Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions. Around 10 to 20 percent of older adults suffer from anxiety, and the disorder can have a major impact on your quality of life. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage it.
The following are some of the most common causes of increased anxiety in seniors:
- Stress from being dependent on others
- Cost of living expenses or medical expenses
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Fear of falling or other medical emergencies
It’s also important to recognize the signs of anxiety in seniors. Being irritable, startling easily, having difficulty sleeping, and withdrawing from others can all be symptoms of anxiety.
However, elderly adults are more likely to mention their physical symptoms than their mental or emotional ones. Headaches, muscle tension, nausea, digestive issues, and a racing heartbeat may be signs of anxiety if there’s no physical cause of these problems.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxious thoughts or feelings, there are some steps you can take to manage it.
Here Are 10 Ways to Relieve Anxiety Feelings in Seniors
1. Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing is a great way to manage the physiological symptoms of anxiety. When you breathe deeply, you get more carbon dioxide in your blood, which can soothe the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety. Deep breathing also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you rest and relax.
Breathing exercises take practice to master, but they can become more effective over time if you make them a habit. Try to breathe so that your stomach expands when you inhale and deflates when you exhale. One popular breathing technique is to breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for four counts. Another option is to breathe in for seven counts and out for 11.
A few minutes of mindfulness practice every day can have a major impact on your overall levels of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is the state of being fully focused on the present moment without worrying about the past or future. When you practice mindfulness, you observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. If an anxious thought enters your mind, try to acknowledge it without lingering on it.
You can combine mindfulness with deep breathing exercises. While you breathe, focus on how your body feels with each inhale and exhale. Keep your attention on your breath, gently redirecting your mind back to your breathing whenever it wanders.
3. Physical Activity
Seniors often don’t get enough exercise, but physical activity is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. Here are some of the best forms of exercise for elderly adults:
- Walking or hiking
- Chair yoga
- Swimming or water aerobics
- Bodyweight exercises
There are many online resources and exercise videos designed for seniors. Make sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new workout plan, though, especially if you have existing health concerns.
4. Diet Changes
Proper nutrition is critical for your mental and physical health. Your food fuels your brain, so getting the right balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates will help you manage anxious thoughts. Make sure you eat a variety of healthy foods at every meal, and indulge in your favorite snacks in moderation.
Some substances are directly linked to an increase in anxiety. For example, caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can make you feel nervous or jittery. Avoid smoking and large doses of caffeine to help keep your mind and body relaxed.
5. Social Interaction
Many seniors experience loneliness, especially if they have limited mobility and can’t get out into the community often. Helping seniors cope with social isolation can be an excellent way to relieve anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Family is a great source of social support. Regular visits with your siblings, children, grandchildren, or other family members can distract you from stressful thoughts and improve your mood. If you can’t visit with family or friends in-person, you could try video chatting with them. You could also find opportunities for social support in your community through the local senior center or volunteer organizations.
For some elderly adults, a lack of routine or structure can be a big source of anxious feelings. This is especially common in seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Following a routine can relieve stress and add more predictability to the day.
You could try both daily and weekly routines. For example, you could schedule a weekly visit to the senior center for an event every Monday, and you could do your grocery shopping on Tuesday. A daily routine could involve eating at the same time every day, doing chores in the same sequence, or calling a loved one every evening.
7. Sleep Hygiene
A lack of sleep can worsen anxious feelings in elderly adults, but anxiety can also make it more difficult to sleep. Here are some ways you can improve your sleeping environment and sleeping habits to strengthen your mental health:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Use a white noise machine to drown out distracting sounds.
- Unwind by reading or listening to music before bed.
- Don’t consume caffeine in the afternoon.
- Have a family member, friend, or medical alert system to contact at night in case of emergency.
8. Relaxing Hobbies
Calming activities can relax you and distract you from sources of anxiety. Everyone has different interests, so you may have to try out a few options before you find a hobby that helps you calm down. Drawing, coloring, listening to music, reading, and gardening are some of the most popular relaxing hobbies for elderly adults.
9. Consult With a Doctor
Sometimes, a mental health condition is a sign of a physical health problem. For example, hyperthyroidism, nutritional deficiencies, Lyme disease, and a wide variety of other medical issues are linked to anxiety. It can also be a side effect of a medication. A visit with your doctor can help you address any physical health conditions that may be causing your anxious symptoms, which could reduce or eliminate the problem entirely.
Therapy is highly effective for treating anxiety disorders, and people of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from working with a counselor. Many elderly adults find it easier to speak with an unbiased professional about their mental health concerns than with friends or family.
During your counseling sessions, you and your therapist can figure out the causes or triggers of your anxiety. Then, you can work together to create a plan to manage the anxious feelings as they arise. The more you practice these skills, the easier it will become to dismiss anxious thoughts and enjoy your life without worry.
Anxiety can be a major problem for seniors that can affect their physical and mental well-being. It takes some time to figure out how to manage anxious thoughts, but it is possible to get anxiety under control. With lifestyle changes, relaxing activities, or professional help, you can restore your mental health and live peacefully.
If you or a senior loved one is dealing with anxiety, Blue Moon Senior Counseling can help. Our therapists specialize in working with older adults who have a wide variety of mental health concerns. Contact us today to learn more about our counseling services.