Before we deal with managing stress, let’s understand what stress really is. The definition of stress is your body’s response to a situation that requires action. In simpler terms, stress is how you react to challenging or threatening situations.
The causes of stress are called ‘stressors,’ which are defined by Wikipedia as “a chemical or biological agent, environmental condition, external stimulus or an event seen as causing stress to an organism.” A stressor can be anything that an individual might consider demanding, challenging, or threatening to his safety.
In response to stressors, the hypothalamus, the “control tower” in your brain, tells your body to release stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) which increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure and boost energy supplies. This puts you in ‘fight or flight’ mode, ready to deal with oncoming danger.
This biochemical mechanism helps us deal with challenges and demands. For example, we need our stress response when trapped in a burning building, facing a fear (like dogs or public speaking), or losing our job. The stress hormones get us to act and often save our lives. However, these hormones are helpful only for immediate, short-term challenges.
The Effects of Chronic Stress
When our bodies keep firing off cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine every day, and several times a day, it begins to take a toll on our health. Chronic stress may cause symptoms such as:
● High blood pressure
● High blood sugar
● Decreased immune function
● Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes
All of the above are serious health risks, especially for seniors. As we age, our bodies become less resilient and more prone to health issues. We must be on the lookout for signs of stress in our aging loved ones.
Signs of Stress in Seniors
As a caregiver, you are uniquely positioned to look out for signs of stress and implement stress management strategies early on. You know your loved one’s routines and habits and can tell if something changes. Here are a few concerning signs to watch out for:
● Changes in eating habits (eating too much or not enough)
● Weight gain or weight loss
● Changes in mood (increased irritability, anxiety, sadness, indifference, or even unusual elation or overactivity)
● Difficulties with short-term memory
● Difficulties with concentration and decision-making
● Problems sleeping
● Physical discomfort (headaches, stomach problems, headaches, or chest pains)
● Withdrawal and isolation
● Less attention to personal hygiene, grooming, and self-care
● Low energy and fatigue
Common Causes of Stress in Seniors
If you notice some signs of stress in your loved one, the first step is to identify the cause, or the ‘stressor’. What is causing them to feel stressed?
The following is a list of possible stressors for your aging loved one:
● Changes in lifestyle and financial status after retirement
● Healthcare expenses
● Responsibilities involved in caring for others (grandchildren, or a sick spouse)
● Death of relatives or close friends
● Deterioration of physical abilities (loss of hearing, vision, memory, etc.)
● Chronic illness
● Worries for not being able to live independently and becoming a burden on family members
● Worries for institutionalization
This list is not exhaustive. It’s up to you as the caregiver to identify causes of stress in your elderly loved one’s life and schedule. As you know their usual circumstances, you can identify situations and changes that are potential stressors.
Once you identify the source of your elderly loved one’s stress, you can a) come up with solutions that lessen or dissolve that challenge, and b) encourage general stress-relieving activities.
Strategies to Help a Senior Manage Stress
There are two general approaches to managing stress:
● dealing with the source
● holistic stress relief
Introducing solutions to the stressors is the next step after identifying the source. You can give your loved ones back their feeling of control and empower them. For example, if the source of stress is financial burdens, you can come up with a financial plan, speak to an accountant or financial advisor, or look into various insurances.
Some solutions to consider:
● Re-evaluate diet and nutrition
● Speak to a geriatric doctor about health concerns
● Get more and better rest
● Keep busy with interesting and varied activities and socializing
● Organize and clean up their living space
However, sometimes the cause of stress cannot be reduced at the source. In addition to managing stress at the source, you can reduce your eating loved one’s stress by incorporating stress-relieving activities into their routine. These activities help promote peace of mind, relaxation, and positivity.
Here are some ideas to try out and discover which are best for your loved one’s lifestyle and personality:
● Exercise, like walking or swimming
● Creative hobbies (sewing, writing, painting, gardening, etc)
● Getting outside (sunshine, fresh air, and nature do wonders for our peace of mind)
● Playing with a pet or grandchild
● Keeping a gratitude journal
● Attending classes or courses
Stress management is so important for our overall well-being, and you have the opportunity to help someone you care about lessen their stress. Now that you better understand what stress is, its effects, what causes it, and how to manage it, you can help the senior in your care become happier and healthier. You can even help your senior loved one by leading by example and managing your own stress with the above tools. (Caregivers have a lot of responsibility and are prone to stress and burnout.)
As you work toward relieving stress, remember to celebrate each small step you take in the right direction. Take stock of how far you’ve come on your journey towards a happier, stress-free life.
Every bit of stress relief has a huge positive impact on our health. It’s never too late to begin implementing stress-management techniques.
Looking for more helpful resources for helping your loved one? Community Home Health Care has a caring, experienced staff of trained in-home caregivers, including personal care aides, registered nurses, and home health aides.
Explore our website and fill out the online form to receive more information about the medical assistance, personal care, and friendship we provide. You can call (845) 425-6555 with any questions you have, and we’ll be happy to help.