Stress seems to be a way of life these days. You may feel like you can’t address one issue without two others popping up. This unpleasant game of Whack-a-Mole seems particularly frantic these days with an ongoing pandemic and myriad other world events causing a lot of uncertainty.
While older adults seem to be managing these anxious times better than young people, according to the American Psychological Association, the stress should not be ignored. “Nearly 2 in 3 adults (65%) say the current amount of uncertainty in our nation causes them stress. Further, 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces currently is overwhelming to them,” stated the APA in an October 2020 report.
Is stress here to stay?
In some ways, all life includes stress. In fact, sometimes, this pressure propels us to actions that are healthier and more productive. So not all stress is bad.
Yet, chronic stress complicates a host of health problems, and now scientists are finding it may even cause disease. In an AARP article, Sheldon Cohen, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University said, "We are just beginning to understand the ways that stress influences a wide range of diseases of aging, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and certain types of disability, even early death.”
The National Institute of Mental Health affirms that routine stress can “contribute to serious health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
What can we do?
The good news is that there are a number of ways to manage stress and improve your health and well-being. Here are a few ways to put down that Whack-a-Mole mallet and breathe easier.
- Exercise. Of course the last thing you feel like doing when you are stressed is to get moving, but it may be the very best thing for your head and heart. The Mayo Clinic states, “Exercise helps prevent and improve a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. Research on depression, anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Try it today. Instead of eating a cookie, go for a walk, a run or a bike ride!
- Be mindful. Simply slowing your breathing and being present can help to reduce stress. The APA points to about 200 studies showing how “training your attention to achieve a mental state of calm concentration” can lower stress and anxiety. Here are a few exercises from the Mayo Clinic to help you live in the moment and calm your mind.
- Spend time with people you love. Loneliness is an epidemic in the United States (a national 2019 survey — before COVID-19 —found that 61 percent of Americans report feeling lonely), and the impacts are real. While friendships can be hard to cultivate, they lead to the laughter and warm connections that are good for our minds and bodies. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t seen in a while. Hold expectations loosely. If they don’t return the favor, try again with them or someone else. If this kind of vulnerability feels difficult, try a group activity at Brandermill Woods. Don’t let fear hold you back. You may be one “yes” away from a wonderful new friendship.
- Eat well. A balanced diet can also help fight stress: go for nutritionally dense foods and avoid sugar. According to the UCLA Center of East-West Medicine, foods such as oatmeal, salmon, pistachio nuts and dark chocolate can especially help with stress.
- Let the rhythm move you. Whether you enjoy singing in the shower, dancing in the kitchen or listening to musical performances, let music tame your stress. Put on an old record or open up Spotify and play music that bring back good memories. Sing loudly and dance like no one is watching!
There are many other stress-reducing activities and aids you can explore:
- Calming tea
- Spending time in nature
- Using essential oils
- Enjoying adult coloring books
Find something you love and let is help you manage your stress. However, if you feel your stress is too much to manage on your own, talk to your doctor. Some warning signs that should not be ignored: Heaviness in your chest, increased heart rate or chest pain; shoulder, neck or back pain; general body aches and pains; headaches; grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw; shortness of breath or dizziness.
Stress is normal. We all play Whack-a-Mole from time to time. But anxiety that leads to health issues is not — and it’s highly treatable. Take action and feel better!