Every April, the Stress Management Society supports Stress Awareness Month. The goal is to make people more aware of stress and the dangers it can bring as well as to provide some education about healthy ways to deal with stress.
Unfortunately, stress isn't something that goes away when you retire. Even if you make the move into an assisted living community, thus reducing many of the daily stressors that can take up your time (and your money), you aren't 100% free of stress. Feeling overwhelmed occasionally and dealing with situations that are not ideal is simply a part of life on this earth — a truth most older adults are intimately familiar with.
But just because stress is not 100% avoidable doesn't mean you can't take action to combat it.
Stress can be a natural response of your body to certain stimuli and situations. In some cases, it's one of the responses that lets us know something is wrong so we can take action. But living in a state of chronic stress — for any reason — can be dangerous.
While the National Institute of Mental Health notes that stress affects everyone and not all stress is "bad stress," it also states that long-term stress can lead to health issues. According to the NIMH, chronic stress can "disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep and reproductive systems." In the short-term, those disturbances can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or digestive distress. Over longer periods of time, they can contribute to health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders.
In some cases, you can choose to remove certain stressors from your life or minimize their impact. That's one reason many people choose to move into an assisted living community in the first place. In making the move, you can remove daily worries about keeping up a home and enjoy the peace of mind that someone is always nearby to provide assistance if you need it.
But even in the best assisted living communities, seniors may still deal with stress that comes from activities such as daily living, managing social situations or dealing with health issues. Here are some tips that seniors of faith can use to combat long-term stress.
Jesus was pretty clear that the world was going to bring stress to his followers. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you," he said. Then he clarified: "Not as the world gives do I give to you."
We're going to be stressed, but the stress doesn't come from him. It comes from the world. But in another passage, Jesus provides the answer to that stress. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
He doesn't promise to remove the stress fully in this life, but does promise peace and rest that will help us deal with it. For seniors in faith-based assisted living communities, this rest can be found in a number of ways.
But don't grin and bear your stress as if you have no other option. Sometimes stress or a less-than-ideal response to it can be caused or made worse by physical or mental health issues. If you're dealing with stress that never seems to go away or get better, bring it up to your health care provider so he or she can rule out these causes or recommend potential treatment for them.
Caffeine and other stimulants can modify your body's response to certain situations. You might feel jittery physically, but you could also be experiencing greater anxiety. Try cutting back on the coffee or going decaf to see if your stress becomes more tolerable.
Laughing may not be the best medicine for everything that ails you, but it can do wonders for stress. The same is true for getting involved with activities and like-minded friends, as these distractions can help you forget about your worries for a short period of time. Giving your mind a rest from mulling over a stressful problem is healthy and might also make a solution more apparent when you do start thinking about the issue again.
So, check the calendar to see what activities are available today or this week and find some options for joining in. Or, make it a point to enjoy a meal each day with friends in the dining area.
As you get to know people in your faith-based assisted living community, you may make close friends. You probably also have friends and family from before you moved. If you're unable to stop stressing about something, consider talking to one of these people about it. Sometimes, the act of getting it off your chest is enough to mitigate some of the stress.