The stress of old age: how to stay calm and healthy

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Retreat! Finally time to relax and unwind. At least that’s a common thought. But in fact, the situation for older people is very different for many. Suddenly, there it is, the “stress of old age” – although you can enjoy your free time and fill it with things you like to do. However, the reality is completely different for many humans, if they have either infinitely much time, which it gives them to fill, or for example new tasks to perform, a new rhythm of life determines the daily life, to which the head and body no longer want to adapt properly. More stress in old age?

What is stress?

Stress: a word that is constantly tried and therefore worn out. Who is not stressed nowadays? Even young children are victims of stress and can lecture about it.

We approach this topic with a definition of stress:

Stress is our body’s chemical reaction to a certain situation. It can be a sudden, short-term condition or a constant, long-term build-up of stress. In either case, we see it as threatening or even dangerous and our body releases adrenaline and nordrenaline in response. Thus, our bodies were prepared for a fight or an escape in primitive times.

Even though our basic life situation is completely different today, we still have “enemies”: events that we consider unpleasant, annoying and threatening. The physical mechanism is the same as it was thousands of years ago. Only that we cannot discharge the tension from the body by fighting or fleeing, but it remains in our body. Thus, over a longer period of constant stress, various symptoms of stress appear.

Causes of stress in the elderly

Life constantly requires the ability to adapt and grow. This is no different in old age. The demands that come with aging can easily negate the balance that was previously achieved in life. There is overwork – stress in old age.

Retirement: What happens after work?

For many people, the retirement they longed for becomes a problematic situation. The resulting emptiness is identified as a cause of stress. Because what used to provide the structure, the content of life and the basis for social status, suddenly no longer exists. Some people do not fill the free time they have earned in a meaningful way. Others, however, expect too much of themselves, filling their diaries with sports, clubs, family and hobbies.

Relationship: when the partner is always there

You’ve been together for so long – and now you have to get used to each other and adapt to each other. The “newly retired” couple relationship is often difficult when you suddenly have to deal with each other 24 hours a day. The partner’s illness or need for care is a particular burden and therefore a cause of stress. This massively overburdens seniors. Taking care of your partner 24 hours a day, taking responsibility alone, making decisions, not leaving more time to think about yourself, your own recovery or even social contacts.


Single people often face a life of loneliness in old age as soon as their social contacts cease due to daily work or the death of friends or acquaintances. A psychologically very stressful life situation and often the beginning of a vicious circle of loneliness, from which many elderly people can only get out with help.

Illness: the fear of dependency

Especially in retirement, many older people start to observe their own bodies very closely and become more aware of the physical symptoms of aging. Stress is caused by the growing fear of illness and frailty, of losing physical independence. And while it is true that an illness determines life, most people find it difficult to face the situation calmly or even coolly. The limited freedom of movement, pain and possible dependence due to a disability, illness or degrading body is frightening to most people. Long before it happens, the very idea can cause physical stress.

Financial independence: new commitments

Elderly poverty is not just a winged word and a spectre, it is also a harsh reality for many people. The idea that one can no longer afford to live in old age because of a low pension, or that all savings and income are quickly depleted because of a custody situation, so that children may also be held financially responsible, is a very real cause of stress.

Age as a cure for stress?

The so-called “serenity of old age” is considered by many to be a rumor. However, researchers at the Universities of Heidelberg and Colorado have discovered that this rumor has something to do with a study on stress management in older adults. This study provided evidence that the ability to maintain mental stability under difficult life conditions improves with age. Although older people react as strongly as younger people to stressful situations, the study shows that they recover more quickly.

Recognizing the symptoms of stress

Everyone reacts differently to stress. Headaches and stomach aches are commonly known as stress headaches or abdominal pain. Age is less important than individual predisposition. If a situation is considered stressful, the body releases various stress hormones. If the body does not experience “all clear”, these hormones are not broken down, the tension is maintained and the body is under constant stress. This is what is known as the symptoms of stress.

