For Older Adults: Address Your Stress
Too much stress can be bad for you, the American Geriatric Society says. Stress can affect your physical health and your ability to go about your daily life. It can put a damper on your mental health, too.
Of course, some stress is inevitable, but as you grow older, the key is to minimize stress while maximizing happiness and enjoyment.
"There are many steps you can take psychologically, socially, and physically to help reduce stress and stay upbeat," says Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., a psychiatric and behavioral science specialist in New York.
Avoidance is not a good way to cope with stress. It is healthier to face the facts. "For example, if your hip needs to be fixed or if your partner or spouse is disabled, there is no avoiding reality, so it's better to cope actively with your situation rather than passively," says Dr. Kennedy.
Don't isolate yourself
Whether you're involved with a religious institution, caring for grandchildren, or perhaps even working, staying active can offset stress. "Trying to do everything alone is not a good idea because, in a sense, stress needs to be shared," says Dr. Kennedy.
"Relationships, community, and staying connected are all important means of staying upbeat after age 65," adds Dorree Lynn, Ph.D. A member of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Lynn is the author of When the Man You Love is Ill: Doing Your Best for Your Partner Without Losing Yourself. "Even older adults with limited mobility can stay connected by phone and e-mail. Even if you are not technologically savvy, your grandchildren are, and they can help you stay connected."
Become physically active
Exercising your body is good for your mind. "The brain is not just a computer," says Dr. Kennedy. "Not only your brain function, but also your cholesterol, balance, blood pressure, and glucose improve with a moderate level of physical activity." Walking a half hour every day, outdoors or indoors, is an easy way to become active. Check with your doctor first.
"Very simple steps, such as eating right and exercising, make a huge difference by physiologically raising the serotonin levels in your body that make you feel good and reduce stress," says Dr. Lynn. "Plus, if you go out for a brisk walk with someone else, you stay active and you stay connected with others. It all flows together."
Good sleep habits are vital to curbing stress. Try to keep a regular schedule by rising and going to bed at the same time each day. "We have clocks in our brains that regulate us physically and mentally, and we need to reset that clock every day by maintaining a regular sleep schedule," says Dr. Kennedy.
Don't use alcohol as a crutch
Drinking too much alcohol is not a good way to cope with stress at any point in your life, but that's especially true as you age. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. "Basically, drinking is not a very helpful way to cope with stress," says Dr. Kennedy.
Look on the bright side
Because stress wears you down, mentally and physically, keep it at bay by spending time with positive, happy people. "To become more lighthearted, hang out with lighthearted people," advises Dr. Lynn. "You can't dismiss the realities of aging difficulties, but you can stay around positive people. There is meaning in laughter—it is a gift that keeps you young—and a positive outlook helps you live longer and happier."
Online Medical Reviewers:
Akin, Louise RN, BSN
Dwyer, Johanna, D.Sc., R.D.
Fleck, Steve, Ph.D.
Gonnella, Joseph, M.D.
McDonough, Brian, M.D.
Whorton, Donald, M.D.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.