By Martin Mack
Stress can affect you in many ways that might surprise you. As time goes on, the more difficult stress can be on your body and mind. You need to learn what stress does to you and then figure out how you can manage it better, and we are here to help you do just that.
Managing stress is a key to wellness no matter what your age is, but as we age, it becomes even more critical. The management techniques recommended here can help you add quality and quantity to the years left in your life.
What Is Stress?
Stress is something that everyone experiences. And not all stress is bad. If you look at the actual definition of stress, it’s just a stimulus that causes you to react. You need a little stress in your life.
Stress is what helps you perform well on an exam, prepare properly for a presentation, and stay alert when you’re driving. It can help you perform better in various aspects of your life.
But stress can also become a burden when you have too much of it. Stress can come from many sources – such as doing too much, not getting enough rest, financial problems, relationship problems, poor nutrition and exercise habits, and major life changes.
Stress causes the body to age faster. It causes the production of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone causes you to gain weight in your midsection and can also cause inflammation throughout your body.
Inflammation can lead to aging skin, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and many other health problems.
Stress can also cause you to experience depression, mood swings, and problems with sleep. But the good news is that you can reverse its effects by managing stress better.
On the following pages you will find a wealth of information that will help you cope, feel better and be overall healthier and happier.
Identify the Sources of Stress in Your Life
There are many things that can cause stress in your life. The first step toward managing stress is to pinpoint out what causes most of your stress.
There are many possibilities – including work, care giving for a parent or grandchildren, and divorce or death of a spouse.
Finances are often a cause of stress – especially if you’re nearing retirement and living on a fixed income.
Work can be a tremendous source of stress if you’re unhappy with your job or have too many responsibilities and work hours.
You may also be experiencing stress because of a chronic illness or injury. Family tensions are also top contributors.
Your love life or lack of it, can be a huge source of stress. It is actually something that we do not take serious enough.
Think about your own life and make a list of the things that might be causing you to have stress in your life. Then you’ll be ready for the next step.
There are many sources of stress that can be eliminated, though not all of them can, obviously. The first step toward managing stress is to remove as many sources as possible.
This can be a difficult step – especially if you’re used to doing too much.
But when you finally do let go of some responsibilities, you’ll find that it’s worth your efforts.
Begin by looking at the list you made of things that cause you stress. Are there any things on that list that you don’t have to do or have in your life?
For example, is your life over scheduled? Can you delegate some of your responsibilities to someone else?
You might just be able to say no when someone asks you for help if you don’t really have the time or energy to spare.
If you’re care giving for a parent or grandchild, can you ask for some help to give you a break? We often think that we’re the only ones who can do something.
But usually that’s a false belief. There are often ways you can get help if you need it.
Get Your Priorities Straight
We can also feel more stress if we feel that specific things have to be done all at once. In reality, there are many things that can be done in the future.
Take a look at your list of stressors and circle those things that are most important and urgent.
Instead of putting off the urgent things, move those to the top of your list and deal with them in the best way possible.
For example, have you been putting off talking with someone about your financial situation? It’s always better to confront it head on.
Things that aren’t as important or have a later deadline can be moved to the end of your list of priorities.
Don’t stress about those and deal with them at a more appropriate time. This will help you save your sanity and your health.
Manage Your Time
Time management is a skill that anybody can learn. Unfortunately, many people don’t learn it throughout their lifetimes. Not having a handle on how you spend your time can make life very frustrating and chaotic.
There are few things you can do to improve your time management. The first is to keep only one calendar.
Don’t have separate places where you keep information for work, school, and family activities.
Keeping it all in one place will help you easily figure out when you’re busy and when you’re free. It will also be less to keep up with as you move about. Communication is also critical when it comes to managing your time.
Develop a system for members of the family to share important dates. You can have a family calendar in the kitchen where members can write own important events.
You can also have a family meeting each week to discuss the calendar and schedule. These steps will help you feel that you have a better handle on what’s happening and that everyone is on the same page.
