Retirement is often presented as a golden time. After years of working and raising kids, you and your spouse will finally have more time for each other. You’ll be off on grey nomad adventures, spending the kids’ inheritance as you tick things off your bucket list. You’ll stay young at heart as you spend time with your grandchildren. You’ll walk on the beach, swim in the pool or do tai chi in the park. It’s going to be great.
Your retirement reality hopefully includes many of those good things. But it may also include significant sources of stress. You may be:
- Adjusting to the end of a job you loved and the sense of purpose and identity it gave you
- Struggling to get on with your partner now that you’re in each other’s company much more often
- Missing your grandchildren because COVID restrictions, family circumstances or geographical distance prevents you from seeing them as often as you’d like
- Struggling to make ends meet – many older women living alone are at high risk of poverty
- Frustrated by physical limitations
- Dealing with a chronic condition or a terminal illness
- Grieving the death of a much-loved spouse and dealing with intense loneliness or depression.
How do you handle stress?
We all experience stress – but all experience it differently depending on the resources available to us and our own attitudes towards it.
We feel stressed when we sense that we can’t meet the demands being made on us. The stress might be external such as feeling there’s not enough time to do everything or too many bills and not enough money.
Stress can be intensified by the way we think about that particular situation too. If you can’t see your grandchildren frequently but believe there are many ways to maintain a close relationship with them, you’ll feel far less stressed than someone who believes that they’re becoming a virtual stranger to those special little people.
Some degree of stress can be helpful in life, motivating us to get things done. However, too much stress or stress that lasts a long time can cause mental or physical health problems.
So, how can you manage stress well?
8 stress management strategies for seniors
1. Look it in the eye
When something stresses you, you may notice that your heart is beating faster, you’re breathing more quickly or you’ve got butterflies in your stomach.
Those aren’t particularly pleasant sensations so it’s tempting to distract yourself from the stressful situation by doing something that soothes you, maybe a brisk walk, a bar of chocolate or a few episodes of your favourite show.
Nothing’s changed though. So that cycle is likely to play out continuously until you acknowledge the source of the stress and all the uncomfortable feelings it raises.
Sometimes the source of your stress is obvious and already known to you. Sometimes, you’re aware of the feelings but haven’t yet identified or acknowledged the source.
If that’s the case, then it’s time for some reflection. What were you doing when you started to feel stressed? Were you wondering if you could afford to join your friends at an expensive restaurant for someone’s birthday dinner? Were you wondering how to fill the day now that you’re not working? Was it something else?
Once you’ve identified the reason, acknowledge the feelings. ‘I didn’t think it would be like this,’ ‘I’m anxious about the future,’ or ‘It’s not fair’.
2. Accept things you can’t change
As a senior, you may be experiencing many different types of grief. Loved ones die, children or grandchildren move away, some relationships wither. You’re grieving for people, situations and the life you thought you would have but now don’t. And you can’t change those situations.
Back in the 60s, a psychiatrist named Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described 5 stages of grief:
These stages are not linear and you may move backwards or forwards between them. But they are the emotions commonly experienced by grieving people.
Grief measures its own time and can’t be rushed. Go easy on yourself as you walk through grief. And know that the final stage, acceptance, will eventually come. You may still wish the whole situation was different but, by this stage, you’ve learnt to accept it for what it is and to live with it, engaging with life again.
3. Brainstorm some ways forward
Some situations can be changed, thankfully. And, even if they can’t, you can often change your response to them.
So, get out a pen and paper and write down some ideas of how you could deal with the stress.
Maybe you could address financial stress by working out a more careful budget or finding somewhere cheaper to live. Maybe you could address relationship difficulties by doing something fun together each week like joining a dance class, having deeper conversations, or even seeing a relationship counsellor.
4. Stay connected
Friends enrich your life and improve your health. Make sure you spend time with yours. Phone them for a chat, meet them for a regular walk and a coffee or join a local club to meet some new people.
Good friends support you through hard times and help you realise that you’re not alone in your struggles. They also bring joy into your life through interesting experiences, funny stories or thoughtful gestures.
5. Move your body
Practically any type of exercise can help to relieve stress. Find a form of exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. It could be swimming, yoga, cycling, walking the dog – your choice, as long as you do it.
Exercise produces feel-good hormones called endorphins. It’s a great way to relieve tension, improve your mood and change your focus. Exercise also helps to protect your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems from the negative effects of stress.
6. Count your blessings
Stress tends to take over life, crowding our thoughts and demanding our full attention.
Don’t let it. Instead, deliberately notice and be grateful for the good things in your life. Some people keep a gratitude journal, others give thanks in prayer, others practise mindfulness.
Paying more attention to the good things in your life helps keep the difficult things in perspective.
Something about nature soothes us. It calms your nerves, refreshes your spirit and reduces negative thoughts. Even 20 minutes in nature helps to reduce stress.
So, find somewhere green and immerse yourself in it. It could be a stroll through the botanical gardens, a picnic in the park or a full-blown bushwalk. It’ll do you a world of good.
8. Talk to someone
The old adage that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has some merit. You don’t have to figure all this out alone.
All information is general in nature.