Stress Awareness Month — How Seniors Can Cope with Common Stressors
Since 1992, April has been designated as Stress Awareness Month by the Health Resource Network. According to the official site of Stress Awareness Month “is a national cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions about stress that are prevalent in our society.” And while retirement is intended to be a carefree time in life, seniors today face some very real stressors.
Fellowship Square reveals some important facts about seniors and stress and mechanisms to help them cope with them.
Stress does not impact all people the same. And seniors are actually even more impacted by stress, according to Harvard’s website. In fact, in an article on the site, Dr. Michelle Dossett, internal and integrative medicine specialists at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine says, “We tend to have less resilience to stress, and older adults often find that stress affects them differently now."
The article notes that for seniors with chronic disease, which weigh heavy on the body, “it’s even harder to bounce back physically from the toll the stress response takes.”
It’s understandable that seniors may be stressed as they have a lot on their minds in this phase of life — their own health and the health of their loved ones, finances, lifestyle changes, caring for a spouse, or even their own adult children or grandchildren… the list goes on.
When feeling triggered by stress, it’s important that seniors see their health care professional to develop a plan to reduce and deal with that stress especially if its causing physical symptoms such as tension headaches, heart palpitations, anxiety, irritability, poor concentration, or disruption of normal sleep patterns. Talking about these feelings with loved ones is another way that seniors can begin to reduce their stress.
Dr. Dossett also suggests another technique of stress management which involves evoking the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response, and can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. Some practices that evoke this response include yoga, tai chi, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
She suggests this breathing exercise: inhale slowly, mentally counting 1–2–3–4, and then exhale slowly, silently counting 4–3–2–1. She also recommends a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment that involves identifying negative thoughts and then replacing them with healthy, positive thoughts. Dossett adds, “These are great skills, but they often don't work right away. So you may need medications, such as antidepressants, as a bridge.”
This month in particular, Fellowship Square encourages seniors to address their stress levels and that the opportunity during Stress Awareness Month to practice these stress-reducing tips. If stress is becoming overwhelming, it’s crucial that seniors talk to their health care provider about a treatment plan.