As April winds down it also marks the end of “Stress Awareness Month”. What began as a public awareness campaign about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic in 1992, has become an important indicator of larger scale issues facing the population.
According to a recent study done by the Stress Management Society, over the last year more than 74% of UK adults have felt “so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope” (*1). The COVID-19 epidemic has increased stress levels across the country for everyone but the effects have been particularly felt by older adults.
In an interview with Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Michelle Dossett, an internal and integrative medicine specialist emphasised how our triggers for stress also change as we get older. “Stressors that tend to affect seniors are the loss of a loved one; too much unstructured time on your hands; a change in relationships with children; or a loss of physical abilities, such as vision, hearing, balance, or mobility,” says Dr. Dossett (*2).
This change in triggers is also accompanied by a decrease in resilience to stress, which can have a damaging effect on both physical and mental health. It is linked to issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, immune system problems, insomnia, anxiety, depression and digestive problems (*3).In fact, some research indicates that even the anticipation of stress exacerbates certain age-related conditions, such as dementia (*4).
How to identify stress in older adults:
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Heart palpitations
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Increased irritability
- Tension headaches
What can help:
- Speaking to loved ones
- Listening to calming music
- Writing down your worries
- Stretching or exercising
- Spending time with pets
- If none of the above make a concrete difference, speak to your doctor