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How to avoid stress in older age

22nd October 2018

Throughout your life, it is more than likely that you’ll experience periods of stress. Although it can manifest itself differently from person to person, it is a commonly experienced problem that is a reaction from your body’s defence mechanisms. There are a number of reasons why this may happen, from pressures at work to a change in circumstances at home, with your body reacting accordingly to help you through the situation.

As you age, the reasons you may experience stressful periods can vary. When you are younger, financial difficulties and family-related issues may have dominated your worries. However, in older age, you can be faced with mourning the loss of friends and illnesses. What’s more is that stress can be harder to cope with and seem overwhelming.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to recognise stress, with it presenting itself in a plethora of different ways. From decreased appetite and fatigue to headaches and aching joints, symptoms of stress can easily be dismissed as nothing to worry about, despite the fact that these may disrupt your daily routine. Although it can seem debilitating, there are ways in which you can avoid stress in older age. Making simple changes to your day-to-day life can have a positive impact and can help reduce any symptoms that you may be feeling.

Why do you feel stressed?

It can be easy to identify the sources of stress in adults; fast-paced lifestyles can take a toll on their bodies, and a lack of sleep can heighten any emotions that they may be experiencing. With this in mind, older people can frequently struggle to pinpoint what is bothering them. As you enter old age, you experience a number of different changes that can be difficult to prepare for. Swapping out what may have been a busy lifestyle for retirement can leave you to wonder what your sense of purpose is, and although you may have prepared financially with a pension, not having your source of income can still come as a shock.

Despite your best efforts to prepare for retirement, there is a host of other things that could take place that you may not have accounted for. Illness can be a stressful thing, for everyone involved, and even if you have installed a stairlift for your home to help with your decreased mobility, not getting out and about as often as you were used to can take its toll on your happiness. For many, one of the biggest causes of stress, however, is the loss of independence that you once had.

So, why do you feel stress? "Our cells are ageing. Heart fitness and lung capacity decline, especially if you're sedentary," says Dr Michelle Dossett, an internal and integrative medicine specialist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

"Normally when we're stressed, our brains get flooded with stress hormones, the midbrain takes over, and the front of the brain—which controls concentration, attention and decision-making—works less well. Stress hormones in the brain can also contribute to short-term memory problems that are unrelated to dementia or age-related memory loss. Restorative sleep helps to flush stress hormones from the brain. However, many older adults have sleep problems. Stress may make it more difficult to fall back asleep, and the inability to clear these stress hormones from the brain during sleep means that the cognitive effects of stress can worsen over time”.

How to avoid and cope with stress

Sometimes, feelings of stress are inevitable, although during these times it should not be overwhelming. As it is a result of the “fight or flight” response, it can provide you with a burst of energy, keeping you alert in case of danger. In these circumstances, stress can actually be hugely beneficial, keeping you safe whilst making you more productive. With this in mind, stress can also be detrimental, especially when you begin to notice negative side effects.

Avoiding stress can be difficult, but there are a few things you can do to help minimise its frequency. Firstly, identifying what is causing stress will allow you to adapt to the situation. Sometimes, you may find that you can avoid this altogether, but it is more than likely that you’ll be able to make some changes which help you to deal with it better. If you find that going to certain places makes you feel anxious, ask a friend to go with you. Likewise, if you’re stressed about a loved one falling ill, talking to someone, whether it be somebody close to you or a professional, can help reduce these feelings.

Coping with stress can seem like a large obstacle to overcome at first, but there are many things that you can do which can help you. Spending time socialising, whether it is with family or friends, can be a great distraction when you’re feeling low. If your social circle is small, and you only see your family occasionally, look for groups in the area that share common interests with you. It can be overwhelming attending something like this initially, so contact an organiser to let them know that you’re planning on joining so that they can be aware of how you’re feeling.

Independence can be missed when entering old age. However, there are still activities out there that allow you to gain a sense of freedom. Short strolls around your home can be very cathartic. Fresh air can help to relax you, whilst a walk can lower your heart rate if taken at a gentle pace. Swimming and yoga are also fantastic ways of letting you unwind, with aerobic exercise improving the health of your brain.

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only and are up to date as of the time of publishing