The Senior

Stress in seniors: Symptoms and simple strategies

Stress can manifest in numerous ways and varies from person to person.

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Even the most content and well-centred individual has undoubtedly had bouts of stress in their life. Stress is defined in basic terms as how your body reacts to change. This response can be emotional, intellectual, or physical. Keep reading to learn about identifying stress in seniors, along with common symptoms, solutions, and mitigation techniques.

What are common sources of stress in seniors?

Causes of stress in seniors are far-ranging. In many cases, the seniors themselves are not entirely aware of the source. However, as stress is categorised as how a body reacts to change, recent developments are worth noting.

Some stressors, such as a loved one passing away, divorce, or moving home, are straightforward to identify and are included in the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. However, other sources of stress may not be apparent to outsiders or the seniors themselves. For example, a lingering feeling of one's morbidity or the inability to read the fine print on packaging can cause stress in a senior who values their independence.

Why we experience stress changes as we move through life

While children might pinpoint school bullies or an exam as the cause of stress, adults are more likely to stress about paying bills, their work or keeping their spouse happy. In our later years, physical changes, loneliness, health concerns, and caring for an ill spouse or family member are more likely culprits as sources of stress. When a person feels incapable of changing their current situation, the feeling of stress can become chronic and a drain both physically and psychologically.

Why do seniors feel symptoms of stress?

Stress can manifest in numerous ways and varies from person to person. Innumerable variables can aggravate or alleviate how a person copes with stressful situations. As such, the same person might react differently to the same stressful stimuli based on other external factors such as the amount of sleep they have had or the weather.

Stress can be an emotional, intellectual or physical response or a combination of these. Here are some of the more common symptoms of stress in seniors.

Emotional responses to stress in seniors can include:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Anxiety
  • Nerves
  • Inability to switch off
  • Depression
  • Worry
  • Loneliness
  • Mood swings

Intellectual responses to stress in seniors can include:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Unfocused thinking
  • Memory trouble
  • Irritability
  • Nail-biting
  • Over or under eating
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, hobbies or activities
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Taking more medication or drugs
  • Compulsive behaviors

Physical responses to stress in seniors can include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or irregular heartbeat
  • Stress hair loss
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Sore eyes or blurry vision
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Weakened immune system

How is stress in seniors diagnosed?

Stress is subjective and manifests differently amongst different people at different times in their lives. A healthcare professional can diagnose stress and offer stress relief strategies, however, these are often geared towards managing the body's physical responses, such as high blood pressure.

Using some simple management strategies can help people cope with the stress they're experiencing. Picture: Pexels

What are some simple strategies for stress relief in seniors?

While it might be possible to identify specific stressors in seniors, it is not always possible to change or eliminate them. However, it is possible to mitigate how seniors cope with stress and, therefore, how the body and mind react. Some simple stress management strategies include:

Exercise - Physical activity is scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms of stress in seniors. Moreover, group activities such as yoga classes, aquatic aerobics, or tai chi in the park enhance a sense of belonging, which can be lacking in seniors.

Talking - A problem shared is a problem halved. It might be an old idiom, but it still rings true, regardless of our age. Talking through stressful situations can be done with a therapist, friend, or group going through similar experiences.

Mindfulness - Meditation, breathing techniques, and centering exercises are proven to reduce the feeling of stress and anxiety. Encourage yourself or the senior in your life to take ten minutes at a set time daily to focus on mindfulness.

Setting goals - Take back the feeling of control and set small, manageable goals daily, weekly, and monthly.

Connections - Connecting with others can lower stress, improve mood and give a sense of belonging and safety.

Renewed purpose - Seniors whose sense of self was tied to their career, however stressful and intense it may have been, can feel stressed by a lack of ambition. Finding a renewed purpose, whether using their expertise by volunteering or starting a cottage industry, might give an outlet for pent-up energy and drive.

As a senior, it might seem counterintuitive to feel stressed when life is meant to be easier. Work, family, and money issues are often not as pressing as in younger years. However, our senior years are also a period of considerable change, and how an individual reacts emotionally, intellectually, and physically to this change differs immensely from person to person.

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