Retirement is supposed to be the time to relax and enjoy life without the strain of raising a family, working and any of the other mid-life responsibilities. You can finally take that cruise you’ve always wanted to go on, or play with the grandchildren, or join the local golf club you didn’t have time for in your working years. This time is meant for you.
Ironically, “stress” and “seniors” go hand-in-hand at a surprising rate.
Managing health conditions and funding entertaining endeavors on a fixed income can keep seniors up at night. What’s more, while stress can impact you at any age, studies have found that our ability to cope with stress declines as we get older. The effects can be dangerous — even deadly. Here are the five dangerous effects of stress on seniors and how to overcome it.
Effect #1: Heart Problems
The risk of developing heart conditions increases as we age, and stress only adds to that increased level. Stress raises the blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which damages the artery walls. People who are stressed tend to decrease their levels of physical activity, and substitute unhealthy habits, such as tobacco or alcohol use, in an attempt to manage their stress.
What you can do: If you are feeling stressed, take care of your body and increase healthy habits instead of unhealthy ones. Get lots of sleep, drink lots of water and exercise — it’s a great coping mechanism that often gets overlooked.
Effect #2: Weight Gain
When you’re stressed, it makes it harder to be conscious about healthy eating habits. You may eat on an irregular schedule. You may overeat or forget to eat at all. You may choose comfort food over a healthier option. You may even eat even when you’re not hungry. This can lead to weight gain, which is unhealthy for anyone, unless they are underweight.
What you can do: The Mayo Clinic recommends not skipping meals, particularly breakfast, as that will help set a healthy eating/hunger cycle for the rest of your day, no matter what you’re dealing with. It’s important to identify unhealthy comfort foods and do your best to avoid them while dealing with stress.
Effect #3: Weakened Immune System
If you are feeling stressed out, don’t be surprised if you come down with something. Chronic stress can suppress a senior’s immune system, impacting the body’s ability to fight infection. Research has shown how important it is to manage stress and have a good support system of family and friends.
What you can do: Stock up on vitamins, and turn to family and friends if you need the extra support. Reach out to your closest support system and try to talk through your problems. Even if they can’t help you come to a resolution, it helps to talk it out. They may offer a new perspective or advice for dealing with the issue, and are more likely to make you feel better about things than other coping mechanisms like alcohol or food.
Effect #4: Anxiety
Stress can easily cause anxiety. The most common symptoms of anxiety are headaches, back pain and a rapid heartbeat, all of which are symptoms of other physical conditions, making it hard to distinguish anxiety from a more serious health condition.
What you can do: To identify anxiety, ask yourself what you are thinking about when you can’t sleep at night, what you are thinking about when you notice your heart begin to race, and what issues in your life are concerning you most. Once you’ve identified this, it may be time to talk to your doctor about proper treatment.
Effect #5: Depression
Chronic stress that goes unresolved can lead to depression. It can trigger feelings of sadness and hopelessness. While it is normal to feel sadness after losing a loved one, learning of a medical condition you or a loved one may have or other similar life events, if it continues for a prolonged period and interferes with your daily life, talk to your doctor about depression.
What you can do: Depression is NOT a normal part of aging. If you are feeling hopeless, there are medicines you can take as an aid, and lifestyle changes you can make to deal with this condition. As the National Institute of Mental Health states, these treatments take time to become fully effective, and must be used continuously to make a difference. It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders and follow your treatment plan exactly as it is given to you for optimal results.
Stressful situations are often unavoidable. The important thing is to remember that while you cannot control all situations, you can control your reaction to them. Acknowledging you are stressed and then determining how you can manage it are the first steps to alleviating it altogether and getting back to enjoying your life.
Want to learn more about what currently affects seniors? Check out our guide, Aging in Place: A Popular Trend for a New Generation of Seniors.