Stress in Seniors
While many of us consider the senior years to be a period of life that is meant to be filled with feelings of calm and relaxation because seniors supposedly have fewer responsibilities to juggle when they are retired and their families are grown, the truth is that the aging process often brings about an immense amount of stress for both seniors and those who help to care for and support them. The general stress of life that accompanies aging is often also amplified by other new and difficult challenges that seniors may encounter in the forms of health concerns, loss of friends, family, or social circles, reduced levels of independence, and other common features of older age that seniors have to work through all at the same time. In pursuit of helping to support seniors’ mental and physical health, it is important to build an understanding of the numerous factors that can contribute to stress, as well as the potential ramifications that can result if stress goes unaddressed.
What Stress Does?
On top of causing feelings of anxiety and an overarching sense of uneasiness, stress can also impact the physical body in ways that can affect seniors’ health. Stress leads the body to release cortisol, which is a hormone that has been proven to negatively affect the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, the functioning of which is essential for the storing and recalling of memories. Not only does an increase in stress hormones have the ability to impact memory, it can also lead to various other health concerns, such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Weakened Immune System
- Heart Disease
Seniors are at an increased risk of experiencing the negative effects that can result from stress hormones because the body becomes less efficient at regulating hormones as it ages.
The fact that stress can take different forms in each individual case means that it can be challenging to identify and, therefore, to tackle. There are, however, certain consistent signs or symptoms that we can look out for as our senior loved ones go through the changes they experience as they grow older.
- Loss of Interest in Activities
- Mood Swings
- Sleeping Troubles
- Changes in Eating Habits
- More Frequent Colds or Flus
Many of these behaviours come along with an amplified level of stress, but it is important to note that they may also be attributable to other overarching issues such as depression or other mental or physical health concerns, so it is always best practice to consult a doctor when concern arises in order to achieve a well-informed picture of the situation.
Making Things Better
The truth in the vast majority of cases is that causes of stress cannot be wholly avoided and, therefore, neither can the feelings that come as a result. There are, however, some strategies that can help seniors to minimize or better manage the stress they are experiencing and reduce the effect that stress has upon daily life.
- Be Social: Stress is often amplified by feelings of isolation or loneliness, so making sure that seniors create enough opportunities to interact with friends, family, loved ones, or peers in a social setting can help them to decrease the level of stress they experience by increasing their feelings of belonging and involvement. Knowing that they have meaningful social connections can also help seniors to feel they have a stronger support system to help them deal with stress as it arises.
- Stay Active: Physical activity in one form or another, particularly when accompanied by fresh air, has been proven to reduce stress. While seniors’ mobility levels may vary, there is always a way to integrate some movement into the day through walking, stretching, or just getting outside, and each of these can help to reduce stress.
- Create Positive Space: The way we feel is often largely affected by the physical surroundings in which we find ourselves. Creating a physical space that is clean, tidy, and free of clutter can not only make us feel in control of the environment, but can also help us to feel more in control in general and, therefore, less stressed overall. Similarly, soothing or pleasant accents to rooms can help seniors to find peace and calm in their surroundings when they are overcome by stress, so adding nice decorations, plants, or other personal touches can help seniors to self-soothe through their environment when they are stressed.
Stress can be challenging to deal with and often feels unescapable, but it is important to work towards managing and minimizing the levels of stress that seniors experience, because the negative health effects can be truly harmful. Incorporating some intentional strategies and keeping an eye out for indicators of stress as they begin to arise can help allow the seniors of Calgary to stay in a positive headspace and enjoy their daily lives to the fullest.