Most people look forward to retirement, with society making it look like a carefree, easy time of life. But that’s not always the case. Aging and retirement can catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for the stressful situations that often come up alongside the good parts.
There are many benefits to aging and retirement, like being able to join a supportive living community with great amenities, make new friends, focus on your current relationships and enjoy new activities. But it’s also important to recognize that there might be stress involved and learn strategies to reduce stress if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
Why Retirement and Aging Cause Stress
Aging, specifically retirement, falls at the number 10 spot on the most stressful life situations list from the American Institute of Stress. It’s not just that retirement is a stressor in and of itself, almost half of the list includes things that tend to happen to older populations, including a spouse or close friend passing on and changes in finances. That’s a lot of stress for older adults to have to deal with, primarily since a lot of these stressors can co-occur, building upon each other to make life even more difficult.
The amount of stress itself can be a problem, but to compound that, research shows that it becomes more difficult for your body to handle stress as you get older. Your heart and lungs don’t have the same capacity they used to, so you might have a harder time recovering. Mentally, stress is also a burden. Sleep can help, but older adults often have a harder time sleeping, leading to higher levels of stress hormones in the brain. Those higher levels of stress can lead to ‘senior brain,’ similar to pregnancy brain.
As you age, these factors pile onto one another to make stress into a larger problem in your life. If you have a partner, you’re likely going through retirement at the same time. This can cause additional stress as you both learn to deal with retirement simultaneously while also supporting each other.
The Top Stressors for Older Adults
Many things cause stress for adults that are nearing or in retirement. A few include:
- Financial concerns: changes in income, worries about having enough money and wondering if you’ll be able to take care of yourself
- Health worries: growing or new health problems and changes in insurance coverage are examples
- Caregiving: wondering if and how you’ll care for an ailing spouse
- Relationship issues: learning to spend time with your spouse after spending working hours away from them and getting to know your spouse again after children leave home are common issues
- Big changes: during this enormous time of transition, things like leaving your job and colleagues, making new friends, learning new skills, finding new activities and moving to a new residence can all be factors
How Stress Affects the Body
Stress on some level is normal for everyone, but too much stress can cause health issues. Your body can naturally react to stress in the following ways:
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Immune system suppression
- Heightened sense of alertness
- Slowing of the digestive system
- Elevated cortisol (stress hormone) production
Chronic stress can lead to or worsen the following issues:
- Anxiety and depression
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Sexual disfunction
9 Ways to Cope with Stress
To improve your quality of life and the joy you take in retirement, it’s important to understand stress and how to with it. Here are nine ways you can start relieving your stress.
Exercise is one of the best ways to deal with stress and help your body stay healthy and able to handle whatever comes up. It improves mood and helps you sleep better. Cognitive health can be improved overall by exercise as well.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your emotions and learning acceptance. Meditation, for example, is one of the most well-known types of mindfulness practices. You can also practice mindfulness throughout your daily life, during yoga or while doing similar types of breathing-focused activities.
During your practice, trying a technique that will trigger the relaxation response, which is the opposite of stress, can help. One way to do this is to inhale slowly, counting to four as you do so, then exhaling slowly as you count backward back down to one. Doing this will help you be more aware of what is stressing you out so that you can deal with it.
3. Find a Community
When you’re feeling stressed, you might have the natural tendency to avoid friends, but this is the opposite of what you should do. Having friendships and a sense of community are essential to your mental and physical health. It also gives you a support system so that you don’t feel so alone in dealing with the things that are stressing you.
If you want a more literal option, you can consider moving into a retirement community. Retirement communities alleviate stress from owning a home, maintenance and even daily chores like housekeeping. They also come with a variety of amenities that can help you relax and enjoy life with new friends, old friends or family members.
4. Make Healthy Food Choices
A stressed person might reach for comfort foods, or those rich in sugars and lacking nutrition. But if you’re stressed, now is the time to feed your body healthy, beneficial foods. Junk foods spark pleasure in your brain when you eat them, but their lack of nutrition then results in feelings of lethargy that can exacerbate stress.
As you age, it’s also common to deal with an increase in weight gain and more chronic pain, that can be affected by what you eat. You need vitamins and minerals that are found in food to maintain healthy brain and physical function. If you’re not getting enough nutrients, you may even need to add supplements.
5. Get into a Routine
Getting into a routine will help you deal with the stress that comes from suddenly having nothing to do with your days. Before retirement, you had a routine that centered around work. Now, you need to find a new routine that will help you get on a schedule that feels relaxing and purposeful. This doesn’t mean every minute needs to be scheduled, just that you have a general idea of how you’ll spend your days.
6. Set Goals
Milestones help us feel good about our accomplishments, most of which are centered around life changes and work. Retirement is a significant milestone, but now that you’re there, it’s more about enjoying the rest of your life. Try to set some new goals. Do you want to take a trip to a country you’ve never visited? Read a book a week? You can do anything you want, even learn a new skill. By having goals, you’ll feel a sense of purpose again.
7. Find a New Hobby
When you worked, you filled a large portion of your day with professional activities. Now, with all that free time, boredom can set in, which is stressful in a new way. Consider finding a new hobby, learning a new skill, volunteering, or even getting a fun part-time job. Keeping your mind busy is essential to staying healthy and stress-free.
8. Create a Budget
A recent Schwab survey showed that financial stress is the number one stressor for adults who are at or nearing retirement. To help avoid this particular stress, be sure to have a budget, a financial advisor and a way to support yourself. This isn’t easily done for everyone, and starting before you retire can help greatly. Begin by figuring out what you can afford post-retirement and develop a financial plan you can stick to. That will help you handle the financial stress easier.
9. Enjoy Your Grandkids, Family and Friends
Studies have shown that aging adults that care for their grandchildren live longer, and it’s likely that enjoying time with your grandchildren will bring joy that reduces your stress. If you have grandkids, consider spending more time with them. If they aren’t local, plan a trip to see them.
Whether you have grandchildren or not, spend time with family and friends as well. Personal connections are a significant source of happiness and fulfillment for many people. Use your retirement to cultivate those relationships, focusing on those connections to reduce your stress level.
A Place to Find Stress-Relief as You Age
Stress and aging can take a toll on any adult, especially those that are entering retirement. Fortunately, there are numerous, scientifically-backed strategies for reducing stress, as well as small personal ways you can lower the stress in your life. Use the tips above to keep your stress at a healthy level and consider finding a supportive living retirement community where many of these tips are a natural part of being a resident. At Forest Hill, we’d love to be your partner in living a less stressful active adult lifestyle. Contact us for more information today.