Stress management skills are necessary at any age, but coping with stress is especially important for senior health. Chronic stress can lead to serious health issues in older adults, so keeping your stress levels in check should be one of your priorities. Stress is a natural part of life, but it doesn’t have to affect your well-being. There are plenty of fun, relaxing, and accessible activities that reduce stress and anxiety. If you discover the stress management activities that work for you and include them in your regular routine, you can prevent the stress from building up and affecting your health.
Here are some of the best stress management activities for senior health
Exercise reduces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. It also releases endorphins, which are stress-relieving brain chemicals that improve your mood. Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the best things seniors can do for stress management.
The following are some of the most popular types of exercise for senior health:
- Chair exercises
It’s important to find an activity that you truly enjoy so that you feel motivated to keep a regular exercise routine. Also, make sure you speak to your doctor before starting a new activity to confirm that the exercise will be safe and healthy for you.
Physical and mental stress are closely connected. When you feel stressed or anxious, calming down your body can help you calm down your mind. Relaxation exercises are great stress management tools for self-regulation when you’re feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety like a fast heartbeat, muscle tension, or dizziness.
There are a wide variety of relaxation exercises for stress management. Many seniors find that deep breathing is an effective way to relax from stress. Taking deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system responsible for calming your body down. When you take a deep breath in, your belly should slowly expand, and you chest and shoulders should stay still. Try taking a few breaths with the 4-7-8 method, which involves breathing in for four counts, holding for seven counts, and breathing out for eight counts.
Another popular stress management technique is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the practice of keeping your attention on the present moment without thinking about the past or the future. During mindfulness meditation, try to focus on how you currently feel, and acknowledge the thoughts that cross your mind without judgment. If you spend a lot of time worrying, mindfulness meditation may feel very difficult at first. It gets easier with practice, though.
If your stress causes muscle tension, progressive muscle relaxation may be helpful. This exercise involves tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time, paying close attention to the difference in feeling between tension and relaxation. It’s common to carry tension in your body without noticing, so progressive muscle relaxation helps you consciously release physical tension.
Time in Nature
Research shows that spending time in nature can lower your cortisol levels and reduce physical and psychological stress. Going outside for a nature walk is an excellent way to promote stress management and senior health. Gardening is another great stress-relieving hobby. Not only does it encourage you to spend time outside, but it also provides a sense of satisfaction and can strengthen your hands and arms.
You don’t need to move around to enjoy the benefits of nature, though. You can sit in the park with a book or drink your morning coffee on the porch. If you live in an urban area or can’t get out in nature on your own, see if your local senior center offers a walking club or nature club for older adults.
Music and Art
Even if you don’t have a musical or artistic background, engaging in creative hobbies can help with stress management. Research suggests that singing causes the brain to release endorphins and oxytocin, both of which are hormones that improve mood and decrease stress levels. Singing in a group tends to be a more powerful and meaningful experience than singing alone, so you could look for church choirs, community choirs, or senior sing-along groups in your area.
Dancing can be a fun way to relieve stress, too. It provides the perfect combination of exercise, self-expression, and connection with others. Many seniors find that dance classes are challenging enough to be a distraction from stress but are also fun and rewarding.
Art projects like drawing, painting, knitting, and making jewelry can help with stress as well. If you don’t have much experience with art, you could try out an adult coloring book. Coloring allows the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for fear and anxiety, to rest and relax.
Sudoku, crossword, and jigsaw puzzles all provide mental stimulation that can reduce stress. Puzzles require total concentration, so they’re a good distraction when you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety. One study that focused specifically on the effects of jigsaw puzzles for older adults found that the puzzles help with emotional regulation and reduce chronic stress.
Spending time with animals can reduce cortisol levels and lower your blood pressure. Quality time with a pet also alleviates feelings of loneliness, which is a major contributor to stress. Petting a cat, playing with a dog, or even watching a fish swim around in a tank are all effective ways to soothe your mind and distract yourself from stressful situations.
If you like animals and have the means, consider adopting a pet. Having a companion by your side can do wonders for your overall quality of life. However, remember that owning a pet is a big commitment. If you’re unable to care for an animal, try to visit family or friends who have pets or look into volunteering at an animal shelter. Animal refuges are always looking for people to socialize and play with the pets, so you can relieve your own stress while doing something good in your community.
Occasional stress is normal, but chronic stress and anxiety is not healthy. If you feel so overwhelmed by stress that it’s affecting your mental health, you may benefit from working on some cognitive stress management strategies.
One helpful technique that is used frequently in cognitive therapy is self-monitoring. The goals of self-monitoring are to increase your awareness of your thoughts and feelings and to identify situations that trigger stress or anxiety. You can keep a log of the times you feel stressed or anxious by recording the time, situation, and any feelings, thoughts, or emotions you experienced. Then, you can look back on the log to find patterns.
Another strategy is cognitive restructuring, which is the practice of looking at negative situations from a different angle. Cognitive restructuring helps you recognize unhealthy thought patterns like catastrophizing or all-or-nothing thinking. Then, you can adjust your thoughts to become more positive and helpful.
If you feel stressed once in a while, engaging in fun and healthy hobbies can help you calm down and take your mind off of your worries. Stress management is an important skill for people of all ages, and there are a number of activities that can help. However, you should recognize when stress starts to take a toll on your mental or physical health. If you’re so stressed that you feel sick, have trouble sleeping, or can’t take your mind off of your anxiety, you should reach out to a professional for help.