Suffice it to say that the past few months have been incredibly stressful for just about all of us. We’re living in unprecedented times, and whether we recognize it or not, this stress is having an impact.
There are some times where stress can be a good thing. Good stress is called “eustress,” and it’s the type of stress we feel when we’re excited. Our pulses quicken and our hormones shift — but, there’s no fear or imminent threat. When we are nervous heading into a job interview, riding on a roller coaster or going on a first date, we’re encountering “eustress.”
Unfortunately, bad stress outweighs eustress for most of us, especially in today’s current climate. Acute stressors don’t usually have a bad impact on our health, as long as we take steps to de-stress as quickly as possible. For many of us, though, acute stress compounds into chronic stress. That’s when we’re dealing with constant stressors for a long period of time.
Social distancing, worrying about COVID-19, being apart from loved ones, possibly losing a job or a loved one losing a job, relatives or friends becoming sick, other stress in the world…over the course of months and months?
That would definitely be classified as chronic stress, and most of us are suffering.
How stress affects senior health
Our bodies aren’t designed to deal with chronic stress, so its effects on our health are serious. This is especially true for seniors, who often have existing conditions and struggles that are exacerbated by stress.
Common effects of stress on our health include:
> Over or undereating
> Muscle pain or tension
> Social withdrawal
> Feeling overwhelmed
> Chest pain
> Sleep problems
> Gastronintestinal issues
> Feeling overwhelmed
> And unfortunately, more
The risk and impact of stress increases substantially for seniors. Specifically, stress can cause the following in seniors:
> Memory problems. Stress forces our brains to act differently than when things are “normal.” As a result, chronic stress can cause short-term memory problems, especially in seniors. These memory problems are unrelated to Alzheimer’s or dementia.
> Lowered immune response. There are a host of risks associated with lowered immune response. In today’s reality, immune system health is especially important when we consider the risks (especially the heightened risks of COVID-19 for seniors) surrounding the coronavirus. A lowered immune response can also inflame other conditions your senior loved ones may be fighting, making symptoms and suffering worse.
> Heart issues. Stress floods your body with adrenaline, which can raise blood pressure and heart rate. Stress can also cause seniors to seek poor ways to deal with its effects, like smoking, alcohol and poor eating. Each of these factors also has a negative impact on health, further exacerbating issues.
> Chronic digestive issues. When faced with chronic stress, the nervous system can send the digestive system into a haywire state, which can lead to all sorts of digestive issues and over the long run, chronic issues like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
How to help relieve the burden of stress for seniors right now
This advice can help you reduce the burden of stress on your senior loved ones, and can also help you reduce your own stress levels to improve health and happiness:
> Get outside. Depending on the physical abilities of your senior loved ones, this may literally mean pulling up a chair and sitting outside with a book or headphones. And that’s okay! Some sunshine and blue skies (or if on a porch or under another covering, during a nice summer rain storm) can work wonders on mental health. Seniors who are feeling cooped up and lonely during quarantine can also enjoy seeing neighbors and feeling less confined.
> Get moving. The ability to exercise may vary based on the health challenges of your loved ones, but walking, stretching and other physical activity can help reduce the effects of stress (plus, exercise has a whole host of benefits!). Even a walk around the block can have a positive impact!
> Engage company. FaceTime and Zoom calls are great, but if you live nearby, consider a socially-distanced visit. Sitting out on a porch while safely distanced or wearing masks can alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which can significantly impact stress levels. You can also combine some of these suggestions, going on a socially-distanced walk with a loved one (perhaps one in the street and one on the sidewalk, or both wearing masks) to spend time together while maximizing the health benefits.
> Be mindful. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer free meditations to help people de-stress and relax — if your senior loved one has a smartphone, help him or her load one or both of these apps to their device. Meditation has been shown to dramatically impact mental and even physical health!
> Talk to a doctor. There is a difference between “the blues” and serious depression, which is increasingly common in seniors. If you are worried that your senior loved one is suffering from depression, be sure to call his or her doctor. The doctor may recommend medication or therapy to further assist with challenges.
Does your senior loved one need extra help at home?
Our trained and compassionate home health care professionals can help your senior with a host of daily activities and medical needs. They can provide company and comfort to help your senior loved ones (and you!) get through this challenging time. To learn more, contact your nearest Interim HealthCare location.