We all have times when the world feels overwhelming; our responsibilities and difficulties loom large, and stress encroaches upon our daily lives. Stressors—like losing a loved one, managing illness, financial concerns, retirement, or separation from friends and family—can cause tension and anxiety, especially in older adults.

During stressful times, the brain releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which left unregulated can have a negative impact on one’s health. Chronic stress has been shown to impact the immune system, contributing to conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As we age, our immune systems weaken, making seniors even more susceptible to health problems, so understanding how to reduce stress is crucial.

Some common symptoms of stress in adults include:

  • Tension headaches
  • Changes in sleep patterns or insomnia
  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Poor concentration and forgetfulness
  • Mood swings, irritability, or depression
  • Edginess

There are plenty of ways to relieve stress, and they differ from person to person. The most important factor in reducing tension is triggering the body’s relaxation response which can help to lower blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, and stress hormones. Stress management has been found to increase seniors’ health and well-being and can prevent health issues from worsening or returning.

Some suggestions on stress management for older adults include:

  • Make a connection: This is especially critical now, after the isolation brought on by pandemic lockdowns. With lockdowns on the wane, there is no better time to reconnect with friends and family because simply being around others in a comfortable setting triggers stress-reducing chemicals in the brain. Try to spend time with at least one person a day: whether it be a grandchild, family friend or neighbor. This will ward off loneliness and depression. If you have the time and energy, consider becoming a volunteer. It’s a great way to meet people who share the same interests as yours and can help you forget about your worries.
  • Regular exercise: If you have difficulty with movement or balance, you may benefit from tai chi or yoga, which enhances balance. Any sort of physical activity from walking to gardening can improve your health, lift your spirits, and reduce stress. Even chair-based exercises are beneficial in maintaining wellness.
  • Seek support: If you are coping with bereavement and loss, consider joining a support group  where you can share your feelings with others who are experiencing the same thing. This can help you feel less alone.
  • Be Mindful: A  mind-body program—perhaps involving journaling, meditation, and gentle exercise like yoga—can help reduce stress at any age. Some mindfulness programs are specifically geared toward seniors, and others focus on chronic pain like arthritis. 

According to an article in Medical News Today, mindfulness practices, which have roots in Buddhism, require a person to focus their attention on the present, be aware of their passing thoughts without trying to stop them, and maintain an open mind. Researchers have studied mindfulness and shown that it can be effective in improving stress management. Meditation triggers the body’s relaxation response and restores the body and mind to a calm state by quieting anxious or negative thoughts and emotions. Research has shown that those who regularly practice medication start to experience changes in their response to stress that allow them to recover from difficult situations and experience less stress from life’s day-to-day challenges. 

Research shows that yoga can help promote well-being and improve seniors’ health and quality of life. It’s a great stress reliever and has other physical benefits. While some types of yoga have a spiritual element, yoga can be practiced purely as exercise, and there are many types of yoga for individuals of all ability levels including therapeutic yoga and practices tailored specifically to seniors. 

Other stress-management techniques for older adults include solving Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or other word games that can spark mental stimulation; you can think of it as “brain exercise.” Games that require focused concentration can provide a helpful distraction for those who tend to get caught up in worry. Hobbies, which can be anything you truly enjoy doing, can also help to relax your mind and take a break from stressors. This might be the perfect time to learn a new language, sport like golf or biking, or musical instrument.

And finally, one of the easiest ways to manage stress is simply to maintain a positive attitude and remember to laugh. A sense of humor and a good belly laugh go a long way in helping cope with life’s challenges, especially as we age.