Stress Management Guide for Seniors
It's easy to feel stressed on a daily basis—stress is normal even during your retirement years. Though it can be difficult to identify the cause for tension and worry, one thing is certain: stress can be detrimental to your health.
In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health finds 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."
To avoid becoming stressed, try using our simple ways to reduce and manage it. Implementing even a few of these approaches can make a big impact on your overall health and well-being. If you’re weary of trying new physical and mental exercises, using a medical alert system like MobileHelp will keep you safe during any unanticipated events.
Physical Stress Management Tips
Physical activity signals your brain to unwind and release tensions built up by stress and anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.”
That's why it's important to engage in some sort of physical activity every day even if it's just taking a brief walk or trying out chair yoga. Try out a few of these and see which ones work best in your routine!
Head to the water
Moving in water, whether it's swimming, walking or taking a water aerobics class, is a healthy way to reduce stress and relax your muscles without putting excessive strain on your bones and joints. A study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that floating in water activates a relaxation response within the body, helping to lower stress-hormone levels.
Almost 80 percent of the study's subjects demonstrated improvements like feeling less tense and depressed. Find a local gym, school or spa with open pool hours or water aerobic classes and get started!
Take a walk
Stroll through your neighborhood or casually explore a nearby park. According to Harvard Medical School, light exercise reduces levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Spending time outside to enjoy the fresh air is also a natural relaxant.
Listen to calming music
Play music in your home to create a calming ambiance. Enjoy the relaxing aura of a classical piano piece or a nature-inspired tune. Consider adding music to your daily routine, like while you clean the house or prepare dinner. The official journal for the British Cardiovascular Society, Heart, found that meditative or slow music reduces stress.
Try breathing exercises
Focusing on your breath will calm your mind and release tension from the body. For a quick and simple technique, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths—inhaling and exhaling slowly. If you find this exercise helpful, follow Harvard Health's recommendation of ten to twenty minutes of deep breathing each day.
Drink the daily recommended intake of water
The Institute of Medicine recommends roughly 13 cups or 3 liters of beverage per day for men and 9 cups or 2.2 liters for women. Amanda Carlson RD, Director of Performance Nutrition at Athletes' Performance shared that, "Studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of those stress hormones.
Staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down." To easily implement this in your routine, make sure to keep a water bottle or glass close to you throughout the day.
Consume healthy, stress-fighting foods
Your body is better able to fight stress if you maintain a well-rounded, balanced diet. According to the UCLA Center of East-West Medicine, foods like oatmeal, salmon, pistachio nuts and dark chocolate can help ward off stress.
Enjoy a cup of calming tea
Set aside time to indulge in a warm cup of tea during the evening or afternoon. Many herbs have healing and calming attributes. Try herbal teas with chamomile, lavender or lemon for destressing. Remember not to use caffeinated teas at night, as it will impact the quality of your sleep.
Lifting your arms above your head or extending your legs on the floor can release tension in the body. Harvard Health finds that gentle muscle stretching can reduce stress. To add an extra element of relief, deeply breath in and out as you hold the stretch.
Moving beyond simple stretching, yoga allows for a full mind and body stress reliever. Start with a beginner class at a local studio or search for an online class that matches your ability level. The Mayo Clinic states that, “Yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate.”
Get into nature
Step outdoors for 15 to 30 minutes, whether to read a book or take a walk. A study by the University of Minnesota found that being in nature can lower cortisol levels, a hormone that’s released in response to stress.
Head to the sauna or steam room
Let the sweat do the work while relaxing for 15 minute intervals in a sauna or steam room. A study conducted in Finland found use of a sauna helped with cardiac health and overall well-being. Be sure to consult your doctor before visiting your local gym or spa for a steam room or sauna session.
Use a stress-relief ball
Stress balls can be found at most local grocery and department stores. Though a simple tool, stress balls allow you to release tension in just a few squeezes. Pump the ball with one hand at a time, doing ten reps on each side.
Partake in light gardening
Bring extra nature into your life by planting a small garden or using potted plants in your home. The act of caring for the earth and growing a flower or herb plant often provides a renewed sense of life—and you may find gardening to be a calming experience.
