Stress is a natural response to dangerous or difficult situations. It helps us stay alert and safe while we fight off a crisis. Sometimes, though, our bodies and minds stay in a state of stress for longer than necessary, which can take a toll on our physical and mental health.

Older adults may be especially vulnerable to chronic stress because they’re experiencing so many major life changes. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, causes, and solutions for stress in seniors so that you can offer support to aging loved ones.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress in Elderly

Here are the most common signs and symptoms to look out for in older adults:

• Irritability, anxiety, or other changes in mood
• Short-term memory problems
• Difficulty concentrating
• Withdrawal or isolation
• Changes in eating habits
• Tension headaches
• Frequent sickness
• Difficulty sleeping
• Shortness of breath
• Decline in hygiene and self-care

These warning signs often go overlooked in seniors. Family members may think these issues are caused by other health problems or are a result of cognitive decline. However, older adults are just as vulnerable to stress as the rest of the population, if not more. If you notice these symptoms in your senior loved one, they may be experiencing prolonged stress.

Effects of Stress on Older Adults

Chronic stress can accelerate the aging process and cause a number of serious health problems for seniors. Here are some of the most common effects of stress on older adults:

Heart problems

Prolonged stress causes an increase in adrenaline, which can lead to high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Over time, this can take a toll on your cardiovascular health. Seniors also sometimes turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating or drinking, which can worsen heart problems.

Lowered immune response

Stress suppresses the body’s immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. Older adults are already more likely to get sick, and they can have a harder time recovering. If your senior loved one has stress management problems, they may be at risk of developing other sicknesses.

Digestive issues

Stress activates the fight or flight response, which reduces blood flow to the stomach and contracts the digestive muscles. This can lead to stomach pain, nausea, and digestive problems. If your loved one feels sick to their stomach all the time, it may be a result of chronic stress.

Social isolation

Stress is overwhelming and uncomfortable. Seniors may have a hard time leaving home or participating in social events when they feel stressed. Unfortunately, social isolation can make stress management more difficult for older adults, so this can become a vicious cycle.

Depression and anxiety

If stress goes untreated, it can escalate and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Feeling stressed all the time can cause a low mood, poor self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and other difficult emotional symptoms.

Stress Management for Seniors

Fortunately, there are many helpful ways for seniors to manage their stress. Here are some of the most common and effective stress management strategies:

Identify Sources of Stress

The first step toward stress management is finding the source of the stress. Here are some of the most common causes of stress for older adults:

Health problems
• Financial hardship
• Home responsibilities
Grief and loss
• Family problems
Challenges of aging
Loss of independence

Without knowing why you feel stressed, it’s hard to avoid triggers and make lifestyle changes. However. if you’re able to get to the root of the problem, you can devise a stress management plan.

Physical Relaxation

Seniors often focus more on their physical symptoms than their mental or emotional symptoms. For example, they’re more likely to complain of headaches, body aches, or rapid heartbeat than of feelings of fear or loss of control.

Targeting the physical symptoms is a great way to start working on stress management with older adults. There’s a strong link between physical and mental stress, and calming the body can help calm the mind.

One way to achieve physical relaxation is with progressive muscle relaxation, a technique that involves tensing and releasing different parts of the body. This increases your awareness of how it feels to be tense and relaxed.

Yoga, walking, swimming, and other gentle exercises can be great sources of stress relief, too. Not only do they help with muscle aches and tension, but these exercises cause the brain to release endorphins, which are hormones that relieve anxiety, reduce pain, and elevate your mood.

Hobbies and Social Events

Seniors often withdraw from family and friends and lose interest in their hobbies when they’re stressed. Staying active, maintaining hobbies, and interacting with others are all important stress management tools because they add structure to your day and distract you from feelings of anxiety.

There are many opportunities for seniors to get involved in the community and have social interaction:

• Volunteering
• Community clubs or events
• Adult education classes
• Senior companion programs
• Day programs for older adults

Finding healthy, enriching hobbies is important as well. Painting, playing an instrument, gardening, and playing games are all excellent hobbies for seniors. Cognitive puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords can be helpful for stress management, too. These activities require lots of mental energy, so they can be a good distraction from anxious thoughts.

Counseling for Stress Management

For some older adults, stress becomes so overwhelming that they can’t manage it on their own. If you or a senior loved one feel so stressed that it’s interfering with daily functioning, it’s probably time to speak to a mental health counselor about stress management.

Counseling for stress management can help you identify causes of stress in your life and develop coping skills for stressful situations. Talking through your thoughts, emotions, and experiences with a professional can help you gain clarity and insight into your mental health.

If you or a senior loved one is struggling with stress management, the licensed therapists at Blue Moon Senior Counseling can help. Our counselors specialize in working with older adults, so they understand the unique mental health challenges that seniors can face as they age. We offer online counseling so you can receive help in the comfort and privacy of your home. Contact us today to take the first step toward stress management.

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