The symptoms are divided into four areas:

  • Body
  • Mind
  • Feeling
  • Behavior

How one “feels” or expresses stress is different for each person and is related to where one’s “physical weak points” are from birth, where stress is particularly sensitive.


Known symptoms of stress are:

  • Pain (headaches, neck pain, back pain,…)
  • Cardiac and circulatory problems (hypertension, tachycardia, shortness of breath, sweating, ….)
  • Loss of appetite or hungry appetite
  • Gastrointestinal tract disorders (diarrhea, irritable stomach, heartburn, ….)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle cramps
  • Allergies (rash, itching, ….)
  • Concentration problems (thought blocks, forgetfulness, difficulty finding words, etc.)
  • Rest and agitation (nervousness)
  • Chronic fatigue (apathy)
  • Powerlessness (feeling of being an outsider, excessive demands, ….)
  • Inner restlessness
  • Bad mood, irritability, aggressiveness
  • Fear
  • Depression

Tips for reducing stress

Tip 1: Time out

Don’t ask too much of yourself and don’t put yourself under pressure to create this or that yet. I have to do this. Tomorrow is another day. Remember that your body is not quite young anymore so it needs some consideration. Allow plenty of breaks between activities, both physical and mental. Get plenty of sleep because fatigue increases stress. So take time for a midday nap to reduce stress.

Tip #2: Balanced diet

Eat a healthy diet! We recommend foods that are low in energy and high in nutrient density at the same time, because energy needs decrease with age while nutrient needs remain the same. It is also important to ensure adequate fluid intake (1.5 liters per day) in the form of water, unsweetened teas or sprayed juices.

Tip #3: Autogenic training

Those who can get mentally involved will find autogenic training, a mild form of self-hypnosis, an excellent way to calm themselves. However, since this training is not easy for beginners, adult education classes, for example, teach the important basics of this relaxation technique.

Yoga exercises keep the body in shape, ensure good physical balance and have a calming effect on the mind and soul. Of course, there are also exercises specifically designed for seniors. However, it is important to learn yoga under the guidance of a trained yoga teacher.

Tip #4: Movement

Sports strengthen the body and mind – we all know that. A healthy body can also cope better with stress. Regular exercise, which can also be very gentle, accomplishes many things: The cardiovascular system is strengthened and the muscles are strengthened. Exercise also promotes well-being and makes you more mentally balanced. More and more sports and fitness centers are catering to the growing number of seniors who want to promote their health through sports.

Tip #5: Socializing

Maintain social contacts outside the family as well and talk about your stress there. Like-minded people may better understand your fears, worries and feelings, because some outsiders may not understand your retirement stress. Have the courage to ask yourself how others handle their stress.

Tip #6: Ask for help

Sometimes it’s hard to accept help. After all, you’ve been in control of everything on your own throughout your life. If now the body doesn’t honor more and more activities, such as carrying purchases, more voluntarily, then some people feel this as a personal failure. A huge stressor – especially for men. But if you can’t do one thing as well and transfer it to a useful person, it gives you more time and strength to do other things, which then go much better. Think positive!

Tip 7: Make time meaningful

In the past, you had almost no time and now you don’t even know what to do with it? The best thing to do is to plan your free time. You don’t need to plan every minute of the day, but a new structure for your daily life gives you stability and reduces stress. What have you always wanted to do before? Learning a foreign language, taking a dance class, volunteering… the possibilities are endless for seniors to discover new interests and find exciting tasks.

Checklist for coping with the stress of old age:

  • Take time to rest
  • Pay attention to a balanced diet
  • Autogenic training, yoga, etc.
  • Make sure you exercise regularly
  • Maintain social contacts
  • Ask for help
  • Free time can be organized in a meaningful way.

Bottom line:

Daily life changes with age. Many people react to stress, may cope poorly with it. and experience real symptoms of stress. But those who recognize their problem, are aware of their worries and stressors and are also willing to actively change their daily life a little for their own well-being, will find appropriate ways to cope with stress and find more joy in life.




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