Stress management tips for seniors

There are many effective ways to manage stress as we age.

An elderly couple meditating.
Photo: Pexels/Mikhail Nilov.

Stress is common to all. It is our brain and body’s way of responding to the various stressors that we experience in life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, everyday responsibilities at work, home and play may cause stress. Stress levels may rise if we experience a sudden negative change in circumstance or if a traumatic event occurs. As we age, we face unique stressors that may be related to changes in our health, relationships, finances, living arrangements or our caregiving status. Harvard Health reminds us that if stress is not addressed, it may become chronic or long-term. This in turn can increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, heartburn, high blood pressure and insomnia. It can also challenge our mental health and wellness.

To best manage stress, the first step is to notice how stress typically shows up and then create a tailored plan for stress relief.

  • If stress usually impacts your body such that you experience high blood pressure, heart racing, fatigue, or aches and pains, find some physical ways to reduce stress like going for a walk or doing some gentle stretches. Shaking a calming jar is another physical action that can help individuals calm down and reduce stress.
  • If stress affects your thoughts or feelings and you become more forgetful, anxious, negative, or sad, use your mind to reduce stress through meditation, prayer, mindful breathing, or other relaxation activities. Practicing gratitude is also an effective way to relieve stress as it redirects our attention towards positive thinking.
  • If stress impacts your behaviors and you tend to misuse substances (food, drugs, alcohol), under/oversleep, yell at or withdraw from people, find an alternate behavior to replace the unhealthy behavior. For instance, if you comfort-eat when stressed, choose to go for a brief walk, journal, or call a friend instead.

In addition to matching stress relief strategies to the type of stress one may be experiencing, there are a host of other practices that can help reduce stress as we age.

  • Sign up for free health programs. Michigan State University Extension offers numerous programs such as Stress Less With Mindfulness, Personal Action Towards Health (PATH), RELAX: Alternatives to Anger, and Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention, which teach evidence-based stress management techniques such as mindful breathing, relaxation techniques, and more.
  • Engage in regular physical activity. This improves health, lifts mood, and reduces stress by releasing ‘happy’ (serotonin) and "pain-killer" (endorphin) hormones. Aim for 150 minutes of weekly activity that includes flexibility exercises (10 minutes); strengthening exercises (8 to 10 exercises, two to three days a week); and endurance exercises (30 to 40 minutes, three to five days a week).
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Choosing whole foods, eating seasonally, and exploring new items from the produce aisle or farmer’s market are all habits that can improve our health and relationship to food. Aim for at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables and eat mindfully (paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, slowing down and savoring meals).
  • Reflect and connect. Take time to determine what emotional and physical needs you have and share them with your family and friends. In addition, connect with local supports and services that may provide housing, financial, caregiver, kinship or bereavement supports. These may include the local Commission on Aging, religious organizations, or community centers.

If you need more tips to help manage your stress, consider reaching out for additional mental health resources and talking to your health care provider.

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