Overall, people in their sixties and beyond do a pretty good job of putting things in perspective. Research has shown that, as a group, they’re more content than younger people.
That’s not to say that later life can’t be stressful. Simply adjusting to retirement – finding purpose beyond your work life – can be anxiety-provoking for some. Feelings of loneliness can begin to dog you if your social network shrinks. Health can also become a concern – your own health, your spouse’s health, or both.
Even positive events – like the birth of a grandchild – can be stressful.
So, what can you do to feel less overwhelmed?
Deep breathing and meditation can be useful. So can getting physically active or listening to music. But often what really helps is a shift in mindset. Although you may be more inclined to take life’s complications in stride now that you’re older, it doesn’t hurt to have a few extra stress reduction tools in your toolbox.
The 4 “A”s of stress relief
In 2020, the Mayo Clinic posted their 4 “A”s of Stress Relief. “When your stress level exceeds your ability to cope,” they wrote, “you need to restore the balance by reducing the stressors or increasing your ability to cope or both.”
We’ve taken their 4 “A”s – avoid, alter, accept, and adapt – and provided illustrations of how they can be applied in later life.
You may actually be able to avoid some things that make you stressed. Ask yourself the question: “Do I really need to put myself through this?”
- Take control of your situation. If you find yourself getting upset by news or things you see on social media, cut back on your screen time, especially before bedtime. If crowds in the supermarket bother you, start your grocery shopping earlier, when you’ll likely to encounter fewer people. Or shop at a store that isn’t as busy, even if it means paying a few extra dollars.
- Avoid people who drag you down. Do you have an acquaintance who simply won’t stop complaining? If their negative attitude is getting to you, maybe it’s time to give them a wide berth in social situations or stay clear of them entirely.
- Learn to say no. Some people joke that they’re a lot busier during retirement than they were during their working life. If you’re exhausted from all the commitments you’re making, don’t be afraid to say no when someone asks you to do one more thing. Take a pass on volunteering for yet another charity. Beg off on babysitting your grandkids for the fourth time in a week. As the Mayo Clinic points out, “Those around you will appreciate more time with a relaxed you. And you’ll have time to enjoy them, too.”
- Ditch part of your list. If you’re not getting everything done you want to most days, prioritize your to-do list and eliminate or defer the items on the bottom.
When problem situations can’t be avoided, try changing the situation for the better.
- Respectfully ask others to change their behavior. When getting together socially with friends your age, establish a ground rule that no one can talk about health complaints after the first 10 minutes.
- Communicate your feelings openly. If your adult children are bossing you around as you get older, politely push back by telling them how you feel. “I’m sure you’re doing it with the best of intentions, but when you tell me what I should do, I feel frustrated because it doesn’t seem you’re considering what’s important to me.”
- State limits in advance. If you know someone who will take up your day chatting if you let them, politely let them know up front: “I’m afraid I’ve got a busy schedule today and I’ll have to leave you in ten minutes.”
You simply can’t change some situations, but you can try to cope with them as they are.
- Talk with someone. You may find yourself in a difficult situation – like caring for an ill spouse – where you’re experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable but legitimate feelings. Talking with an understanding friend can help, especially a friend who’s gone through a similar experience.
- Forgive. As the Mayo Clinic points out, “It takes energy to be angry. Forgiving may take practice, but by doing so you will free yourself from burning more negative energy.” Perhaps you’re estranged from someone in your family. It can be helpful to let go of your grievances and negative feelings towards them, even if you don’t try to reconcile.
- Practice positive self-talk. It’s easy to get down on yourself at times. For instance, you know staying active is one of the keys to healthy aging, but you’re not getting out of your home as much as you should. Instead of telling yourself it’s because you’re lazy, try: “I may not have been as active as I should be, but I’m going to start today.”
Thinking you can’t cope is stressful in itself. That’s why changing your standards or expectations can be a good way to de-escalate the stress you’re feeling.
- Adjust your standards. Do you need to have the greenest lawn in the neighbourhood or the biggest display of Christmas lights each year? As the Mayo Clinic puts it, “Redefine success and stop striving for perfection, and you may operate with less guilt and frustration.” As you get older, letting go of old ideas of perfection can give you the time and energy to pursue new priorities in your life.
- Reframe the issue. Try looking at your situation from a fresh perspective. Can’t do as much baking as you used to because of arthritis? Maybe it’s an opportunity to teach your grandkids to bake (once pandemic restrictions are lifted), especially if you can delegate the tasks you’re having trouble with to them.
- Start with gratitude. No matter how complicated your life may get, there’s always something to be grateful for. Having a gratitude mindset can help you look at your situation more positively. Consider starting a gratitude journal in which, at the start of each day, you write down something you’re thankful for.
- Look at the big picture. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you find yourself getting upset with life’s day-to-day challenges, ask yourself, “Will this matter in a few years?” Consider past situations in your life that seemed dire at the time but you can laugh at now.
Stress is a normal part of life. It’s how we respond to it that’s important. Try one or more of these techniques whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Just the Facts Guide: Memory Care
Stress relief can be especially challenging for those with memory loss. If you or a loved one is faced with memory, you may find our Just the Facts Guide: Memory Care helpful.