Though we may think of our golden years as time to enjoy freedom from stress, worry, and depression, it doesn’t always work that way. That’s because despite being free from the workforce and its daily grind, we still need to cope with situations and conditions that cause stress.
Fortunately, there are some stress management activities for seniors that can help.
What is the Impact of Stress on Your Health?
Stress is a mechanism your body uses to energize you in the face of danger. It does this by releasing chemicals into your system known as “fight-or-flight” hormones. These chemicals, which include cortisol and adrenaline, are meant to quickly sharpen your mind, energize your body, and flood your bloodstream with quickly-metabolized sugars to help you either face, or flee from danger.
With time and repeated stress, it becomes harder for your brain to regulate these hormones, especially cortisol. Since your endocrine system begins producing more cortisol more often, it builds up in your bloodstream. This can lead to problems with your physical health such as heart disease, type II diabetes, and a weakened immune system; and your mental health with depression and anxiety.
And for these reasons, stress management for seniors is important!
Why are Seniors Experiencing Stress and Depression?
When we’re younger, stress tends to focus around work pressure, bills to pay, and the daily grind of life, though this changes as we age. Yes, stress is still there, just from different causes.
For instance, the loss of friends or loved ones, declining health, caring for others (such as a spouse) in declining health, or the loss of mobility and independence can all be highly stressful. And not only are situations such as these common for seniors, they can increase the depression and anxiety associated with stress.
How Can Caregivers Approach Stress Management in Seniors?
For caregivers, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of stress, which can vary from person-to-person. For instance, one individual may be experiencing stress-related insomnia, while another may be showing symptoms of depression after a loss of mobility and independence. Though each is a symptom of stress, a one-size-fits-all treatment won’t cover both, which means different treatments need to be tailored to each.
For instance, cognitive therapy may be the best treatment for insomnia, while changes to a living environment to increase independence may work for mobility issues.
But whatever the outcome of stress, it’s important for caregivers to recognize the affect on the individual and create a treatment plan that suits their unique needs.
What are the Symptoms of Stress?
Though everyone responds differently to stress, there are some common symptoms you may be able to recognize.
- Tension headaches
- Brain fog
- Inability to focus
- Shoulder tightness and back pain
- Sudden emotional episodes, such as crying
- Trouble making decisions
- Weight gain
Fortunately, managing your stress can help alleviate these conditions and help you enjoy a happier, healthier life.
Stress Management Tips
To help manage stress, there are some simple things you can do that can pay dividends in helping you feel better.
- Exercising, which can be as simple as an evening walk or other activity that elevates your heart rate for at least 30-minutes per-day. No, watching a scary movie doesn’t count…though dancing does!
- Take up a relaxing exercise, such as yoga ortai chi
- Take up a new hobby, which can not only help keep your mind off stress, but can also help guard it against the stress of age-related mental decline
- Getting out into nature, which is not only relaxing and meditative, but a walk in the woods is an ideal way to get low-impact exercise
- Get some sunshine–ever notice how good the first warm day of spring makes you feel? That’s the increase in the feel-good hormone serotonin sunshine gives us, and your body also needs sunlight to produce vitamin D, which has been linked to a positive mental outlook
- Though it’s a commitment that involves work, consider getting a pet. Not only is it easy to form a loving bond with a dog or a cat, but in the case of a dog, you’ve got a special friend with a built-in reason to go out and exercise together each day
- Change it up, since the same routine every day gets boring and uninspiring! Try new foods, meet new people, and go to new places to discover new things, all of which will keep your mind occupied and the stress at bay
- Stay socially connected with friends, family, and loved ones, all of whom can help keep your spirits up
- Take up meditation, which can ease your mind and keep it strong
- Take a class at the local community college, which can not only engage your mind with learning something new, but is a great way to meet new friends
Stress Management with Intermountain Health
Though you may not know it, the symptoms of stress could be affecting your health. It might seem that your irritating headache, frequent insomnia, or reduced work productivity are related to illness or other causes, when in fact, they’re due to stress.
That’s why Intermountain Health uses some simple techniques such as belly breathing to help reduce your high anxiety and stress. For those who don’t know, the difference between belly breathing and chest breathing is that with chest breathing, only your chest rises where as with belly breathing you take in more oxygen by filling your stomach. The practitioners at Intermountain Health will have you do this by placing your hands on your belly and inhaling for 3 – 4 seconds, and then exhaling 4 – 6 times to help ground and relax you by bringing more oxygen to your brain.
Today, therapy of this nature is accepted, whereas prior generations may not have talked about problems with stress as much. But this is changing, since patients who are coming into our myGeneration Clinics now accept, and even embrace these changes.
Remember that many of us come from generations where stress, depression, and anxiety weren’t talked about, just dealt with. By normalizing such terms such as “depression” and letting you know that it’s okay to feel sad, and that everyone feels sad sometimes, this can be changed.
But, you may feel sadder than normal at times and need someone to talk to, which can be best done with someone you’re not connected to in an emotional way, such as you would be with family or friends. But speaking with a qualified, compassionate caregiver helps normalize reaching out and makes it easier to accept help for your condition.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.