Seniors are Facing Peak Stress Levels, But Help is Available
As April is Stress Awareness Month, it’s important to remember that the way stress affects older adults is unique, and often underacknowledged.
When we picture people coping with day-to-day stressors, we often imagine young urban professionals rushing to make the morning train, clutching Starbucks or a clumsily buttered piece of toast as they make a run for it.
However, stress is just as likely to play a role in one’s life regardless of age. This applies whether one is retired or still part of the work force.
In fact, a national poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Assocation in 2018 revealed that Americans’ anxiety had jumped a significant amount when compared to the same polling executed just one year earlier.
Significantly, this was found to be worthy of concern before the Covid-19 pandemic swept in and upended our lives.
Furthermore, those among the Baby Boomer generation were shown to have the greatest anxiety increase of all those reporting. While younger generations were still found to have more overall stress, their levels remained closer to previous rates of anxiety.
What could explain this sudden uptick in stress for older people?
Worry about finances – unsurprisingly – played a key role in the increase. This is only exacerbated by increasing costs of living, and the need many older people to work longer than previous generations did, often putting off retirement even indefinitely. Given that senior citizens will soon outpace those under 18 in terms of population growth – our average lifespan keeps increasing as a result – it's understandable why the prospect of a longer life can be daunting.
Another factor is the dark side of technological advances, such as cell phone alerts that ping and present the illusion of demanding attention. For younger people who grew up in a world with this technology at their fingertips it does not seem remarkable in the least; for their older counterparts it can often feel overwhelming, and even invasive.
There are steps one can take to counteract these issues, however. Medicare is equipped to link older adults to mental health counseling specifically tailored to their needs and concern, with an understanding of the specific nuances of anxiety disorders. In 2022, these services are available via Telehealth, meaning the client need not even leave the home to receive care and guidance from a knowledgeable professional.
In addition, measures such as mindfulness meditation and aromatherapy are also proven to counteract the effects of stress with only a relatively small investment of time required. Breathing exercises and yoga – also available to practice remotely, from the comfort of home – also help to alleviate stress and promote overall health. Even weighted blankets can help – I have a friend in her 70s with chronic physical issues who swears using one has helped improve not only her quality of sleep but to decrease her overall anxiety.
Physical activity, adequate nutrition and simply maintaining an active social life – something that was out of reach for many of us for far too long thanks to the pandemic, but is now once again within reach for many of us – also play a key role in managing stress and increasing overall quality of life.
Above all, it’s important to remember to seek out help when it is necessary. Stress and anxiety cannot be completely avoided, but they are not meant to be a cornerstone of our everyday lives, either, despite a culture that seems to insist they should be.
If they have become part of your life to the point that they are diminishing its quality, it’s always best to seek professional help. There are people out there willing to help you or direct you to those who can.
Remember that feeling the effects of stress is proof that you are alive, and human. Making the choice to take care of yourself and your health is always best.
AARP. (n.d.). AARP Survey: 7 in 10 Older Adults Report Increased Feelings of Anxiety, Sadness and Depression Due to Coronavirus. MediaRoom. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from https://press.aarp.org/AARP-Survey-7-in-10-Older-Adults-Report-Increased-Feelings-of-Anxiety-Sadness-and-Depression-Due-to-Coronavirus
Blue Moon Senior Counseling. (2020, February 4). Seniors and Anxiety Disorders. https://bluemoonseniorcounseling.com/specialties/anxiety-disorders/
Yeager, B. S. (2019, May 23). 6 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/reduce-anxiety-stress.html