Enjoy a craft or hobby
Who says stress relief can't be fun and enriching? Whether you're interested in painting, crocheting or building toy cars, hobbies can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. In Dale Carnegie's book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, he explains that keeping busy doing what we enjoy provides relief for our minds. When we keep busy, our minds have less time and energy to worry.
Exercise your vocal chords through a choir, an evening of karaoke or singing at home in the shower. A University of Oxford study found that when we sing, endorphins are released.
Dancing reduces stress in two ways: one through physical exercise and the other through having fun. According to a study by The Institute of Sport Science, dance classes can seriously increase an older adult's strength and balance. Whether you have a private dance party in your living room or take formal classes, let loose and let the stress go.
Take a bubble bath
Create your own spa-like environment at home by filling your bathtub with water and pouring in bubble bath suds. Turn on calming music or light a candle to enhance the calming ambience. By pampering yourself and giving yourself time to unwind, you’ll reduce stress and feel more ready to face the next day.
Use an essential oil diffuser
A study published by the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing found that stress levels significantly lowered with aroma treatment. With an essential oil diffuser, use scents like lavender, lemon, jasmine and sage for maximum stress-relief.
This traditional Chinese Medicine can aid in stress relief and reduction of physical tension. Review information and consult with your doctor before trying acupuncture therapy.
Try adult coloring
Choose an inspiring adult coloring book and a set of colored pencils. Dr. Ben Michaelis shares that because coloring is a “centering activity, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is involved with our fear response, actually gets a little bit of a rest and it ultimately has a really calming effect over time.”
Mental Stress Management Tips
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When stress becomes uncontrolled or chronic, it can impact daily function and the ability to think clearly. Managing the stress in our minds allows us to release mental tension, worry and anxiety.
These simple mental exercises can help you reach a healthy, clearer state of mind, beginning today.
Meditation provides dedicated time for quieting the tumbling, stressful thoughts that often crowd our minds. A study conducted at West Virginia University found that those who participated in three months of “mindfulness meditation” experienced a 44 percent reduction in psychological distress. A simple meditation exercise can be done by sitting in silence for ten minutes a day, while focusing on breathing and observing your thoughts. This practice, especially when used daily, brings a sense of serenity and peace to both mind and spirit.
Take time to read
A beloved past time, reading allows us to engage in a story or learn more about ourselves. Fiction, non-fiction and poetry can all have healing effects, as they enable us to step outside of our busy, hectic lives. Keep a book or magazine handy, so you can relax your mind easily—whether it's while waiting for an appointment or unwinding before bed.
Focus on the present
The human mind easily ruminates on the past, but replaying past can sometimes hurt. The mind can also drift to the future, thinking too heavily about things you can’t change about the future. Bring yourself back to the present by focusing on all of the positive happenings in your life.
Do a positive day-end review
Before falling asleep, think of three positive things that happened in the day or three things you are grateful for. Write them down in a journal or say them out loud. This exercise allows you to step away from what's bothering you and focus on the positive. A study published in Journal of Research in Personality found that practicing gratitude led to lower levels of stress.
Enjoy moments of silence
In a busy and fast-paced world, it’s often hard to find time and space for silence. Similar to meditation, moments of silence allow our minds to clear and recalibrate. Find three to five minutes for pure silence at the beginning, middle or end of your day. This lull in mental activity calms the mind and in turn, the body and spirit as well.
Though the adage, "laughter is the best medicine" may seem cliché, there's certainly truth to it. The Mayo Clinic finds that, “When you laugh, it not only lightens your mental load but also causes positive physical changes in your body. Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response.” Attend a nearby comedy club show, switch on a funny movie or enjoy jokes with family and friends.
Do a cognitive puzzle
Games that require concentration allow your mind to take a break from stress and worry. Try Sudoku or crossword puzzles, which offer mental stimulation and a helpful distraction from stressful thoughts and situations. Puzzles can be found in newspapers, online or in books.
Spend time with animals
Research from State University of New York at Buffalo found that being around a pet can provide more stress relief than being around a human companion. If you don’t have a pet of your own, visit a friend, local shelter or animal farm.
