Seniors: take steps to relieve the stress in your lives

Stress causes changes in our body. Our heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, breathing becomes shallow, our eyes dilate and our entire body goes into a “ready to attack" mode in order to handle whatever is causing the stress. Our body’s systems do this without our even thinking about it.

  • Wednesday, May 13, 2009 5:48pm
  • Life

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve been so busy lately I have barely had time to breathe!” or words to that effect? Has your life at one time or another been so busy that you felt it has been nearly out of control?

Have you heard friends or family say that the current state of their finances has them worried sick because they do not know what they will do in the future. They do not know how they will make car payments and pay the mortgage, doctor bills, taxes, etc. Then you start worrying about them?

Feelings like these put our body and brain on overload. An overload of what? An overload of STRESS. Stress causes changes in our body. Our heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, breathing becomes shallow, our eyes dilate and our entire body goes into a “ready to attack” mode in order to handle whatever is causing the stress. Our body’s systems do this without our even thinking about it.

Health problems occur when the stress goes on and on. Some of the problems created by ongoing stress are headaches, heartburn, heart attacks, eye pain, insomnia, recurrent colds and infections and persistent injuries. In a study done by the American Academy of Family Practice it was concluded that “stress was the major factor in three out of four visits to primary care physicians.”

We are intelligent people. We know stress is not good for us. What can we do about it, especially today? How can we pay attention to only the important things and feel in charge of our life rather than just reacting to events in our lives and others?

People and circumstances that have worried or frightened us and put us under stress have changed over the years. At one time we worried about finding a job and then getting promotions, if we would get married, raising our children, trying to stretch the budget for car repairs, caring for a handicapped child, buying a house large enough for the family, sending a husband or son off to war.

As seniors some of the worries, or “stressors” have changed while others have remained.

Some of us still worry about our housing or sending family members off to war. We also worry about being dropped by our insurance companies, whether to sell the family home, the rising cost of prescriptions, appliances or vehicles needing to be repaired or replaced, the rising cost of food, caring for a sick spouse, children moving back home, our own health problems and losing our ability to drive a car. In addition, some of us are raising our grandchildren.

Your doctor tells you to relax and worry less and your friends remind you to take good care of yourself. How can you do this when you do not have time and are so stressed? Here are a few ideas:

1 – Breathe. Breathe. Breathe deeply. When we are under stress our breathing becomes more shallow, which means we are depriving our body and brain of much needed oxygen. Several times a day relax your stomach muscles, inhale as deeply as you can, then exhale slowly. If you can do this outside, all the better. Try it several times every day.

2 – Put a colored dot sticker on your phone. Every time you pick up the receiver check to see if your shoulder and neck muscles are tight. Take a deep breath and, as you exhale, relax your shoulders. Change the location of the dot each week so it will be sure to catch your eye.

3 – Take a newsbreak. Turn off the TV and radio. World and local events can be very upsetting. How many times do we need to see the same murder over and over, the same account of banks in trouble, the latest world disaster or political scandal? Hearing and seeing this information raises our stress level over events we can do nothing about. These feelings build and build making us feel worse and worse. Two or three times a week turn off the news and lay the newspaper aside.

4 – Do you make a daily list of everything you have to get done that day, then get frustrated with how much you did not get done? Then you have to put the undone tasks on the next day’s list? Instead think of it as a list of things you would like to get done if you do not get interrupted by a friend’s phone call or something else important.

5 – Plan to do something nice for yourself every day. Take a walk, phone a friend, eat a perfect strawberry, read a book for a while. Do something that gives you energy or enjoyment.

6 – If it if difficult to get to the grocery store, call the store and ask if they have a home delivery service, recruit a younger family member to shop for you or take you shopping, call the local senior center to see if they have a bus that can take you to the grocery store.

7 – Eat a lunch every day that will carry you through the rest of the day. Ride the senior center bus and eat at the center every day or several times a week. Do not try to make do with just tea and toast.

8 – Work on a family genealogy project. There is a lot of information now on the Internet that makes searches so much easier today – and fun.

9 – Stop rehashing past events in your head that you wish you had handled a different way. Avoid negative self-talk like: ”If only I had said…,” “If only I had done…,” or “If only I had not…” We cannot change the past and, even if we could, we probably would have said and done the same thing based on what we knew then, not on what we know today.

10 – Really pay attention to what you are doing. If you are cleaning your golf club, pay attention to how it feels in your hands and the way it looks as you clean it. If you are peeling an orange, pay attention to how it feels in your hand and how it smells. If you are working with wood pay attention to its grain, heft and how your tools move as you work with it. Go outside and really smell the air after it rains.

We really have a choice to change the way we react to things, but it takes time and a bit of practice. If we let everything bog us down, drag us down, pretty soon few people will want to be around us and that will make our lives even more stressful.

Seniors, let’s step out and try to be more positive about our lives. Let’s take really good care of ourselves.


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Rajiv Nagaich is an elder law attorney, author, adjunct law school professor, and retirement planning visionary who has achieved national recognition for his cutting-edge work with retirees and his contributions to the practice of elder law. He is the founder of two firms based in Federal Way: Life Point Law, an elder law and estate planning firm, and AgingOptions, a firm that provides retirement-related education to consumers and professionals.
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