What is stress? My dictionary defines it as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Do you know anyone in today’s complex, rapidly changing, often scary world who is not occasionally stressed-out? I don’t.
Way back in 1967 psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe devised a Life Stress Inventory which ranked life events ranging from death of a spouse (worst) down to vacation or holidays (least but still stressful). They found a correlation between a high ranking (lots of stressful events in one’s life) and illnesses such as high blood pressure, decreased immune response, anxiety or depression. In 1967 I had two small children and a very demanding job so I knew what stress was but I guess I was too busy to get sick! However I worried and experienced anxiety about both the children in the hospital and my own at home.
In addition to big stressful life events, we are all continuously exposed to little hassles. Psychologist Melanie Greenberg writes, “Daily hassles are the small, day-to-day irritations, repeated many times, that drive us all crazy…printer jams...lost keys…stuck in traffic…” Hassles are very common.
Technology has brought us new kinds of hassles like robot calls. The no-call list we once looked to for relief is impotent. I am frequently disturbed at home where I work by political or charitable solicitation calls. I coldly say through clenched teeth, “I never accept any such calls” and hang up. Does it do any good? Of course not. A new torture is “spoof calling” an interruption that looks as though it is coming from a number you know. There are ways to circumvent some of these but, dammit, why should I have to?
I do not like to shop and found ordering by telephone was fast and easy. But pre-holiday unwanted catalogues and flyers fill my mailbox and significantly outweighs my “real” mail. Even more convenient online shopping is spoiled by the fact vendors forever stuff your Inbox with Sales! and Specials! And pop-up ads interfere with reading the important stuff you really want to read.
Hassles may be little but they are frequent and add up. And they can have the same effects that life stressors have on our well-being and health.
How do stress and hassles affect the Medicare Kids as I refer to those of us who are aging? Number six on the Holmes Rahe Scale is “Major Personal Injury or Illness.” Alas, this phrase will apply to many of us. A fall leading to a fracture is common in our age group and, though most of us recover from the injury we may lose our mobility. My mother lived for over 10 years after fracturing her hip but never again walked without assistance and needed continuous care.
On the positive side most of us have left behind the work and family issues of our younger days. We will always think and sometimes worry about our children, but being a matriarch/patriarch has its advantages. We are no longer in charge.
We are also experienced in dealing with what life brings so we become more able to shrug some things off. And aging brings us the power of selectivity. In my case I first gave up physical things that were either too difficult or no longer safe like hiking. Later I decided I needed more self-time and gave up community activities. Most aging people, me included, begin to think about end of life issues. Not morbidly but realistically. Now is the time to get done all the things we hope to do before we might become unable to do so.
But we are all affected by the inevitable stress and hassles of life so I offer the
Dr. Heins’ Stress-Busting Strategies for Elder Folks.
- Take care of yourself. Keep moving. Better to use a cane if you have to than become sedentary.
- Parent (and even pamper) yourself. Remind yourself to cut down the pace of activities. Stop when you are tired. Don’t over-schedule your life. Play a bit. Laugh a lot.
- Focus on the positives in your life. I try to conjure up a “good memory” from my past to counteract “bad” stuff like the loss of a friend or yet another scary news story.
- Friends and family are vital to our well-being. As we slow down and do less entertaining and travel we can still stay in touch by phone, video chats and email. I have made new friends when contacting someone on line whose work interested me.
- Stay as connected as you can to your community. Read the newspaper. Keep up with the issues and volunteer as much as you are able. Helping others helps ourselves.
Really stressed out? Try these “emergency de-stressors. Take a mini-break from whatever is worrying or hassling you. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Another calming trick I use is to to imagine I am in a place from my past where I felt very peaceful. My place is the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri. My sister’s was a lake near our childhood home.
“Peace and quiet” is an oft-used phrase because they go together so well. So cut down on unnecessary household noise and limit TV.
Readers, I welcome and will pass on your tricks for reducing stress and maintaining equanimity.