Coping With Anxiety as a Senior

We will all be seniors someday, or may currently be taking care of one, so this is an important discussion to have! 

Read on. 

Aging brings changes and challenges, and often takes you out of your comfort zone. Your work status changes, your finances change, even your family changes as children grow up and move out of the home.

You may have health challenges, and things that were easy to accomplish in the past are more difficult now. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates about 20% of people age 55 and over struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue. As many as half of all seniors will suffer through a period of anxiety or depression in the years following retirement. If you or a senior loved one is showing signs of emotional distress, you’re not alone.

Be alert to the signs and symptoms

It’s hard sometimes to distinguish between normal frustration or sadness over a particular event and the onset of an anxiety disorder. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation says seniors frequently worry about things such as being unable to live independently, being alone, or running out of money in retirement.

Being aware of and expressing your fears isn’t necessarily a sign of anxiety. The problem comes when you are no longer able to deal with your fears in a rational, healthy way. Here are some signs that suggest anxiety may be an issue in your or your senior loved one’s life:

  • Inflexibility or rigid preoccupation with routines
  • Avoiding family and friends, not participating in social events
  • Physical symptoms of panic such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, trembling, or feeling suddenly flushed and sweaty
  • Obsessing over physical safety, i.e. refusing to drive or climb stairs
  • Fear of leaving home
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to make simple decisions
  • Hoarding
  • Tension headaches or other muscle aches or spasms
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances

It’s important to view these signs in the context of the individual’s personality. For example, if Dad has always been a stickler for routines, sticking to routine late in life is probably normal for him. Similarly, if Mom has always been extremely frugal, stocking up on toilet tissue and saving plastic grocery bags may just be her typical lifestyle.

These signs and symptoms become concerning when they are out of character and interfere with normal activities.

Anxiety coping strategies

If you are dealing with anxiety, there are several things you can do to help reduce its effect on your life.

  • Take a time-out from your thoughts. Listen to music, do a word puzzle, practice your golf or tennis swing, or read a good book.
  • Eat well-balanced meals and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can trigger anxiety.
  • Talk over your fears with a friend or family member. Be honest about what’s worrying you.
  • Practice deep breathing or meditation to help calm physical signs of anxiety in your body.
  • Put things in perspective. You can’t control everything in your life and you’ll ruin your health trying.

If you are a family member of someone struggling with anxiety, there are things you can do to help, too:

  • Become a good listener. Sometimes, just letting your loved one talk through fears can help reduce anxiety.
  • Plan an outing with your loved one—lunch, a shopping trip, a visit to a museum, or a picnic at a favorite park.
  • Address specific concerns. If your loved one is afraid of falling, for example, help them install safety equipment in the home.

When nothing is working

Don’t be afraid to see your doctor if anxiety is preventing you from living a full life. If you have Medicare, mental health visits are generally covered, as are therapy and counseling sessions. In some cases, medication might help you get over the hump.

Thanks to Danielle Kunkle for this wonderful article. 




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