Bring joy to someone else’s day
When we focus on someone else, we forget some of our own struggles and burdens. Surprising someone with a phone call, postcard or a smile can make all the difference for them, and for us. A study published in the Association for Psychological Science finds that smiling can have stress-reducing outcomes.
Keep a to-do list
Keep yourself organized by writing down your to-dos. Dedicate a notebook to track important things you need and want to do. Rather than scrambling or trying to remember what needs to be done, you’ll have a easy and accessible reminder. Be sure to add fun, relaxing and healthy items to your list as well, like exercising, resting or scheduling a massage.
Make a schedule
Creating a schedule allows you to organize your responsibilities and visualize how your week or month will go. Having a plan reduces anxiety. The Mayo Clinic advises, "Lump together similar tasks—group your phone calls, car errands and computer-related tasks. The reward of increased efficiency will be extra time."
Look for the silver lining
Try to find a positive component in each stressful situation. For example, if you arrived late for an appointment, find joy in the fact that you arrived safely. When we notice what is good in our lives, worry and stress tend to fade away. Taking a break from worry also allows our brain to rest and recuperate.
Visit a counselor
Talking through your concerns, worries and emotions with a professional can be extremely beneficial. Counselors are an objective sounding board. They’re trained professionals who help work through personal difficulties and stressors. Schedule an initial session with a counselor to see if it’s a fit for you.
Though it often seems easier to set aside hurt feelings or misunderstandings, it rarely results in a true resolution for either party. Offering forgiveness or talking through an issue with a loved one can heal internal stressors and reduce anxiety. By having a healing conversation with a family member or friend, you will likely provide healing to the other person, too.
Connecting with spirituality through prayer or another method enhances a sense of purpose, connects you with the larger world and allows you to realize you are not responsible for everything that happens in life.
Repeat a positive affirmation
When we’re stressed, worrisome thoughts tend to fill our minds. By repeating a positive affirmation, such as, “I am a strong person” or, “Today will be a great day,” we change the tone of our thoughts. Repeat a positive affirmation first thing in the morning, while you’re in the shower or preparing breakfast. The positive mental momentum will carry with you throughout the day.
Lifestyle Management Tips
In addition to physical and mental exercises, certain lifestyle choices and habits can help to reduce and manage stress. From visiting with a friend to decluttering a room, fresh space and energy can be created in your life—allowing for more joy and relaxation.
Manage your finances
An American Psychological Association survey found that money is often a significant stressor. Without a plan in place, spending and saving can become a constant worry. To avoid this, create a budget to track spending, saving, health care costs and your retirement account. When you’re able to see where your money is and how it is being spent, you’ll have a clearer idea of how to alter your plan and reduce worry. If desired, consider seeing a financial planner for professional assistance.
Consider saying ‘no’
When we have too many things on our plate, unnecessary stress can be caused. Create a list of your responsibilities and activities. Choose a few items to say ‘no’ to. By reducing your commitments, you’ll have more time for yourself and for self-care.
Ask for help when you need it
Doing everything on your own can be overwhelming. Ask for assistance from family, friends and those in the community to reduce your workload and stress. Allow them to help you with tasks like lawn care, house cleaning and transportation along with anything else that seems to be weighing you down.
Prepare for the next day
Before heading to bed, choose your clothes for the following day. If you drink coffee, prep the machine. By preparing a few tasks before bed, you’ll feel more organized, relaxed and ready for tomorrow.
Ensure you're getting enough sleep
According to the American Psychological Association, “Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night (5.5 vs. 4.4 on a 10-point scale).” When you’re well-rested, you’re able to think more clearly, allowing you to feel less overwhelmed. Develop a relaxing routine before bed, like listening to soothing music, stretching or reading a book.
Plan for events in advance
Whether you have upcoming birthday parties or weddings to attend, prepare what you can in advance. Buy gifts and make food ahead of time, so you aren’t rushed and stressed when the time comes.
Volunteer or get involved
Helping others allows your mind to take a break from your own worries. It also adds joy to your life because you are making a positive difference. Harvard Health shares that volunteering can reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing. To get involved, contact a local charity like a soup kitchen, animal shelter or suicide crisis helpline to see how you can help.
