Easing anxiety can improve health and restore quality of life for older adults

Anxiety disorders are at least twice as common in older adults as depression and twice as likely to occur in women as men, according to Laval University. Research shows that between 5.5% and 10% of Canadian seniors are suffering from an anxiety disorder, says Laval.

While it’s normal for older adults to worry at times about their health, family, financial concerns or loss of independence, sometimes anxiety is so intense that it significantly affects a person’s daily functioning and quality of life, and causes distress. This kind of anxiety is not a normal part of aging and is considered an anxiety disorder if it persists for six months or more.

Older adults with anxiety disorders are at greater risk of physical illness, falls, depression, disability, social isolation and premature death, according to the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance. Even though anxiety disorders are common among retirees and can have debilitating effects, they often go unrecognized and untreated, says Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Senior woman in the parkSigns of anxiety problems

Signs to look for that suggest an individual may have an anxiety problem, says CAMH, include: irrational and excessive fear; checking and rechecking for safety; avoiding routine activities; avoiding social situations; racing heart; shallow breathing, trembling, nausea and sweating.

What can you do to ease anxiety?

Fortunately, there are many anxiety-relieving options to choose from. If you feel you are dealing with too much stress or anxiety, here are five ways to feel better.  

1) Adopt healthy habits. Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving your quality of life. Eating well and staying properly hydrated, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and being socially active can boost your mood and reduce your stress.

2) Practice relaxation techniques. Chair yoga, meditation, breathing retraining, biofeedback and massage therapy can help calm your mind and body.

3) Reduce caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which can increase insomnia and anxiety. Limit your consumption of caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and soft drinks, and drink more water, herbal teas and low-fat milk.

4) Seek help. If these methods aren’t calming enough, talk to a healthcare professional. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can help a person manage worry by teaching skills to cope, relax and solve problems, says the Canadian Mental Health Association. Prescription medications for anxiety are another option, although it’s important to regularly monitor for side effects and consider lower doses for older adults, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter.