Everybody feels stressed now and then. It’s a natural response to difficult situations, leaving us worried or tense. Anxiety and stress can negatively affect senior health and wellness both mentally and physically, especially as older adults navigate transitions that come with aging.
Living in a senior community can ease some common stressors older adults face such as the burden and expense of household maintenance or concerns about losing independence. A caring support system can help alleviate other common issues that seniors face.
General Resources Available to Seniors
The National Council on Aging tells us, “The unique relationship between stress and aging can cause new health problems and worsen existing ones. Stress even speeds up the aging process itself.” They created this guide that discusses common causes of stress, symptoms and personal stress management strategies.
The Institute on Aging offers practical tips and techniques for caregivers that seniors can also implement for themselves.
To help you get started, the Mayo Clinic recommends these “tips to tame stress”:
- Get active
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid unhealthy habits (smoking or overindulging in caffeine, alcohol or food)
- Laugh more
- Connect with others
- Assert yourself
- Try yoga
- Get enough sleep
- Keep a journal
- Get musical and be creative
- Seek counseling
Reframing the Narrative to Help Reduce Stress
Most communities managed by The Goodman Group have a spiritual care director, who supports residents’ spirits, helping them find peace, purpose, and meaning.
Susan M. is the spiritual care director at Miramont Pointe in Clackamas, OR. She describes herself as “sort of a counselor,” dedicated to residents’ overall spiritual well-being. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, she performs traditional pastoral duties such as conducting worship services and Bible study and officiating at major religious holiday celebrations for different faiths.
Kristen S. is the spiritual care director at West Hills Health & Rehabilitation in Portland, OR. “The most important thing I can do,” she says, “is simply be present, listen, encourage residents to explore practices and activities that help them feel good, and most of all remind them they are not alone!”
If a resident has a faith tradition or spiritual practice, she encourages them to reflect on how that has helped them in the past and call upon their faith to support them now as well.
Susan notes that younger adults typically experience stress from external sources–daily life, work deadlines, dealing with colleagues, etc. Stress for older adults is different, she says, because it is internally focused. They worry about transitioning to a new environment and what will happen if their money runs out. They’re dealing with grief, difficulties with adult children and sometimes depression.
Some seniors are very worried about losing mental acuity. Susan says residents notice this in themselves, they feel it creeping up, and this change is challenging to accept and deal with. She reminds them they now live in a forgiving environment.
Her work helps residents deal with stress by helping them reframe the narrative around whatever is concerning them rather than talking about stress itself.
Residents living in a memory care neighborhood also deal with stress. They can be frustrated by the increasing inability to understand what is going on around them. In some cases, anxiety is induced by old memories that are stuck on replay. She recalls one woman who worried repeatedly about being late to meet her mother at the train station. For these residents, redirecting the person’s attention elsewhere is calming.
How Senior Living Helps Reduce Stress
The goal of quality senior living communities is to help residents stay mentally, physically and socially active, through opportunities to pursue hobbies, learn new things, and simply kick back and have a good time together.
“Interestingly enough,” Susan observes, “loneliness can be stressful in its own way, and residents can be lonely despite living in a community.” One of the best ways she has found to help combat loneliness is to introduce residents to others with whom they have something in common, or whose personalities might “click.” Sometimes that prompt is all that is needed, even for those individuals who are introverted.
Because community team members are aware that residents face these stressors as seniors, they want to be as helpful as possible. Their efforts are integrated into the life of the community. For example, at Miramont Pointe:
- The Miramont Singers gather every Friday, accompanied by a professional pianist. Anyone can participate. The community’s life enrichment director also schedules weekly onsite music performances.
- Physical fitness helps reduce stress. At Miramont Pointe, there is a small gym where residents can use the treadmill or work out with weights. Residents can also take advantage of classes to improve their balance or peddling for more vigorous exercise.
- Every week, Miramont Pointe residents enjoy lunch offsite. All who want to join the group board the bus and off they go to a local restaurant.
- Sunday afternoon scenic drive excursions are another way for residents to enjoy the local area together.
- Brownies from a local Girl Scouts troop pay weekly visits. The residents love interacting with the kids, especially if their own families aren’t within an easy visiting distance.
- Susan M. leads a writers' workshop to help residents tell the stories of their lives.
Susan says her door is always open if someone is grieving or having some other challenge and needs a listening ear. Sometimes, she says, a smile and just squeezing someone’s hand can make all the difference.