Glen describes his stress as “a feeling that someone is gripping the back of my neck tightly. And I’m so tense that I can’t even turn around to see who it is—if I wanted to.” He feels the stress of healthcare expenses, family drama, and even death as he’s dealing with more unfamiliar health challenges than ever before. Maureen, on the other hand, says that when she’s stressed, “I just power through it, focusing only on what needs to get done. But then I crash, and sometimes it takes me days to recover in bed.” She feels the weight of continuing to host a book club in her home each week even after she took a bad fall and has had to use a walker, as well as her husband’s worsening dementia.
Stress can take a heavy toll on our holistic health. Just as other health troubles can be particularly challenging for seniors because our bodies become less resilient with age, so can stress. We’ve examined the signs of stress in seniors so caregivers and family members can be aware of what their aging loved ones may be going through. Now, let’s explore some of the critical action steps and stress management strategies for seniors. With these tools and opportunities in hand, older adults can feel empowered to live life the way they want to without unnecessary distress.
How Can Caregivers Approach Stress Management for Seniors?
Our sources and forms of stress can be as different as each of us individually. Caregivers and family members, especially, can pay attention to the patterns of their aging loved one’s stress to identify what their particular challenges are. In a lot of cases, the strategies for stress management will address the actual sources of stress. But it’s also possible to encourage relaxation and stress relief more broadly. Here are some tips and resources to consider in both directions.
Addressing Stress at the Source
When you can identify that an older adult is struggling against some particular stressor in life, you may be able to introduce solutions that diminish or dissolve that burden. When these sources of stress are no longer in control and aging adults are no longer at the whim of external pressures, it’s an empowering development. And, together, you may be able to prevent stress more proactively and efficiently into the future. Consider these tips and resources for addressing challenges that are common sources of stress for seniors:
- Lifestyle. Lifestyle habits can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, or they can have a negative one. Caregivers can help an aging loved one to re-evaluate and revitalize daily routines, such as nutrition and diet.
- Health. For a lot of people, age brings new and challenging health problems. Unfortunately, these problems can inspire stress, and stress can make these problems worse. The best strategy is to get ahead of the challenges by having a cooperative relationship with a geriatric doctor and being open to making those lifestyle adjustments that can promote health in later years.
- Sleep. If your aging loved one is having trouble sleeping or feeling otherwise fatigued, it’s time to address this strain with a doctor or with lifestyle changes to support better quality rest. Sufficient rest will support all other areas of healthy living.
- Advocacy. When it comes to health challenges later in life, many older adults feel overwhelmed by communicating with practitioners and insurance companies and keeping track of the information that piles up in the process. Caregivers can serve as important advocates to support communication and planning.
- Substance Use. Just like health generally, substance use among seniors can stem from stress, and it can contribute to it. Discover how you can help prevent senior substance abuse and address these issues if they already exist for your loved one.
- Activity. When an aging adult is isolated or feels prohibitively limited by disability or other barriers, it can become a slippery slope toward even greater isolation and stress. Incorporating interesting activities on a daily or weekly basis can help to reverse this trend.
- Organization. Paperwork, financial responsibilities, communication, and other burdens can weigh heavily on older adults—especially when these pressures build up over time. A caregiver’s fresh perspective can go a long way toward introducing organization and systems that an older adult can participate in successfully.
- Clutter. Likewise, when clutter builds up in an older adult’s home, they can feel weighed down and stressed out by it. Caregivers and families can work together to declutter and tidy a loved one’s space and set up systems for organization and more graceful living.
- Independence. As adults age and begin to lose some of their independent abilities, the transition can be extremely difficult and stressful, especially as they may be trying to understand their identity in a new way. In many cases, having professional in-home assistance can help them strike a graceful balance between dependence and independence.
- Socialization and Community. Isolation is a common and important red flag in seniors. Prolonged isolation can lead to depression and even physical health problems. But opportunities for socialization and community involvement are accessible if you can help your aging loved one to get connected.
- Psychological Health. Underlying psychological conditions may be standing in the way of an older adult’s best life. Geriatric counseling can prevent unnecessary suffering and pave the way for your aging loved one to thrive.
Promoting Stress Reduction Holistically
There are also ways to ease stress from the inside out. Relaxation techniques can empower aging adults to live the life they want to live despite outside pressures and limitations. These activities and positive ways of perceiving are flexible and accessible, so you as a caregiver can help an aging loved one to practice relaxation right at home and almost anywhere else. Encourage an older adult to give some of these different opportunities a try to discover what piques their interest and inspires stress relief.
- Yoga. Yoga practices help to ease stress in the body and the mind. It also prepares an aging body to be more supple and ready for physical activity. As an adaptable exercise, you can practice yoga in a chair, and it can be modified for particular challenges such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Meditation. Meditation also serves as a powerful stress reliever, especially when older adults discover the meditation techniques that resonate with them. These relaxation practices can be personalized for your loved one—like this mindfulness practice for dementia.
- Exercise. The benefits of exercise for older adults are immense: physical activity can improve health and motivation, enhance balance and confidence, and be a great way for people to connect and socialize.
- New Hobbies. Trying new hobbies, even right at home, can reinvigorate seniors. The possibilities are endless, even when limited by arthritis and other challenges.
- Sunshine and Nature. Time outdoors can revitalize an aging adult who has been isolated. Simply taking a walk or getting involved in gardening together are great habits for stress relief.
- Positive Goal Setting. We’re never too old to have dreams and set goals. Work with your aging loved one to explore the possibilities for inspired goals for all of these positive action steps we’ve discussed.
Our Power to Manage Stress
Researchers have discovered that stress has a powerful impact on our health overall. Even our stressful thoughts begin to wear on our bodies and speed up the aging process. The good news is that our efforts to keep stress in check through enlightened perspective, taking action, getting support, and practicing relaxation techniques can also have a powerful impact. It’s never too late to introduce these positive practices for your aging loved one—and, indeed, for yourself as a caregiver prone to stress and burnout. We may feel too stressed out to take action against the stress, but there is nothing more important for our health. And none of us has to approach it alone.
To find out how Institute on Aging can be a supportive resource in your quest for stress relief, contact us today at 415-750-4111. Our services and programs can support seniors aging in place and seeking ways to live life to the fullest.