Written for Caring Transitions by Rhiane Jessica.
Stress is manageable, but staying on top of it gets harder as you get older. Studies show that adults aged 50-64 are 19% more likely to get stressed. This is mainly due to increased pressure from numerous responsibilities, like preparing young adults for adulthood and assuming bigger roles at work, and in part due to a "cultural deemphasis on people as they gradually get older."
What's worse, the effects of stress are magnified as you age. A Harvard Health article about stress in the elderly details how your body can no longer fight off stress as efficiently as in your prime years because of the diminished state of your cells, heart, and lungs. As a result, stress can cause short-term memory loss, sleep problems, tension headaches, anxiety and irritability, indigestion, and heart palpitations — all of which can worsen over time. This is why you need to figure out healthy ways to deal with stress. The five below are among the healthiest.
1. Practice breathing exercises
Crucial to dealing with stress is triggering the body's relaxation response. An effective way to trigger it is to do breathing exercises, as they can lower your blood pressure and oxygen consumption, and slow down the production of stress hormones. There are several breathing exercises you can try. If you’re not sure where to start, Pain Free Working recommends trying the 4-7-8 breathing technique, where you inhale through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, then release it forcefully for 8 counts. Doing this can help ease some of that stress away. The best part is that most of these breathing exercises are easy to do, and you can do them early morning, before going to sleep, or anytime you feel stressed.
2. Practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness does the same things breathing exercises do to your body. Equally important, mindfulness helps you savor pleasurable moments, respond positively to adversity, and accept stressful events. It's even easy to do. One technique you can try is basic mindfulness meditation, where you sit quietly and comfortably, focus on your breathing, and repeat in your head a positive word, saying, or mantra. While doing so, let all your thoughts come and go, but don't judge them as positive or negative. Just focus on your breathing and mantra and you'll feel relieved after it's done.
Exercise releases serotonin, which helps relax both your body and brain, and endorphins, which boosts your mood and sense of wellbeing. This is why you should keep on exercising as you grow older. But you don't need to go to the gym or perform strenuous workouts. Instead, you can take leisurely walks every day, do house chores, and even take up a low-impact sport such as swimming. Doing these will boost not just your mental health, but even your physical fitness.
4. Play 'thinking' games
Playing thinking games is an effective stress reliever because it stimulates your mind. It is also a helpful distraction and will keep you from ruminating over things that might stress you out. And you likely won't run out of games to play. Very Well Mind suggests playing Sudoku, and solving the crossword puzzles in your local newspaper. You can go hi-tech, too, and play thinking games on handheld consoles such as the Nintendo DS, or play online on your smartphone or tablet. In this way, you'll be able to have fun and keep stress at bay.
Feelings of isolation can progress to loneliness and, ultimately, stress. This is why the Savvy Senior’s Guide to Getting Social recommends socialization even in old age. You can do this easily by creating and maintaining social connections on social media, learning or honing a new skill with others, and spending more time with family and friends. You can even move to a senior-friendly community or join fellow seniors in exercise programs for the elderly. By doing so, you'll avoid the stressor that is isolation.
Lastly, make sure that you increase your protein intake. The Washington Post, citing studies by nutrition experts, advises seniors to consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day — and higher if you are suffering from chronic diseases. This protein uptake will help you stay fit and functional, and able to do the healthy stress relievers outlined above.