Stress Coping Mechanisms for Older Adults

No one is exempt from stress (except maybe young children). Stress doesn’t end in older adulthood just because most individuals are retired and have fewer responsibilities. Many older individuals are especially stressed and anxious during this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a great time to review some effective coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.


Stress doesn’t just disappear once we reach a certain age. What does change, however, is the body’s response to stress. Aging cells, decreased heart fitness, and lower lung capacity all impact the body’s ability to handle stress. Older adults that live a sedentary lifestyle or have chronic conditions may also struggle to bounce back from stress. While a younger, healthy individual may be able to work through their stress with a strenuous workout or indulging in some extra restorative sleep, the aging brain coupled with older adults’ struggle to sleep well can lead to unresolved stress.


Stressors in older adulthood are much different than the kind of stress younger adults experience. Older adults are no longer stressed about raising young children, a hard day at work, money struggles, or dating. Stress instead is usually centered upon loss of structure and changes in physical abilities. Individuals may also be struggling with the death of a loved one or changing relationships. This leaves older adults feeling irritable and frustrated. They may even experience memory issues that are completely unrelated to dementia or other cognitive impairments. They could experience headaches, a lowered immune system, digestion issues, heart palpitations, or emotional overeating. Hearing and vision impairments are also possible.


When these symptoms start interfering with daily life, it’s time to get some help. Older adults may choose to talk to someone for help, or they may opt for another effective strategy. One of the main ways to reduce stress is to trigger the opposite response: relaxation. Therapists can provide effective relaxation strategies centered upon breathing techniques. Yoga and meditation can be very helpful as well.


Older adults should indulge in activities that bring them peace and joy. That means regularly engaging in their hobbies or even volunteering for a cause they’re passionate about. While normal volunteer opportunities are not available during this pandemic, you can volunteer to sew fabric masks or knit slippers for care centers or charities. It is also important to maintain health as much as possible with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Even if older adults can only manage to walk down the hall once or twice, small amounts of exercise can prove effective. It’s also crucial that older adults don’t isolate themselves. Isolation can lead to a slew of mental health problems. Older adults should get involved in community events as much as possible, or find a social group to join. During the pandemic, you can connect with your family and friends via phone calls or through video chats. Or you could take an online class or watch instructional YouTube videos to learn something new.


While it can prove difficult, one of the most effective ways to manage stress—young or old—is to focus on the things you can control as opposed to the things that you cannot.


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