A number of studies in recent years have found correlations between consistent stress and anxiety and accelerated aging. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with aging and work is being done every day to mitigate its negative, social perceptions. Stress and anxiety, however, are not the kind of conditions by which we want to age healthily. On top of the expected stress that often accompanies the aging process, the aging population has endured an excess of psychological and emotional burdens in the past couple of years, and this year is likely to continue the trend. So how can aging individuals work to mitigate those burdens in order to live fuller, happier lives in the long run?
When we isolate ourselves, we tend to internalize our thoughts and feelings, but when we interact with others, especially for recreational purposes, we can separate ourselves from our stress by redirecting our focus on others. Join a community group, a fitness class or find somewhere to volunteer. There are plenty of options available to older folks who are seeking to socialize more.
2. Don’t keep it to yourself
This is related to the first point. Pain is always harder to bear on one’s own. By sharing what you’re going through with someone you trust, you can work to form strategies to cope with whatever you’re experiencing. Often, the very act of honestly expressing the problem out loud can be a huge relief and can lessen your stress and anxiety. It’s important to feel like someone listens, understands and cares.
3. Stay active and stretch
Exercise is a tried and true method by which to mitigate anxiety: it reduces stress hormones and increases the production of endorphins. Almost any type of exercise is a healthy way to redirect the energy in your body and mind toward something productive. And it will reap additional benefits: increased vitality, optimism, relaxation and a boost to your self-image. Depending on your freedom of movement or physical ability, you might consider going for runs (perhaps with a friend) or doing yoga. For those whose mobility is limited, there are a number of options, including tai chi, which aids with balance. And there are classes for every type of fitness and every age group, so see what works for you!
4. Think positively
What are your strengths and achievements? Consider reaching out to people who know you well and ask them what they like about you in particular. This isn’t self-absorbed, it’s a way to reflect on the ways in which you have value. Stress and anxiety can make us feel unequipped to cope with ourselves, with others and with the world. Writing down your skills, gifts and positive qualities can help to remind you how capable you are, which in turn puts your stress into context. Remember: you are not defined by your burdens.
One of the physical signs of stress is restricted breathing and physical tension. When you wake up in the morning, start the day with some breathing exercises. Take a deep breath and let your diaphragm expand as far as it will go, hold your breath for about 5 seconds, then slowly exhale. Repeat this 5 to 10 times, letting your muscles relax with every exhale. If you notice any areas of tension in your body, try to focus on those as you breathe out. The jaw, shoulders, throat and stomach are some common areas of tension for people, though everyone’s different. Return to these deep breaths throughout the day as you feel yourself growing tense. You’ll notice a difference in no time.
It’s impossible to live completely without stress. The world at large is evidence of that. And as certain stressors pass away, new ones rise to take their place. That’s why stress management is so necessary for all of us throughout our lives. But it’s important to remember that in this day and age, there are numerous ways to cope with our various anxieties so that we don’t have to live in constant worry. Most importantly, however, know that you are not alone. It may take time, but living a long, joyful, fulfilling life in spite of your stress is absolutely achievable.