We all feel stressed. And for an older person, that stress can become palpable. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling— especially when living alone. But here are a few suggestions to help you reduce anxiety and recover your sense of well-being.
There’s a good reason that going for a walk used to be called “taking a constitutional.”
It’s great for your health and your state of mind— your entire physical and emotional constitution. Our ancestors certainly knew it.
Humans are designed to wander and forage. In the days before sedentary, work-a-day lives and civilization, we had to find what we needed to survive. That involved quite a bit of walking and running all over the place.
As we walk, our lungs inflate more, providing better blood oxygenation. Our hearts begin to beat a little faster, but they do not have to pump as forcefully to get blood to our extremities. Arterial walls relax a bit. And, best of all, our brains begin to increase their production of endorphins, naturally produced mood-stabilizing substances that reduce our perception of pain.
As an added bonus, endorphins elevate our emotional state.
In fact, there is quite a bit of evidence that walking or hiking can significantly reduce the incidence rate of depression. Even light regular walking can stave off mood disorders.
If you are beginning to feel stressed out, get up off the couch and walk for as little as 10-20 minutes every day. It could go a long way toward improving your outlook and day-to-day ability to handle challenges.
Talk and visit with people.
It may sound like an oversimplification, but getting out and making new friends is a surefire cure for feelings of anxiety and stress. People who lack social support structures invariably report feeling isolated from those around them. But there is firm evidence that the simple act of meeting new people can help to elevate mood.
In a 2009 study published in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal, researchers Archana Singh and Nishi Misra found that depression and loneliness are strongly interrelated. In fact, they’re a chicken-and-egg tandem.
As we age, we invariably lose family members and friends to changes in life— moves, illnesses, and even deaths gradually reduce our social networks and can leave us feeling vulnerable unless we are always working to build new ties. So when we lose people, we feel lonely, which causes depression, which deepens our feelings of loneliness… it’s a vicious cycle.
According to Singh and Misra, “Sociability plays an important role in protecting people from the experience of psychological distress and in enhancing well-being.” Their research showed that feelings of isolation are “a major risk factor for functional difficulties in older persons,” but some social contact has more benefits than others.
For some elderly people, “the time spent with family may be less enjoyable than a visit to a neighbor or someone of their age group.” They note that seniors “tend to make friendships predominantly with those within the same age cohort.”
So what’s the takeaway? Seniors most often enjoy associating with people of, or near, their own age. Trying to meet and befriend age-peers can help improve your long-term mental health.
You might consider visiting, or even making a move into, a retirement community. Many retirement communities are set up like mini-cities, with each resident having his or her own apartment or cottage-style home, plus large common areas, food outlets, and fitness and activity centers. Even if you are not considering moving out of your own home right now, volunteering at a senior center may help you to meet new faces and build your support structures.
While we’re on the subject of meeting people, one of the best ways you can do so is by volunteering with an organization that promotes something you are interested in.
- Is your passion gardening? Why not see if there is a beautification committee or gardening club in your hometown?
- Enjoy travel? There are many senior travel groups you could join.
- Do you derive your sense of well-being from helping others? Volunteer at a local hospital or animal shelter.
Whatever you do, be sure that it enriches your sense of well-being. Don’t undertake anything out of a feeling of duty or obligation. These are your golden years; you should spend them doing whatever makes you feel good.