Arrive to events early
Being in a rush and worrying about arriving late often causes additional stress. Plan ahead to leave 15 to 30 minutes earlier than normal. Arriving early or on time will keep stress levels and blood pressure lower.
Schedule doctor appointments in the morning
Instead of having to think about an appointment all day or become anxious about visiting the doctor, schedule your appointments for early in the morning. This gets them out of the way, so you can focus on the positive things in your day.
Reduce screen time
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found a link between cellphone use and increased stress. To reduce screen time, place your phone or computer out of eyesight while at home. Harvard Health also suggests avoiding bright screens two to three hours before sleeping, as it impacts your circadian rhythm and the ability to have quality sleep throughout the night.
Declutter your living space
When you have a well-organized living space, it is easier to relax and find the items you need. Declutter one space at a time like a closet or kitchen cabinet. Remove items you no longer need and organize those that you wish to keep. By having a cleaner, simpler living space, you’ll find it easier to relax when you’re at home.
Instead of running errands and spending time shopping, buy what you can online. Services are now available at certain grocery stores for delivery. Buying online eliminates an errand from your to-do list and allows you to quickly find the products you need.
Visit with a friend or family member
Sometimes a natural reaction to stress is to isolate ourselves from others. The Mayo Clinic suggests to instead reach out to family and friends as “social contact is a good stress reliever because it can offer distraction, provide support and help you tolerate life's up and downs.” Invite family or friends over for a visit or stop by their place. If loved ones live far away, call them on the phone or write them a letter.
Watch a movie and eat popcorn
Treat yourself to a cozy night in. Choose a favorite film and make a delicious snack. Your mind and body will appreciate the dedicated time for rest and relaxation.
Add plants in your home
Add fresh greenery to your living space with potted plants or flowers. Texas A&M University’s Agriculture and Life Sciences finds that having flowers in the home greatly reduces stress levels.
- National Institute of Mental Health - Stress Can Contribute to Serious Health Problems
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America - Physical Activity Reduces Stress
- International Journal of Stress Management - Floating in Water Activates a Relaxation Response
- Harvard Medical School - Exercise Reduces Levels of Stress Hormones
- British Cardiovascular Society Journal: Heart - Music Reduces Stress
- Harvard Health - Recommends Ten to Twenty Minutes of Deep Breathing Daily
- The Institute of Medicine - Water Intake Recommendations for Men and Women
- Amanda Carlson RD - Hydration Lowers Cortisol Level
- UCLA Center of East-West Medicine - Foods That Help Ward Off Stress
- Harvard Health - Gentle Muscle Stretching Can Reduce Stress
- Mayo Clinic - Yoga Can Reduce Stress and Lower Heart Rate
- The University of Minnesota - Nature Can Lower Cortisol Levels
- JAMA Internal Medicine (Finland Study) - Saunas Help With Cardiac Health and Overall Wellbeing
- University of Oxford - Singing Releases Endorphins
- Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing - Stress Levels Lower with Aroma Treatment
- Dr. Ben Michaelis - Adult Coloring Provides Rest for the Amygdala
- Mayo Clinic - Stress Affects Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
- West Virginia University - Meditation Reduces Psychological Distress
- Journal of Research in Personality - Practicing Gratitude Lowers Stress Levels
- Mayo Clinic - Laughter Lightens Mental Load
- State University of New York at Buffalo - Being Around a Pet Offers Stress Relief
- Association for Psychological Science - Smiling Can Have Stress-Reducing Outcomes
- Mayo Clinic - Recommends Making a Schedule and Lumping Tasks Together
- American Psychological Association - Money Can Be a Significant Stressor
- American Psychological Association - Lack of Sleep Affects Stress Levels
- Harvard Health - Volunteering Can Reduce Stress and Improve Overall Well-being
- Journal of Marriage and Family - Cellphone Use Can Increase Stress
- Harvard Health - Avoid Bright Screens Before Sleeping
- Mayo Clinic - Social Contact Can Be a Stress Reliever
- Texas A&M University’s Agriculture and Life Sciences - Flowers in Home Reduce Stress Levels