Stress is an unavoidable part of life. The quickening of your heartbeat and the heightening of your senses that you experience with normal stress is just your body preparing to respond. But when stress goes on for too long, it can be dangerous.
According to Barnabas Health Home Care and Hospice, for older adults, prolonged stress may come from chronic illness, disability, or the loss of a loved one. Other sources may involve money, change in living situation, or family problems. These types of stressors are long term and can be more difficult to deal with. Symptoms may include anxiety, sadness, trouble eating and sleeping, aches and pains, and weight loss.
How stress affects older adults
Studies show that long-term stress can damage brain cells, leading to depression. Depression is one of the most dangerous effects of stress in older people and may contribute to:
- Loss of memory and concentration
- Inability to fight off or recover from illness
- Increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer
- Irritability or moodiness
Coping with stress
The first step to coping with stress is learning to recognize it. If you have suffered a loss, are struggling with an illness or disability, or are having trouble dealing with a major change in your life, know that symptoms of stress are normal and not a sign of weakness. But prolonged sadness, anxiety, loss of interest in life, and giving up activities you once enjoyed are not a normal part of getting older. They could be signs of depression.
Barnabas Health Home Care and Hospice offer these strategies to older adults who are coping with stress:
- Take care of yourself. When dealing with stress, it's important to get plenty of sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise releases hormones that help you fight off stress and depression and can improve your sense of well-being. Talk to your doctor about what physical activities may benefit you most.
- Participate in social activities. Find activities you enjoy that will give you more social interaction. You could try to learn a new language, join a gardening or art club, or volunteer.
- Talk about your feelings. Sharing your feelings with friends and loved ones is the best way to get emotions out in the open, where you can start to deal with them.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Mind-body techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can be helpful. You might also relax by listening to music, reading, or participating in low-stress activities that you enjoy, such as a walk around your neighborhood.
- Put things in perspective. Accept that there are some things you just can't control—try to see the positive aspects of change, solve whatever problems you can and let go of the rest. Also, don't forget the value of humor.
- Get professional help. If you are still struggling with stress and/or depression, talk with your health care provider. Sometimes treatment with counseling or medication is needed to help you get back on track. Treatment is nothing to be ashamed of, and it usually helps tremendously.
For more information about managing stress and health issues facing older adults, visit the Barnabas Health online Health Library at healthlibrary.barnabashealth.org.
For more information about Barnabas Health Home Care and Hospice, visit barnabashealth.org