During uncertain times, our bodies are hardwired to respond by going into alert mode and being on the lookout for potential problems. So it’s only natural that recent events would cause stress and anxiety in seniors to spike. But not dealing with your anxiety for a long period of time can lead to cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health, and an overall poor quality of life.
Being resilient and learning how to cope with stress and anxiety with some stress management techniques for seniors can help you deal with unpredictable times and improve your physical and mental health. Anxiety is also treatable with prescription drugs and therapy.
Different types of anxiety disorders.
Older adults with an anxiety disorder can have feelings of fear, worry, apprehension, or dread that are excessive or disproportional to the actual problem or situation they’re worried about. There are several types of anxiety disorders:
Phobias. A phobia is an intense, irrational fear of a place, thing or event that actually poses little or no threat. Some common phobias are a fear of heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, closed-in spaces, flying and spiders.
Social anxiety. This is when you feel overwhelmingly anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are overly concerned about health issues, money, family problems or possible disaster. They almost always expect the worst, even when there is little reason to expect it.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is characterized by persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as violence, abuse, natural disasters, or some other threat to a person’s sense of survival or safety.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some people suffer from persistent, upsetting thoughts that they try to control by performing certain rituals, such as repeatedly checking things, touching things in a particular order, or counting things.
Panic Disorder. This is characterized by panic attacks, or sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning.
Causes of anxiety disorders.
If not dealt with, symptoms of anxiety can lead to a weakened immune system, muscle tension, high blood sugar, nervous system fatigue, digestion problems, ulcers, cardiovascular problems and difficulty breathing. You may also be at greater risk of developing other mental health complications, such as depression and thoughts of suicide.
A number of factors can contribute to anxiety in seniors, including:
- Extreme stress or trauma
- Bereavement and complicated or chronic grief
- Alcohol, caffeine, drugs (prescription, over-the-counter, illegal)
- A family history of anxiety disorders
- Neurodegenerative disorders (including Alzheimer’s or other dementias)
- Financial insecurity
- Health problems
- Loss of independence
- End-of-life planning
- Chronic pain
- Changes in sensory perception, including vision loss and diminishing taste and smell
If you think your loved one has an anxiety disorder, here are some signs to look for:
- Excessive worry or fear
- Refusing to do routine activities or being overly preoccupied with routine
- Avoiding social situations
- Overly concerned about safety
- Racing heart, shallow breathing, trembling, nausea, sweating
- Poor sleep
- Muscle tension, feeling weak and shaky
- Self-medication with alcohol
- Avoidance of activities, places, people, and even thoughts that trigger anxiousness
- Changes in weight, appetite or eating habits
- Sleep disturbances, including sleeping too much or too little
- Resistance to leaving home
- Withdrawal and isolating behavior
- Obsessive thoughts
- Compulsive behavior
How to cope with stress and anxiety.
You may not be able to control what’s happening in the outside world, but you can control your response. Here are 5 stress management activities for seniors to help your emotional health.
Meal planning: Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
Exercise: For older adults, the CDC recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking.
Sleep: Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Sleep in a dark, quiet room. Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed.
Enjoy yourself: Relax by doing activities you enjoy, such as a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, gardening, reading, or watching TV.
Socialize: If you can’t get together in person, try video chatting via Skype or Zoom.
Ask your doctor: Your doctor can help determine if your symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, a medical condition or both, and what to do next.
Your safety matters.
While anxiety doesn’t always have a specific trigger, there are environmental and situational factors that can cause it to arise. To find a senior living community that can help you lead a positive and supportive lifestyle, you can research thousands of communities with our Where You Live Matters community finder.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.
Institute on Aging