Stress is a natural part of life. While it gets a bad rap as a negative force mentally and physically, the National Institute of Mental Health notes that not all stress is bad. It's actually a necessary reaction that helps you deal with dangerous situations and can motivate you to accomplish certain tasks. But abnormal or long-term stress can have significant negative consequences on mental or physical health. Find out more about stress and the COVID-19 pandemic below and what seniors in assisted living communities and their families might do to combat this issue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically addresses the potential issue of stress in a pandemic situation. It points out that people of all ages might fear a new disease more than existing ones, in part because there's a lack of information and a higher level of uncertainty surrounding it. This can be exacerbated by news media and public health officials struggling to get information out when they also don't have a full picture of a new illness. That can result in constantly changing information, which can increase stress too.
People may also worry about catching the illness or worry about the health and wellness of their loved ones. On top of all that, the safety measures put in place by governments and organizations, while important, can also cause some level of stress for many people. It may be stressful just figuring out what you're supposed to do for safety at each level of a pandemic, for example.
For seniors in assisted living communities, these stresses can be compounded by the potential for isolation. If a positive case or exposure is noted in a community, for example, seniors may have to separate themselves and forgo meals or other activities in common spaces for a while.
Long-term stress, whether related to a pandemic or otherwise, can have serious ramifications for health. The CDC notes that stress during a pandemic might cause people to have difficulty sleeping or eating or worsen chronic physical or mental health conditions. That's true of other long-term stress, too.
The CDC also provides some tips for dealing with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few of them that might be helpful or applicable to individuals in senior living communities or their loved ones.
• Talk to your doctor or other health professionals. Knowledge is a great buffer against stress, particularly with a lot of the stress coming from not knowing something. Instead of sitting and worrying about issues, talk to professionals to get as much information you can about how you can protect yourself and what you might do if you're exposed. For residents in the Bethesda Senior Living Communities, this might be as easy as reaching out to a nurse or other staff member for assistance.
• Manage your physical health. There's little you can do about a pandemic, but there's a lot you can do about the health of your body. Continue to eat right, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive use of stimulants and other chemicals such as caffeine, alcohol or tobacco. If you want to use this time to improve your physical health, talk to the assisted living community staff about your dietary needs or how you can join in on socially distanced exercise programs or workout in your own apartment.
• Maintain social connections. This can be understandably hard during a pandemic, especially if you're having to isolate in an assisted living apartment due to an exposure within the community. Try to find ways to continue connecting with others, and ask your friends and family to help. You might schedule regular phone calls or use video conferencing options on your mobile device to see people face-to-face. You could even ask the assisted living staff if they can help you connect via video with other residents if you have close friends in the community. Someone else might appreciate a check-in as much as you!
• Limit news consumption. The 24-hour news cycle and the ability to jump online to read news on social media and websites can create a potential for binging on information. News, like food, is typically best in moderation. If you like to stay informed and it stresses you more to ignore the news, it's fine to tune in a couple of times a day. But make sure you're spending time doing other activities and attending to your own mental and physical well-being too. After all, seniors realize probably more than anyone else: life, in its entirety, is about much more than a pandemic. Even in the middle of one.
• Practice your faith. Praying for each other, attending worship when possible or attending virtual worship, and reading the Bible can all help you cope with stress at any time. Consider asking a friend if they'll enter into a Bible study with you during this time. Pick a book of the Bible and read a chapter a week, then talk on the phone or via video conference about what you read.
For many seniors in assisted living communities, the pandemic is stressful and scary. But it's also just one of many things they've dealt with during long, active lives. By taking a proactive stance against stress, assisted living communities, families and seniors can help combat it for better quality of life during this season.