While stress is a normal part of life, how it affects us changes as we age. As our immune system, heart and brain health, and other factors decline, our resilience to stress declines along with them. Stress management for older adults is especially important for those who are sedentary; managing a health condition; or who are having difficulty maintaining their physical, emotional or mental health.
How Stress Affects Our HealthDuring stressful times, our brains release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase our focus or make us more sensitive to stimuli so we can deal with the situation. However, as we get older, our brain has difficulty regulating those hormones, producing higher levels that are hard for our bodies to cope with. These stress hormones negatively affect our health and are linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Common Signs of Stress
Most of us have developed a headache from stress. But did you know that heart palpitations, anxiety, irritability, and even trouble sleeping are associated with stress as well? Family members and friends may notice you’re not yourself, but sometimes it’s hard to see it for yourself. Here are some common signs of stress to look out for:
- Mood swings: You can’t control your emotional ups and downs.
- Emotional: You’re constantly teary, depressed, anxious or irritable.
- Forgetfulness: You’re having more trouble remembering things.
- Lack of focus: You just can’t concentrate for very long.
- Poor judgment: You’re making risky or impulsive decisions.
- Insomnia: You’re exhausted from not sleeping soundly or enough.
- Withdrawal: You don’t feel like being around people.
- Loss of interest: You have no energy for activities you enjoy.
- Aches and pains: You have frequent tension headaches or heart palpitations.
- Appetite change: You’re overeating or have no interest in food at all.
Stress Management for Older AdultsSeniors often face unique stressful situations. They may be mourning the loss of a spouse or a loved one. Relationships that once anchored them, such as those with a close friend or a child, may be changing. They may have worries about a loss of independence due to a loss of vision, hearing or mobility.
Because constant stress causes lasting negative effects, it’s important for older adults to maintain their resilience through healthy, self-nurturing behaviors. The types of stress relief that work best depends on what the person is experiencing. For example, if a senior is feeling stressed by a physical condition or disability, they may need the assistance of a professional to help them address their symptoms and figure out how to adapt their daily routine.
In general, focusing on getting restorative sleep and practicing relaxation techniques can alleviate and manage stress. Here are seven quick fixes that can help:
Find the cause.
Take a good look at what’s causing your stress. Write about it, talk to someone you trust, or to a professional counselor. Consider whether you need assertiveness training or other communication techniques to help you resolve any issues.
Work up a sweat.
Getting regular exercise, preferably outdoors, increases mood-boosting endorphins in your body. Ask your doctor which kinds of physical activity would be right for you.
Turn to someone who’s a good listener and whom you know will provide a shoulder to cry on if you need it. Join a support group if you’re dealing with bereavement.
Find your center.
According to your beliefs, make time for meditation, deep breathing, relaxed contemplation, or prayer. Making this a regular practice will help control mental chatter, lower blood pressure, and promote a feeling of calm.
Resist the urge to reach for highly processed snacks, sugary drinks or convenience foods. Your body and brain need healthy, nutritious food when you’re under stress.
Get a pet.
The devoted companionship of a pet like a cat or a dog can reduce stress and loneliness. Make sure you understand the physical and financial responsibilities before you adopt.
Write in a journal, paint a picture, play an instrument, build in the woodshop — explore an art or craft that appeals to you. Creative activities can help you express yourself and let go of tension and anxiety you may be holding on to.
At our senior living community, we’re passionate about helping older adults live their best — thriving and resilient in the face of life’s stressors. To that end, The Buckingham is a Center for Successful Aging, with a holistic approach to aging well founded on the research-based Masterpiece Living® philosophy. Learn how we shape innovative opportunities for wellness into a customized program for every dimension of your health. Contact us at 713-979-3090 today.