6 ways for seniors to cope with uncertainty during COVID-19

There’s no doubt that anyone over the age of 65 has lived through times of adversity and uncertainty, including the Great Depression and two World Wars. This generation has met life challenges head on and come through the other side with grace and resilience.

The current global health crisis has, however, tested all of us—including seniors—in ways we could never have imagined.

As a result, some older adults may be experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety and worry during this uncertain time. These emotions are a direct result of not knowing what’s going to happen next, causing us to constantly dwell on the “what if?” questions: “What if I get sick?” or “What if my children/friends/healthcare worker become ill?” or “What if I can’t get out to get groceries or see my doctor?”*

Sometimes these feelings can play in our heads on an endless loop, making us feel our lives are beyond our control. Other symptoms of anxiety can include:

  1. Irrational and excessive worry or fear

  2. Difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite

  3. Avoiding routine activities and social situations

  4. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

  5. Racing heart, shallow breathing, trembling, nausea, sweating

  6. Increased use of alcohol/drugs/medications*

Dr. Susan Abbey, Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Toronto’s University Health Network’s Centre for Mental Health, says that anxiety is a normal response to a challenging situation. “These are difficult times, and it is okay to feel stressed, we need to remember that,” says Dr. Abbey. “I think one important message that applies to everyone is – be kind to yourself.” *

While you should always check with your doctor or healthcare professional if anxiety or worry persists, here are some helpful ways to feel better:

Keep a routine. You’ll feel more in control if you continue to do the things you enjoy: that includes eating well (and with others as much as possible); exercising, maintaining good sleep habits and staying connected with friends and family.*

Draw on experiences and skills you’ve used before that have helped you manage difficult circumstances and emotions. Do you practise any kind of meditation or relaxation techniques? Do you find keeping a diary or journal helpful? *

Take heart from other seniors’ wisdom: CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) recently asked their members for tips on coping during COVID-19. From “Start a gratitude list and add one item each day,” to “Try to stay connected—this will pass. We must not lose our ability to connect with and care for each other,” seniors offered a wide—and sometimes irreverent—range of ways to ease anxiety.*

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. Help Guide. “Dealing with Uncertainty During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” (April 2020), online: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/dealing-with-uncertainty.htm

2. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Anxiety in Older Adults: What older adults, their families and friends need to know.” (Undated), online: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/anxiety-in-older-adults

3. Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation University Health Network. “Mental health tips and resources to help you cope.” (2020), online: https://tgwhf.ca/stories/mental-health-tips-and-resources-to-help-you-cope/?utm_campaign=COVID19-digital_June&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_content=Donate&gclid=Cj0KCQjw6uT4BRD5ARIsADwJQ18fTG4-cxQwCi_cHxV9TYS6iyiraUVD7icJuHuHdVrQ8RqAVRgRGewaApqoEALw_wcB

4. Help Guide. “Dealing with Uncertainty During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” (April 2020), online: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/dealing-with-uncertainty.htm

5. Help Guide. “Relaxation tips for stress relief.” (October 2019), online: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/relaxation-techniques-for-stress-relief.htm

6. World Health Organization. “Looking after our mental health (older adults).” (Undated), online: https://www.who.int/campaigns/connecting-the-world-to-combat-coronavirus/healthyathome/healthyathome---mental-health?gclid=Cj0KCQjw6uT4BRD5ARIsADwJQ1_GrljPUvabCv_l-ougXr35w75M2WJcXfm9s8eeYHVA6dyQPxI4rU0aAq95EALw_wcB

7. World Health Organization. “Coping with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak.” (2020), online: https://adaa.org/sites/default/files/WHO%20Coping%20with%20Coronavirus%20Stress%20PDF.pdf

8. CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons). “COVID-19: Words of Wisdom.” (June 2020), online: https://www.carp.ca/2020/06/18/covid-19-words-of-wisdom/