Older adults may struggle to adjust to big life changes after they retire, spend more time alone, lose independence, deal with health problems and/or experience mobility limitations. Developing coping skills is one of the best ways for seniors to improve their mental health and become more resilient.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 70 to 90% of seniors have been exposed to trauma at least once in their lives. Dealing with trauma can become more difficult with age because of role changes and a decline in functioning. Depression affects more than 6.5 million seniors in America, and up to 27 percent of seniors experience symptoms of anxiety. Stress, grief, and social isolation are also common challenges that require strong coping skills.
Everyone is different, so it may take some time and effort to find effective coping strategies for yourself or your senior loved one. However, it’s possible for anyone to develop healthy habits, activities, and thoughts to cope with life’s challenges.
Coping skills can actually be either positive or negative. While people may temporarily feel better by staying home, staying in bed all day and/or eating unhealthy foods, these habits will lead to an overall decline in health. It’s important to make sure the strategies used to cope actually attempt to improve quality of life instead of just replacing one problem with another.
A 2014 study compared coping skills in seniors who were depressed with seniors who had good mental health. The researchers found that adaptive strategies were linked to a decrease in loneliness and depression while maladaptive strategies were linked to increased mental health problems. The most common adaptive skills reported in the study include the following:
• Positive reframing
• Emotional support
Many of these skills involve intentionally trying to keep a positive outlook on life. It can be hard to stay optimistic during tough times, but focusing on the positive and accepting what you can’t change can help people maintain good mental health.
Engaging in activities can help seniors take their minds off of stress, trauma, or other challenges. Activities that take you outside or connect you with other people can be especially valuable because they add variety to your day and improve cognitive functioning. Here are some of the best activities for elderly adults:
• Board games or card games
• Creative activities including drawing, writing, or playing an instrument
• Yoga or other exercise classes
• Book clubs, reading or books-on-tape
• Educational classes
It can be very difficult for seniors to cope with a depressive disorder because the condition often causes a lack of motivation. The activities that help relieve the disorder may seem too overwhelming, but you can start with small changes and work your way up.
Reaching out to others and getting involved with the community can be a great way to boost your mood. Joining a club, attending a community event, or volunteering can connect you with other people and add more structure and excitement to your day.
Many elderly adults find that taking up artistic hobbies improves their mood, too. Drawing, writing, and making music can all be powerful emotional outlets and can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Focusing on physical health can be just as helpful for lifting mood. Good nutrition, quality sleep, and regular exercise will help the mind and body feel better. People don’t have to completely change their lifestyle overnight, though. Even small changes can make a noticeable difference.
One of the most popular and effective ways to reduce anxious feelings is to use deep breathing exercises. Anxiety is both a mental and physical experience, and calming the body by taking deep breaths can help calm the mind. When you take a truly deep breath, your abdomen should expand as you inhale. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. After a few minutes, the physical symptoms of tension or nervousness should start to go away.
You can combine deep breathing with other relaxation exercises as well. Mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery all involve deep breathing and can help elderly adults manage stress.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also recommends the following techniques to manage anxious feelings:
• Get enough sleep
• Exercise regularly
• Eat balanced meals
• Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption
• Slowly count to ten when anxious
• Listen to music to calm down
In addition to these strategies, working with a therapist can be helpful for the development of coping skills. A therapist can help you identify the biggest challenges in your life, process your thoughts and feelings, and find ways to respond to negative events with positive actions.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy/counseling services for seniors who want to improve their mental and emotional well-being. We work to understand people’s disabilities as well as abilities in order to promote person-centered and realistic coping strategies. No one should have to go through tough life experiences without support. If you or a senior loved one is struggling with mental health, contact us today for help.