Stress. It’s a fact of life. No matter your age, there will be times when life feels overwhelming. As we get older, coping with stress actually becomes more difficult because the way our bodies handle stress changes over time. This change in our natural response to stress can impact us both physically and mentally. In fact, stress in seniors has been linked to conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. It can weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to colds, flus, and other common illnesses, especially during the holidays. High levels of stress in seniors can also contribute to short-term memory problems.
Common causes of stress in seniors
The reasons we experience stress change as we age. In children, stress is generally caused by issues at school. In adults, stress is often a result of working, paying bills, raising children, managing a household, etc. Seniors are impacted by their own set of stressors, including those caused by health concerns, funding retirement, physical changes that affect mobility, fears of losing independence, the loss of a friend or spouse, as well as living alone.
Signs of stress in seniors
Stress affects everyone differently, but in seniors, high levels of stress can impact both physical and mental health, leading to the following outcomes:
Changes in eating habits. This could include over-eating or a sudden loss in appetite that results in either weight gain or unintentional weight loss.
Mood swings. Stress in seniors can often cause an increase in irritability, general sadness, or even depression.
Memory issues. This could include an increase in overall forgetfulness of places, names, etc., as well as a decrease in the ability to concentrate.
Aches, pains, and other health issues. Stress can also affect seniors physically, leading to more complaints of aches, pains, and episodes of illness.
Sleep issues. This includes sudden issues falling asleep or staying asleep.
Anti-social behavior. Seniors who experience high levels of stress may isolate themselves from others and avoid social situations.
Simple ways seniors can manage stress
While you can’t change the things that cause you stress, there are a number of techniques you can utilize to keep your stress levels as low as possible, or to decrease them over time. These stress management techniques include the following:
Write it down. Journaling can be therapeutic in not only identifying what’s causing your stress, but helping you find ways to cope with it.
Talk it over. Don’t keep stress to yourself. Sometimes just sharing what you’re experiencing and feeling with a close friend or family member is enough to help you move past it.
Stay active. Regular exercise is shown to reduce feelings of tension and stress. When life feels overwhelming, resist the urge to stay sedentary. Even taking time out to walk for 30 minutes a day can help ease symptoms of stress. Or try an activity like yoga or tai chi, which place a focus on keeping the mind and body relaxed.
Try something new. Sometimes the best cure for stress is to find something that takes your mind off it. So, break out of your normal routine and immerse yourself in a new hobby.
Find a reason to laugh. They say laughter is the best medicine, but it’s also known for helping relieve tension and anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed, take time out to watch a funny TV show or movie. Or, call up that friend or family member who always makes you laugh.
Meditate. Deep breathing techniques, or meditation, is known for reducing anxiety and feelings of stress. Just find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and focus on breathing in and out. If anxious thoughts find their way to your mind, just let them go and continue to focus on your breath.
The Village at Mercy Creek, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, is located at 1501 Mercy Creek Dr. in Normal. For more information about assisted living, call 309-268-1501, visit them online at www.villageatmercycreek.org, or stop in for a tour!
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