During this time of global crisis, it’s not uncommon to become overwhelmed by the influx of frightening news, daily changes in protocol, and the loneliness that can accompany self-quarantine. With no end date in sight, uncertainty can cause feelings of anxiety and stress, no matter your situation. While stress isn’t healthy for any individual, it can be especially harmful for older adults. Stress can look very different for each individual and can show up in various ways, both mentally and physically. The first step in addressing your stress is to recognize your symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Stress can be caused by many different factors, such as isolation, changes in a routine, or worry about the future. As we live during these uncertain times, it’s important to check in with your loved ones and evaluate your own body and mind for signs of stress. Here are a few of the most common ways stress can present itself in the body:
Changes in Eating Habits
It’s not uncommon for stress to cause changes in diet. You might have noticed a change in your appetite or food choices, especially in the past few weeks. Overwhelming stress can cause both over-eating and loss of appetite.
Processing our current global situation can be really difficult, especially as we consume new facts and stories multiple times a day. You might have experienced a change in your mood, such as increased irritability, general sadness, or depression.
Stress can cause havoc on our memory, especially for older adults. Memory issues like increased forgetfulness, lack of concentration, excessive spending, and poor judgment are common behaviors accompanied by overwhelming stress.
Stress can often present itself physically. If you’re under stress, you might have experienced body aches and pains, headaches, changes in your sleeping patterns, back pain, indigestion, and heart palpitations.
Long-Term Effects of Stress
While signs of stress can be difficult to identify, it’s important to address them quickly. Stress that remains constant for a long period of time can have negative effects, both physically and mentally.
• Lowered immune system – Long-term stress can suppress the immune system, increasing our risk of illness and disease. Because older adults are more vulnerable to certain illnesses, further compromising their immune systems could have severe consequences.
• Heart problems – To cope with stress, our bodies produce adrenaline, which raises blood pressure and heart rate. When we experience long-term stress, we put additional strain on our hearts, increasing our risk of damaging arteries and heart disease.
• Vision and hearing loss – Adrenaline produced during long-term stress can constrict our blood vessels, which can negatively affect our hearing and vision.
• Digestive issues – When we are overwhelmed with stress for a long period of time, our central nervous system can decrease its blood flow, causing contraction in our digestive muscles, which can lead to serious digestive problems.
• Dental issues – To cope with stress, many of us clench our jaws and grind our teeth without realizing. If we use these coping methods long-term, we can cause serious damage to our teeth.
Ways to Reduce Stress
While experiencing stress is a normal part of life, the consequences that come with it can have a negative effect on our overall well-being. As these stressful times continue, it’s important to focus on ways to reduce stress and maintain positive physical and mental health.
When we experience stress for long periods of time, it can have a powerful effect on our decision-making abilities, mental clarity, and concentration. While these symptoms can be quite powerful, working through them is simple. Breathing exercises are great tools to help with anxiety and dissipate the negative effects of stress. The next time you feel stressed, here is a simple breathing exercise to practice:
• Choose a comfortable place to lie down or sit, with your shoulders, neck, and head supported.
• Breathe in through your nose, filling your belly with air.
• Breathe out through your nose, placing one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
• As you breathe in, concentrate on your stomach rising. As you breathe out, feel your stomach lowering.
• Stay for three full breaths.
Simple activities like meditating, journaling, and coloring can also help clear your mind and work through situations that might be causing you stress. Adult coloring books exist, and they leave you with works of art you can frame! If you’re new to journaling, you can always use journals with built-in prompts to make writing feel easier and more natural.
Taking care of your body during stressful times is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Simple movements like walking or stretching can help combat the negative symptoms of stress like tightness, anxiety, and nervousness. While getting to your local gym or rec center might not be possible at the moment, it’s still possible to do simple exercises in the comfort of your own home. The YMCA is offering virtual classes for all members and non-members that you can access right from your computer. Yoga is also a great exercise that can help combat stress while also helping to build strength and flexibility.
You might experience a change in your appetite during stressful times, but ensuring proper nutrition is crucial. Now could be the perfect opportunity to try new recipes or take an online cooking class. While traveling is limited, you can relive your past travels through recreating international dishes. You might consider ordering your groceries through Amazon online, or checking with your local grocery stores to inquire about delivery.
Stress can make you feel lonely, isolated, and depressed. However, there are many different ways to relieve these symptoms of stress while lifting your spirits! First, you might consider limiting your news consumption. Whether you browse the internet, watch the news on TV, or read the paper, consuming too much news, especially during this global pandemic, can cause negative feelings and thinking. Try consuming more positive stories, like reading a book or video chatting with friends and family members.
While we are doing our best to stay at home, we can still go outside. As spring arrives, now is the perfect time to start your garden. Here are some great tips for gardening in a small space like your patio or even inside.
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how stressful times like these can be for both seniors and their families. Thankfully, we’re all in this together. If you’d like to hear more about our communties throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ohio, please contact us.
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