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Successful aging: More tips on how to manage stress

This week’s column is the second one to address D.M.’s concern about the impact of stress and ways to manage it. We know that long-term stress is a problem particularly when the biological stress response is activated for months or years. In late life, chronic illness, losing a spouse, being a caregiver or adjusting to changes in finances can cause chronic stress. Add to that the experience of retirement or separation from friends and family.

Fortunately, there is something we can do to mediate or diminish this response. As mentioned last week: engage in physical activity, avoid unnecessary stress, modify the situation and reframe the issue. Here are a few additional tips recommended by

Connect to others. Reaching out to others is considered a go-to strategy in stress management. That means finding and creating some social support. Research studies indicate that people who are socially connected often find their relationships increase their mood and outlook as well as enhance their resilience when facing stressful situations. So, look for a good listener who cares about you. Consider contacting someone to go for a walk with you, schedule a regular dinner date or ask someone to join you at a movie or concert. Help someone else by volunteering, meet new people by taking a class, join a club or confide in a clergy member.

Make time to have fun and relax. Consider setting aside time to take a break and do something daily that brings you joy. Humor helps. We know laughter strengthens the immune system, boosts mood and protects us from the damaging effects of stress. Note, children laugh much more than adults during a given day. University of Maryland emeritus psychology professor Robert Provine found that people are 30 times more likely to laugh when they are with others than when they are alone. Consequently, laughter becomes a form of nonverbal communication, a means of connection. Then there are relaxation techniques of yoga, meditation and deep breathing activities.

Become a better time manager. Avoid scheduling back-to-back engagements since everything takes longer than we think. Prioritize tasks and when approaching what seems like an overwhelming project, break the work into small steps. Furthermore, be cautious in saying yes to all invitations since it can lead to over-commitments causing stress and fear of running out of time. Finally, know that you don’t have to do everything yourself; consider delegating.

Another approach. The Harvard Special Health Report called “Stress Management,” suggests that the best approach to stress relief depends on the symptoms a person is experiencing. For example, if insomnia is the problem, consider cognitive behavioral therapy that addresses the underlying causes of the sleep problem, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic. If disability is the stress-causing problem, make changes in your home to live more independently to the extent possible. If dealing with bereavement consider joining a support group and if help is needed to express what you want or need, think about taking a course in assertiveness training. For loneliness, give some thought to getting a pet. Studies indicate having a dog, cat or other companion animal has a stress-reducing impact.

Paying attention to stress-causing problems is particularly important for older adults for several reasons.

  • Older adults may dismiss symptoms of stress as part of normal aging and continue to suffer from them when a remedy or solution is available.

  • Stress is cumulative. With age, there are many losses and changes that require flexibility and adaptation. For some, that is easy; for others, it is not.

  • Health care costs are a worry as people are living longer with more years of disease and disability.

  • Then there is the question, “Who will be there for me?” as adult children often are living a distance from their parents.

  • Solo agers, those with no mate or children, may be worried about being alone when they need comfort and care.

At the same time, let us not underestimate the resilience of older adults. Many of us are of a generation that survived and even thrived during the depression, wars, economic uncertainties, housing bubbles and bursts and more. We have been present for adult children in time of need and have contributed significantly to our communities. Yet vulnerabilities accompany aging. We need to be aware of the signs of chronic stress and ways to relieve them for ourselves, our loved ones and for the health of our communities.

Thank you, D.M. for your important question. Stay well and know that kindness is everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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