As we enter the senior stage of life, most of us look forward to the wisdom that comes from age and experience. As retirement draws near there is anticipation of having more time for grandchildren, to pursue hobbies and to travel. Yet many of us find ourselves experiencing unexpected stress. Stress in seniors can result from concerns about declining health or unexpected illnesses, whether we will have enough money to live off of, the loss of a partner or worries over adult children.
Stress can have adverse effects at any age but is particularly harmful for seniors. Stress causes the release of potentially harmful hormones that, over time, overload the system. As we age, our brain becomes less able to successfully regulate these hormones. Chronic stress has been linked to such impacts as weight gain and diabetes, decreased immune system function, higher risk of hypertension, increased risk of chronic disease, and memory loss.
Sometimes we are unaware of stress in our lives. Here are some symptoms that may have their roots in stress:
- Chronic muscle aches and pain
- Chest pain or a pounding heart
- Sleep trouble
- Weight loss or gain
- Stomach upset
- Foggy thinking or trouble concentrating
For seniors to thrive we must learn ways to not merely manage stress but overcome it. Consider the following ideas for creating a more relaxing lifestyle:
- Exercise – It doesn’t require a gym membership, find something you enjoy and make it a priority. Exercise helps to release tension, gives a change of scenery, exchanges toxic stress hormones with positive endorphins and increased oxygen intake for clearer thinking
- Seek community – studies show that isolation is linked to increased depression and anxiety
- Be mindful – meditation and or prayer helps to quiet the mind
- Choose to be thankful – focus on the positives helps relieve the tendency to worry
- Immerse in a project or volunteer – finding things to do that takes us outside of ourselves helps divert our attention from worry
- Jot down solutions – often worry can be generalized, try to identify the source and jot down possible solutions
- Read something inspiring – inspiration helps fight worry
- Spend time playing/caring for pets or grandchildren – do we need to explain this one?
Melanie D. Cahill, MS CCC-SLP