Recognizing and Dealing with Stress for Adults Over 65

Stress is fact of life. At some point, we all experience challenges. And while experience can help us be better prepared when a difficult situation arises — our ability to respond and recover have some surprising connections to our age.

How stress affects the body

A strong emotional response is just one of the ways we react to a stressful situation. The intense surge of feelings we experience happens through a complex combination of chemical and physical reactions. When we experience a stress, we release stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals make our muscles tighten, raise our heart rates, and increase our awareness.

When we’re younger, our response to these situations develops intensely, then dissipates quickly. Over time, our brains can slowly lose the ability to regulate these hormones. As a result, older adults often have difficulty flushing these hormones from the brain.

Feeling stressed out?

Experiencing frequent stressful episodes can lead to a range of health issues including high blood pressure and heart problems. If you suspect something is wrong, here are some signs to look out for:

Signs of being over-stressed

  • Trouble sleeping and waking frequently during the night.
  • Tension in back, head, or other aches brought on by increased tension.
  • Altered eating habits such as loss of appetite, binge-eating, indigestion, and nausea are common.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Mental lapses and emotional shifts.

Fortunately, being aware of how stress affects us and knowing what to look for can help us feel more in control. If you’re feeling tense, here are some simple techniques you can use to reduce stress:

Tips for managing stress

Follow the basics

Eat a nutritious diet low in carbs, sugar, and fat, and practice good hygiene. Get plenty of sleep. Being mindful of your eating and sleeping can have positive impact on how you feel. For example, keeping a regular bed-time routine can help you sleep better and improve your mood

Stay active

Low-impact exercise that focuses on movement, stretching, and muscle tone can boost our physical and mental well-being. Exercise reduces stress by releasing muscle tension and pent-up nervous energy by reducing production of stress hormones. Yoga, walking, tai chi, swimming, and water aerobics are great options.

Engage your mind

What exercise does for the body, mental stimulation does for the brain. Occupying your mind with crossword puzzles, charity work, hobbies, and community service projects keep us engaged and focused on things we enjoy. There is evidence that donating your time to a good cause can reduce stress. Altruistic behavior improves your self-esteem, and when you feel good about yourself — you feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Additional relaxation techniques

While not always easy, you can make a conscious effort to battle stressful feelings. Listening to soothing music or white noise can help clear your mind. Meditation and controlled breathing are additional techniques that can help you feel more centered and relaxed. Additionally, these methods have been shown to lower blood pressure and ease other common reactions to stress.

The power of positivity

Enjoying the little things and being grateful can be enough to create healthy emotions that overpower doubt and worry. Studies have shown that optimists live several years longer than pessimists. In fact, some studies have shown that a positive outlook can significantly reduce cortisol levels. The next time you feel overwhelmed, try taking breath, remember that the moment is temporary, and focus on something you can look forward to.

Stay in touch

Simply talking about your problems can lift the weight from your shoulders. Seek out friends and family members for social interaction. Whether you discuss issues that are causing you stress or simply shoot the breeze, socialization can have a tremendous impact on our stress levels. Blowing off a little steam may be just what you need to face life’s challenges with a fresh perspective and less stress.

Everyone reacts to differently stress. While some stress is a normal part of living, prolonged stress can contribute to a variety of health issues. If you find that stress is having a detrimental effect on your health, contact your doctor or mental health professional. These health care experts will diagnose your condition and can help you find the best course of treatment.

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