Even the most resilient and strong individual is vulnerable to mental health challenges. A recent survey from AARP found that 61 percent of seniors over age 50 have dealt with some level of anxiety within the past year and thirty-one percent describe feelings of hopelessness.
There are several reasons for this uptick in anxiety—from medical issues, family conflicts, economic stressors, to the unstable climate of society. But whatever the cause, it’s essential to be aware that unresolved stress in older adults can become full-fledged anxiety.
Here at Vineyard Senior Living, we invest in our residents’ mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And because we want everyone in our community to have a meaningful, stress-free experience during these Golden Years, we place immense value on making quality mental health care and enrichment more accessible to seniors.
How to Address Stress in Older Adults
With World Mental Health Day right around the corner (October 10), let’s talk about how to help those in your life who might suffer from the impacts of anxiety. The more open we are about the conversation, the better we can support those around us.
Do a Relaxing, Creative Hobby Together
Encourage your loved one to immerse their attention in a hobby that you can work on together. Not only is it fun to tap into those creative juices—but it’s a soothing way to distract the brain from anxious rumination and stimulate more flexible thinking.
Certain hobbies can also strengthen their fine motor skills if your loved one has limited mobility issues. Try some of the hobbies below to help relieve anxiety or stress in older adults:
- Creating artwork
- Doing a puzzle
- Bird watching
- Baking desserts
- Gardening indoors
Reinforce Positive Social Connections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loneliness in senior adults is a public health crisis. One-fourth of Americans over age 65 experience social isolation, which can increase their risk of depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure your loved one can maintain thriving, healthy relationships with a strong network of family and friends. Here are a few ways to nurture social connections:
- Teach them how to safely connect and interact on social media platforms;
- Ask for their input in conversations, then actively listen to their response;
- Encourage them to join a community program or an online support group and;
- Visit them regularly (bonus points if you come with the grandkids!).
Find Ways to Promote Regular Exercise
When a person moves their body, it lifts their mood—that’s because exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, two main pleasure chemicals in the brain. The more active your loved one is, the stronger their mental fitness will be, which makes this an effective way to manage stress in older adults. The CDC advises 30 minutes of gentle, moderate exercise five days a week, so here’s how to integrate movement into their lifestyle:
- Start each morning with some water aerobics at the community pool.
- Go for a walk around the neighborhood or at a local nature preserve.
- Take them to a yoga class—or find an online yoga flow to do at home.
- Focus on exercises that improve balance, posture, and overall mobility.
Maintain a Familiar, Predictable Routine
As your loved one ages, it’s not uncommon for their physical health, cognitive function, and level of independence to shift over time. This transition can be overwhelming or unexpected—your loved one might feel out of control, so it’s essential to alleviate as much stress as possible from their daily routine. Since older adults (in particular, those with anxiety) often view structure as security, help them create a predictable pattern with the tips below:
- Reinforce consistency in meal times, hygiene and self-care rituals, sleeping patterns, exercise regimens, or other daily activities.
- Communicate well in advance (if possible, at least) when there needs to be a change in plans or deviation from the everyday norm.
- Don’t make the routine inflexible, as this could feel just as stressful as no framework. The goal here is structure, not rigidity.
Managing Anxiety and Stress in Older Adults
Whether you’re the friend, relative, or caregiver of a senior adult with anxiety, it helps to know how to respond when anxious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors rise to the surface. These practical interventions are helpful in reducing anxiety and stress in older adults—but they can also nourish a calmer, more balanced quality of life overall.