Trauma can affect people of all ages, but it can be particularly challenging for seniors. As you age, your chances of encountering certain types of traumatic stress increase. You may face a difficult medical diagnosis, you may have to move out of your long-time home, or you may experience the loss of loved ones.
Seniors also may have fewer resources for coping with these traumatic experiences. Many people turn to family and friends after going through a painful event, but older adults are at a much higher risk of social isolation. They may not have a strong support system to turn to, which makes the trauma much harder to cope with.
Changes in the brain may influence the way seniors respond to trauma, too. In older adults, the brain often has a harder time regulating the hormones associated with stress. Trauma can lead to prolonged stress, and this can be devastating for both the mental and physical health of seniors.
Older adults tend to be private about their mental and emotional health as well. While it’s become much more common among younger generations to discuss mental health, seniors are less likely to reach out for help when they’re struggling.
Sometimes, a recent traumatic event causes mental, emotional, or social challenges for a senior. It’s also possible for older adults to begin to struggle with a trauma they experienced earlier in life. According to statistics from the VA on seniors and trauma, between 70 and 90 percent of adults age 65 and older have been exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime. Experiencing trauma isn’t a guarantee that your mental health will suffer, but up to 15 percent of seniors show symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
If you or a loved one is going through the aging process, it’s important to understand that seniors are vulnerable to trauma and that receiving support after experiencing traumatic stress is critical. Not receiving the help you need can lead to serious challenges in the future. Fortunately, there are ways to increase your resilience and reduce your risk of negative effects after trauma.
Here Are Some Healthy Coping Skills for Adults Following a Traumatic Event
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful mental health practices, and it’s accessible for people of all ages. It can help you reduce your stress and anxiety during difficult moments, and it can lead to long-term mental health improvements.
You can find books, videos, and audio guides that walk you through mindfulness meditation, or you could join a mindfulness group to practice with other people. However, you don’t need any tools or resources for a successful mindfulness session. Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and turn your attention to your breath. Notice your thoughts as they pass through your mind, but don’t linger on them or judge yourself for them.
Your first few mindfulness sessions may feel difficult. In our busy world, most people aren’t used to taking the time to simply exist in the present moment. Start with short sessions of five to 10 minutes, and then increase the length of your mindfulness meditation as you get more comfortable with the practice.
Mindfulness can be particularly helpful after trauma because it directs your attention to your current experiences and surroundings. If you find yourself frequently reliving the traumatic event or worrying about what might happen in the future, mindfulness may be a successful way to ease your stress.
Do Something New
Older adults tend to stick to routines, and having this structure in your life can be very comforting. You probably have your favorite hobbies, your go-to meals, and your typical schedule for errands.
However, after going through traumatic stress, it may be helpful to switch up your routine. It’s easy to fixate and ruminate on your trauma when you’re going through the motions. Following a new routine, engaging in a new hobby, or going to a new place requires your brain to focus more on the present moment, so it’s a good way to take your mind off of the traumatic event.
There’s a strong link between physical activity and mental health, so exercising is an excellent way to support both your physical and emotional well-being. Exercise helps to regulate your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is especially important for seniors. It also can improve your sleep patterns if you’ve been struggling to get quality rest after a traumatic experience.
If you don’t already have an exercise regimen, talk to your doctor before you start working out. Make sure your routine is safe, comfortable, and sustainable so that you can maintain it in the long run. The following are some of the most popular forms of exercise for older adults:
• Water aerobics
• Bodyweight exercises
Work With a Therapist
A traumatic experience can have a profound impact on your mental and emotional health. Whether your went through a trauma yesterday or years ago, it can drastically affect the way you interact with the world.
If you feel like you’re struggling to cope with a traumatic event, therapy may be the answer. Research shows that traumatic stress has a physical impact on the brain, so healing is not always easy. Therapy provides an environment for you to safely process your trauma and find ways to cope with the challenges or triggers you may face in your daily life.
Anyone can benefit from therapy after a traumatic event. Here are some signs that it may be time to reach out to a counselor for support:
• You frequently relive or re-imagine the experience.
• You’ve withdrawn from family or friends.
• You’re having trouble eating, sleeping, or completing activities of daily living.
• You’ve drastically changed your lifestyle to avoid reminders of the traumatic event.
• You’ve felt depressed, angry, anxious, or hopeless for a prolonged period of time.
• You no longer find enjoyment in the hobbies or activities you used to love.
• You find yourself turning to alcohol, drugs, overeating, overspending, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Most older adults have experienced at least one traumatic event. If you’re struggling to cope after trauma, you’re not alone. It can feel incredibly difficult to move forward, but help is available. With support from a professional, you can learn to manage your trauma and live a happy, healthy life regardless of your past experiences.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults addressing a wide variety of concerns, including trauma, grief, depression, and coping with the aging process. Our licensed counselors understand how challenging trauma can be for seniors, and they have the training and resources needed to offer support. If you or an aging loved one is struggling with mental health, contact us today to learn more about our services.