withdrawn from friends and relatives
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Heart palpitations or tension headaches
  • Indigestion or changes in your weight
  • Exhibiting poor judgment

Stress management tips for seniors

An important first step in reducing stress for older adults is figuring out what’s causing it. Sometimes, that step alone will ease the anxiety because you stop wondering why it’s happening. It can also lead to figuring out how to eliminate the source of the stress.

As you put thought into figuring out the root cause, write your ideas down in a journal or a simple pad of paper. Also, lean on friends and family for support by talking to them about what may be bothering you. They may have helpful suggestions.

Additional ways to help cope with stress include:

  • Maintaining social connections. Long-term anxiety often leads to depression, which is made even worse if you feel lonely. Spend time with people you care about and enjoy being around.
  • Changing your routine. If you normally sleep in, get up early and take a walk. Enjoy the scenery while you’re getting a little exercise. If you like eating out, try a new dish at your favorite restaurant.
  • Taking up a new hobby. Find something you enjoy doing and have some fun with it. Try something creative, like photography or woodworking. There are plenty of options to choose from. Focusing on a new activity is a great way to stop obsessing over what may be stressing you out.
  • Meditating. Find a comfortable, peaceful spot and practice clearing your mind of all the thoughts and clutter. Try to eliminate distractions and focus on your deep breathing until you feel calm.
  • Hanging out with your pet. If you have a dog or a cat, spend some quality time cuddling with your four-legged friend. After all, pets are known for their ability to improve our emotional well-being.

Finally, try to get some exercise. That doesn’t necessarily mean joining a fitness club and seeing how much you can bench press, or trying to run a mile in 10 minutes or less. All you have to do is spend 20 to 30 minutes a day walking, gardening, swimming, or participating in any other physical activity. Before long, you’ll notice the positive effects on your stress level.

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