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Helping Seniors Manage Stress

Before we can begin to manage stress, we must first understand what stress actually is. Simply defined, stress is the body’s response to a situation that requires action. Put even more simply, stress is how the body reacts to difficult, threatening, or challenging situations.

Stressors are the outside forces in our life that end up causing us stress, hence the term. A stressor can be an event, a chemical compound, a person, an environmental condition, or any other external stimulus that causes stress in a person. Anything that a person might consider dangerous, threatening, difficult, challenging, or emotionally impactful can be a stressor.

When a person experiences stress, the control center of the brain, the hypothalamus, releases stress hormones into the body. Adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, which elevate your heart rate, blood pressure, and boost your energy and alertness. This is known as the “fight or flight” response, which prepares our bodies to either confront or flee from a dangerous situation.

While the fight or flight response was evolutionarily useful in the past, and still can come in handy today for events like being in a burning building, confronted by a wild or vicious dog, or anything else that represents an immediate and urgent danger to personal health or safety, a lot of the things that trigger our stress response are unhelpful. The stress response and stress hormones are, sadly, only useful in the short term, in dealing with immediate challenges. In fact, experiencing chronic stress and having the stress hormones enter our bodies on a regular basis, as much of modern society and living tends to do, actually has an overall negative effect on health.

Chronic stress, or our bodies releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine into our bodies in a regular basis, for some people as often as multiple times a day, can cause all sorts of harmful physical symptoms and conditions. People who experience chronic stress tend to suffer from, as a result of it:

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Increased risk of heart disease or strokes
  • Lowered immune system function

For seniors especially, the effects of stress on the circulatory system can be very detrimental. As we age, factors compound and snowball and increase the risk for all older adults, and heart disease is the number one killer of adults. This is why stress management is critical.

Stress management broadly falls into two categories. One, is the removal of stressors, and two is holistic stress relief. Identifying stressors in a senior’s life is the first step, and the second step is introducing solutions. For example, if your loved one is frequently stressed by financial issues, working with them or a financial planner to come up with a budget and rein in expenses could solve that.

Holistic stress relief involves counteracting the stress by finding activities that help them release their tension and frustration in healthy ways. Yoga, mindful meditation, regular light exercise, pursuing creative outlets, or spending time with friends and family are all great activities that can reduce the weight of stress on a person.