Stress effects on the body-in elderly? One would say the elderly are beyond being stressed. Their life is now already peaceful and should be stress-free. If you are an elderly, would you agree or strongly disagree? How stressful is your life?
What has always been and will always be the greatest desire of our life?
To be happy, of course! This presumes good physical, and mental health, nice life, fulfilling relationships, no financial problems and many more, but the bottom line is-we all want to be happy!
Are we? Are you? Are you overwhelmed with stress, instead, so you have no time or room left to be happy? No one is happy all the time, but if you can establish a good balance and minimize the stress in your life, the chances are you will feel happy. Even at older age.
But, are you even aware of being stressed sometimes? Or do you think it is so normal to be tired and tensed when you reach your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s…? If you sit down for a cup of coffee with yourself, what will you tick out of these stress sings?
Do You Often:
-have headaches, chest pain, muscle tension?
-feel very tired with no obvious reason?
-go to bed and go over the events of the day with worry?
-weak up during the night because of these worries?
-wake up more tired than you were at going to bed?
-feel you are dealing with too many responsibilities (for
-lose your appetite or you overeat, being anxious over
-drink too much coffee or alcohol?
-smoke, too much?
-experience irritability or sadness?
-change your mood suddenly?
-are incapable of making a decision, sometimes even a small one?
-have your thoughts pacing rapidly, but can’t get anywhere with them?
-suffer minor accidents, like hitting your elbow, or your toes, dropping things?
-feel tension in your neck and shoulders?
-lose your temper?
-react with a loud swear to other drivers’ impudence?
-when angry over some issue in family, say nothing, but feel as if you could explode right now?
-do not want any company?
-feel as if you had less and less control over your life?
If you answered more than three of these with a “yes”, your daily life is stressful.
How Stress Affects Your Mental Health?
Psychologists believe that events of our lives, even the most devastating ones, have less influence on our mental health than does the way we respond to them.
Stress can be caused by one or more factors-changes in life, either good or bad, personal problems (emotional, physical, financial…), illness, lack of sleep, overwork, worry about someone and many, many more.
Whether it will cause a stress or not depends on how well you feel able to deal with it. If you feel you can or can’t resolve the problem, it’s irrelevant how huge or small the problem itself is. A tiny problem might cause a stress if you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So, your response to the problem is what really matters. Also, the frequency of the disturbing challenges you face. If you can tell your relationship (either partnership, with your children or friends) is disturbed, your sleep is disrupted, your appetite changes…it might be that you are approaching the upper end of the level of stress that you can still handle.
Continuous stress, or very frequent stressful situations may seriously damage your health.
And How About Your Physical Health?
When the brain perceives a crisis (the unwanted, tense situation) it sends out a signal, which will trigger the production of hormones, which will put the body on the alert, so it is prepared to fight the trouble, as our ancestors’ bodies were prepared to either fight, or run away, when needed.
The pulse is accelerated, the heart pounds, the knees might shake, the stomach might become upset, the muscles of the face and the hands might tremble…
Interestingly enough, one of the hormones released in stressful situations (adrenaline) is actually boosting the immune system and is very useful in short-term and can improve your performance. However, a long exposure to high levels of stress will eventually deplete you of these hormones, making you more susceptible to illness.
We all know the connection between stress and high blood pressure, but asthma, infections and many chronic and degenerative conditions may be added to this.
How Does It Work?
To understand the mechanism, let’s see what exactly happens in the body while responding to stress:
First, as said, the brain realizes there is some form of a danger. Neurotransmitters pass signals and adrenal gland will produce stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) which will regulate body functions.
-muscles tighten, preparing for sudden action
-heart rate increases, to supply more blood to muscles
-blood pressure rises
-breathing rate increases to supply more oxygen to the muscles
-sweat production increases, to prevent overheating
-the liver increases its sugar and fat release, to fuel the muscles
-skin becomes pale, as surface vessels contract to save more blood for the muscles
-kidney function is reduced, as the blood supply is reserved for muscles
-digestion slows down and soon stops
-eye pupils dilate
-the salivary glands stop releasing saliva, so the mouth feels very much dry
-any function in the body that is not directly needed to survive at the moment is deprived of blood supply, as the body is at “survival mode”.
Now imagine being this tense for a prolonged time. The body does not attend to its normal functional tasks, because it tries to survive the whole time. Eventually, its defense weakens significantly and open the path to various diseases.
Stress is not the only reason, of course, but is a huge supporter of illness development.
Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe psychiatrists worked out a scale of stressful events that can lead to illnesses. According to this list, one have low risks with, for example, a major mortgage, increased frequency of arguing, financial problems and retirement. However, if you add a personal injury, tension with in-laws, change in sleeping habits and children leaving the house, or sexual difficulties, you might be well on the path for risk of developing illnesses.
Can I Learn to Relieve the Stress, When It Attacks?
How can you do your best to diminish the negative effects of stress on your well-being?
Experts advise to start by learning to live in the present. Apparently, if you manage to stay at the moment, you’ll be much less affected by stress feelings, as they are almost always connected either to past or to future events.
A proper breathing can give a quick relieve from stress, as emotional stress leads to shallow breathing from the chest, which only makes anxiety worse and reduces the energy level, because of the lack of oxygen. Therefore, the breathing must become deeper. You can practice it in peaceful times, so you are ready when stress strikes.
Try balancing your breathing and do it with your mouth closed. Inhale for a couple of seconds, hold your breath for the same time and exhale in the same amount of time. Also, let the air raise your abdomen, not your chest.
If you have never done it, it may be unusual the first few times, but if you give it a little practice, soon it will feel completely normal.
Muscular tension also commonly occurs in stress. Learning how to relax your muscles will not only remove the painful tension in them, but will help to relax your mind, as well. It can also reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.
Sitting in a straight backed chair with your eyes closed and hands resting in your lap is a good start. You aim to focus on each part of your body, one by one, tightening that specific area of muscles and releasing it after a few seconds. Try to relax them totally. Focus on the feeling of warmth and heaviness you’ll feel in your muscles.
Starting with your toes and moving up, through your feet, calves, thighs, buttocks and abdomen. Clench your hands, flex your arms, shrug up your shoulders, nod deeply with your chin, open your mouth and eyes wide, concentrating all the time on your breathing from your diaphragm. When you are done, you should be deeply relaxed.
Again, if you have never done it before, give it a try a few times. You’ll come to like it, as I have.
Is Prevention of Stress Achievable?
There are circumstances in our lives that we have no influence on. We can’t change them, even if they are a source of stress for us. What we can do, is prevent these taking a toll on us. It is important how we take care of ourselves and our days. How much we fill up with positive feelings that will outweigh the negative ones. Here are a few tips on how to achieve that:
-make sure you sleep a solid seven to nine hours
-do something for fun, if you can-daily, but at least once a week
-take some quiet minutes only for yourself, each day
-organize your spending budget in accordance with your incomes, so it’s not a source of constant worry
-do talk about your feelings, when you have a disagreement with someone
-grab 15-30 minutes to spend outside, preferably surrounded by nature, even if it is only the nearby park with several bushes and a single tree. Breathe in the fresh air, notice the leaves, the birds that come there, ladybirds or butterflies. Notice the scents and the colors, the sounds-and relax.
-exercise, best if you can daily, but at least twice a week. Physical activity releases endorphins, which will trigger a positive feeling in your body.
-listen to music you like (if tensed, then choose a relaxing one).
-engage with your hobby (reading, writing, drawing, painting, crocheting, woodcarving, gardening…) even if it requires a lot of thinking and creativity. Your brain might be working hard for that, but it will still relax from anxiety you may feel.
-you can even start a “diary” and write out your feelings. It works the same as when you confide in someone-it brings some relief with the last word written or said. Later, if you read it, you’ll mostly realise how your reaction was more than the situation required.
-do not overdue with coffee or alcohol intake
-maintain a good social life
-if you have not quit yet, do it now, or at least try smoking less
You also can avoid creating stress for yourself, by:
-avoiding frequent company of people who only have problems and are never happy
-get over the habit of imagining the worst scenarios of something ahead of you
-having a better look at things, before you start complaining. Can it be changed? If not, what’s the point of complaining?
-letting go of a grudge-it mostly affects only you, not the other side
-being nice not only to others, but to yourself, as well. Do not keep your mind only at your shortcomings, but focus on your many strong points.
Do not beat yourself up, for every little mistake, but give yourself a tap on the shoulder often, for an accomplishment. Your attitude towards yourself can greatly impact whether you react to a situation with stress, or you only acknowledge there’s a task to deal with, because you know you can.
We discussed the reasons, the signs, the mechanism of stress. We know now how to relieve it in case we need to. We also looked into ways to prevent it and avoid it. I hope it helps to prepare you for whatever may stress you in your life and raise your happiness level.
I’d love to read about your thoughts and your experiences with stress, in the comments.
And, as always, feel free to reach out should you have questions and I’ll be happy to give you an answer to the best of my knowledge.
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