No one is immune from stress. Even in retirement, life still holds plenty of reasons for seniors to feel stressed and suffer the debilitating effects. It is also important to note that seniors may not have the ability to manage stress as well as they did when they were younger so understanding the reasons for stress, the physical and mental impacts and ways to combat stress can help make aging much more fulfilling.
Getting older brings with it many challenges. Losing spouses, partners and friends, becoming isolated, and physical challenges like loss of mobility, or mental changes like memory loss can all contribute to and escalate feelings of stress.
But there are also less obvious causes for stress in seniors especially those associated with fear and loss of control. Many seniors have a deep-seated fear of losing their independence and being unable to care for themselves. Others may worry they will become ill or suffer a serious injury, or that they will run out of money, even when they have considerable assets. Many also feel stressed believing that someday they will no longer be an important part of the lives of those they love. All of these and more are explained in the seniorliving.org article, “Top 10 Fears of Older Adults in 2022.”
Stress isn’t just in our minds it is a very physical reaction that impacts health in many ways. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol which according to the my.clevelandclinic.org article, “Cortisol,” is key to managing the body’s stress response, but also plays a role in controlling inflammation, metabolism, blood pressure, blood sugar, and sleep cycles.
When stress goes on for a long time, or is traumatic, too much cortisol can cause a range of physical symptoms including weight gain, muscle weakness, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weak bones, heart palpitations, sleep problems, headaches, indigestion, and even a shorter life span. Learn more in the stress.org article, “How stress affects seniors, and how to manage it.”
Just as stress has physical effects, it also affects mental health, particularly when it is long-term. Being under constant stress for a long period can impact the ability to make decisions, concentrate, remember things, and may even cause cognitive distortion.
On another level, stress can bring about emotional changes like irritability, moodiness, anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, and low self-worth, as well as behavioral changes like poor appetite, social withdrawal, lower libido, and increased use of controlled substances like drugs, alcohol and tobacco. For more ways stress can impact mental health checkout the webmd.com article, “What to Know About Stress and How It Affects Your Mental Health.”
Living with stress is difficult but there are plenty of ways to manage and minimize it. One of the easiest is exercise, which is not only a great stress buster, but has many other benefits as well. According to the mayoclinic.org article, “Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress,” exercise causes the release of endorphins (the “happy hormones”), which are good for cardiovascular, digestive and immune system health, can improve moods, lower feelings of depression and anxiety, and improve sleep.
As much as stress can have a negative effect on thoughts, simply practicing meditation can work to relieve stress. Although there are many types of meditation, the mindworks.org article “Stress Reduction And Meditation,” explains how meditation works to soften the stress response, alter the brain, and increase positive emotions and feelings of well-being.
Similar to meditation but with physical movement included, yoga is another easy but productive way to combat stress. According to the verywellmind.com article, “How Yoga Can Help Reduce Stress,” yoga combines exercise, breathing control, mindfulness, and relaxation, all of which are excellent for stress relief.
Perhaps the simplest of all stress relievers is spending time in the natural world. Walking in a park, strolling through a botanical garden, taking a hike to a favorite overlook, or walking along a beach can really help decrease stress and also help to inspire, reconnect with nature, and lower feelings of anxiety and depression. Learn more about the benefits of nature in the heart.org article, “Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety.”
Seniors suffering from memory conditions like dementia also may feel stress due to being confused and frustrated. But one way to ease stress is through simple human touch which actually helps decrease cortisol levels while increasing levels of oxytocin (aka the “love hormone”) and providing a sense of well-being. Learn more in the dementiasociety.org article, “Caring Touch as a Way to Communicate.”
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