(Editor’s note: This content is provided by Humana, a Next Avenue sponsor.)
Hearts can race and heads can pound, but stress can have even greater effects on the body over time. Moments of tension have physical manifestations, and chronic stress can lead to real physical repercussions. In fact, according to Notre Dame Researchers, the effects of stress may be even more taxing on older adults, for whom chronic stress is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and less effective immune systems.
That’s why it’s so important that older adults proactively monitor their stress, whether it’s during big events (like the holidays just around the corner) or more everyday moments (like getting cut off in traffic). Below, you’ll find a breakdown of what happens in your body during these tense moments, how it can affect you in the long run and tips for managing your emotional well-being.
Modern Day Fight or Flight
As humans have moved from caves to modern homes, what counts as a “stressful event” has changed. Yet, our bodies don’t know the difference between a mountain lion stalking, the financial fears of making retirement funds stretch and working while caretaking for a sick loved one. Threats don’t even have to be real to activate our body’s stress response — that rush of hormones only have your short-term survival in mind.
You’ve probably heard of one stress hormone: cortisol. It sends glucose to your bloodstream for energy and makes available substances that can better repair body tissue. Cortisol is incredibly useful if you’re in a life-or-death situation, but the tradeoff is it shuts down or cuts back normally critical functions that it perceives aren’t essential now that you’re supposedly fighting or running for your life. Your immune system is one of the functions. Considering how many stressors are present each day, that’s a lot of downtime for your immune system.
Studies have shown long-term stress can raise your risks of getting sick, but that’s not all. The National Institute of Mental Health warns that a continuous state of stress can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and other conditions. And the National Institutes of Health agreed that stress-induced cortisol release may increase with age. That, combined with the reality of chronic conditions becoming more common with age, provides good reason for older adults to take proactive steps toward managing their stress.
Not Fighting or Running, But Talking?
All sources of stress may be quite real, but, very few these days are truly life or death. We often have the ability to talk through a problem and see the risks are manageable and the outcomes survivable. And our best conversation partner may actually be found in the mirror.
A long-term perspective can be a great habit in the face of stress. After all, you’ve faced stress before, you’re bound to face more in the future, and there’s also been plenty of good times in between. When facing a tense trigger, the quicker you can remember that this is only a moment of your life and it too shall pass, the better you can reduce the stress you feel here and now.
Naturally, some stressful triggers are too emotionally taxing to just cast aside in favor of a glance to the future. Having a strong support network helps. Whether you lean more on friends or family, the important part is simply having people to lean on. Take the time to be there for your loved ones and there’s a good chance one of them will lend an ear when you need one.
If you don’t have a support system at the moment, or your stress is something you’d rather not discuss with loved ones, don’t forget the power of professional help. Many therapists specialize in assisting older adults as they deal with stress in both the short and long-term. The more open you are to your therapist’s help now, the more you can internalize what the professional has to teach and be better able to help yourself in the future.
Interested in more ways to bolster your emotional well-being? Check out the Health and Well-Being library on Humana.com for techniques that go beyond stress management. And as you’re working on your whole-person health, now’s also a good time to remember that those with Medicare have options, with the Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan Annual Election Period (AEP) running through December 7. For more information to help you find a Humana Medicare Advantage plan — one that fits your emotional, physical and mental needs—visit https://www.humana.com/Medicare.
This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult your doctor to determine what is right for you.
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