How to Manage Anxiety for Seniors
As one of the most common mental disorders diagnosed, anxiety is prevalent in 10-20% of the population. Most notably when it comes to senior citizens, the mental stress from anxiety is caused by not wanting to be dependent on other people, living and medical expenses, isolation, and a general fear of medical emergencies.
These are all valid reasons for feeling on edge, but sometimes that feeling of overwhelm can be too much to bear. Luckily, there are different things you can do to alleviate that stress and fear so you can live your life normally.
In this article, we’ll cover different types of anxiety disorders, anxiety symptoms, and how to manage those scary feelings when they arise.
Types of Anxiety Disorders and Symptoms
Although a significant number of the population has been diagnosed with some form of anxiety, a large number of people who suffer go undiagnosed. The most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Next to that sits phobias, panic disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Those with GAD typically have racing thoughts and feel like their brain won’t shut off. They may have trouble concentrating or sleeping and maybe tired, irritable, or nauseous. Some physical signs of GAD include hot flashes and shortness of breath.
- Phobias: a phobia is something that incites extensive fear of a specific person, place, or thing. Common phobias among seniors are death, disaster, or danger to their families. Physical symptoms include dizziness, chest pain, and heart palpitations.
- Panic Disorder: Panic disorder brings on sudden feelings of terror for no reason. These normally happen at random and may not be triggered by anything in particular. During a panic episode, one may feel chest pain, a racing heart, weakness, nausea, or feeling dizzy.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: OCD mainly causes persistent and disturbing thoughts. Someone with OCD likely feels out of control and combats that by doing things in a particular way.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: If a person experiences a traumatic event in their life, they may develop PTSD. A senior citizen may be triggered if they sustain a new injury.
Managing Senior Anxiety
If you’re a senior citizen and think you may be experiencing some form of anxiety, there are a variety of tools you can use to ground yourself during an episode. Whether you’re diagnosed or not, these tips can help anyone feeling helpless or dreadful about any situation:
- Breathing Exercises: When you take deep breaths, you allow your body to re-regulate itself. Breathing deeply brings more Carbon Dioxide into your blood and that results in calming the parts of your brain that hold anxious feelings. Deep breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is associated with anxiety.
- Practicing Mindfulness: Partaking in a mindfulness activity for a few minutes every day is a great way to keep yourself grounded. Practicing mindfulness allows you to see your thoughts and feelings without judgment and can be combined with deep breathing. Some people choose to do yoga during this time, while others may keep a journal.
- Get Your Blood Pumping: Daily exercise is a great way to keep your nervous system regulated. It doesn’t need to be a highly intense and strenuous workout either. Something as simple as hiking your nearest park trail or partaking in a gentle yoga class can help you feel good physically and mentally.
- Eat Right: A well-balanced diet can do wonders for both your physical and mental health. Substances like caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and are commonly associated with anxiety.
- Make Friends: Talking to a peer can do wonders for your mental health. It may even be the case that they’re struggling with the same thoughts and feelings you are. A friend the same age as you is increasingly important as family can sometimes drift away and leave you feeling lonely.
- Keep a Good Routine: A lack of structure for any person can throw off their mental balance. This is especially true for those who struggle with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Keeping up a routine helps you prepare for what to expect each day.
- Get Adequate Sleep: Anxiety can make it difficult to sleep and unfortunately, it also makes you tired. To avoid this, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. You may also choose to use some type of machine to drown out sounds at night or read before bed. It’s also helpful not to drink any caffeine after noon and have some kind of alert system near you at night in case of an emergency.
- Find a Hobby: Hobbies are great for distracting a person from intrusive thoughts. Plus, a good hobby can help you bond with others who have similar interests. Similar to a new hobby, when seniors become more comfortable with technology and integrate it into their daily lives, they see positive benefits.
- Talk to a Doctor: If no natural remedies are helping, it may be time to speak to a doctor. They can prescribe you medication to help with sleeping as well as general anxiety.
- Consider Counseling: As difficult as it may be to talk about your mental health issues, seeking counseling is helpful for unpacking what is causing those feelings.
- Dementia Redirection: If you are the caregiver for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, redirection can be a beneficial tool to use when your loved one becomes overly-anxious or stressed. Essentially, you redirect the person’s attention from the situation at hand and try to divert their attention towards happier memories or something more pleasant.