Sharing Your Load
Many people think they must do everything on their own. But this simply isn’t true. There are many ways you can ask for and receive help and support. If you’re struggling with any aspect of your life, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you feel that you don’t have family and friends who can support you, it’s a good idea to look for a support group and system.
There are support groups for just about any situation and there are even online support groups that allow you to get support without having to attend a meeting or even leave your home.
The worst thing that can happen when you ask for help is that someone says no. But you’ll find that more often than not there are people who are willing to sacrifice a bit of their time to help you support your load.
Learning to Say No
“No” is a hard word to learn for many people. You may fear that people will think you’re rude or selfish if you don’t say yes when you’re asked to do something.
But the truth is, you can say no with dignity and it’s important for your stress levels that you do.
If you don’t have time to do something or you just don’t want to do it, remember that you have the ability to make the choice not to do it.
You don’t even have to explain yourself, but you can always come up with a gracious way to say no.
For example, “Thank you for thinking of me, but my schedule won’t allow it at this time.” It’s not a personal attack when you tell someone you can’t do something – it’s self-preservation!
It’s not uncommon for people in your life to struggle with you saying no – especially if you’ve been a people pleaser all your life.
Expect a little friction, but be willing to ride out that friction to stand your ground.
Identify Your Own Needs
You can get so busy worrying about other people’s needs that you neglect your own. In fact, you may not even know what your needs are or that you even have them.
But you need to identify what you need in order to be happy and reduce stress.
You have needs in four main areas of life – social, physical, emotional, and spiritual. For each area, think about what you think you need.
For example, in the social realm do you need to have regularly scheduled time with friends? Or a daily phone call to chat?
As you look at each area of your life, develop a list of your own needs and desires.
Then make sure that you consider those when you’re making decisions about how to spend your time and who you spend it with.
Just as you would take care of anyone in your family, you deserve care. You can’t expect that anyone else will take care of your needs if you don’t make them a priority for yourself.
For example, you need to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet full of nutrients that will give you energy and help you to stay well. You also need to make sure you’re getting exercise daily so that you can have strong muscles and bones.
Many people don’t get enough rest. If you’re in that category, you need to arrange your life so that you can get at least 7-9 hours of rest each night.
You may also want to make time for rest or naps throughout the day.
You also need to make sure that you have your own doctor’s appointments and screenings to catch minor things before they become serious health problems down the road.
Self-care can also mean staying away from people who are toxic for you.
Being around a lot of negativity can cause you to have more negative thoughts and feelings. Choose to surround yourself with positive people who lift you up.
You also need to create a list of things that will not work in your life. For example, you won’t schedule more than one activity for any given day. Or you won’t speak negatively when you’re with friends.
Think about what works in your life and what doesn’t work and create your own list of bottom lines. Then be true to your list.
Accepting Your Limits
You may have gone for a long time believing that you have to be everything to all people. That simply isn’t true.
You’re enough just the way you are. There are different seasons in life for different activities.
What might have worked for you when you were in your 30s may not work for you anymore in your later years. It’s okay to understand that you have physical and emotional limits.
Accepting and respecting those limits will help you let go of some of your control and decrease your stress levels. You may have to also accept that some people won’t like the boundaries you set.
If people don’t respect your boundaries, you need to remember that’s their problem – not yours.
You can allow people to be in your life if they respect you, but if they don’t you can choose to spend time with a different crowd. That may mean you even have to set limits with family members.
Stress Management Is Worth the Results
While stress can be very damaging to your body and mind, it doesn’t have to cause permanent damage. When you begin to reduce stress and take better care of your body and mind, they begin to repair themselves.
Your body stops producing so much cortisol and instead begins producing human growth hormone. This hormone helps calm the inflammation in your body and reverse the damage of stress.
You can actually begin to look and feel younger just by reducing the stress in your life.
While it’s not possible to eliminate stress completely, it is possible to get a handle on it so that your life doesn’t feel unmanageable.
Following some simple steps can make a big difference in the way you feel. It can be hard to reverse lifelong habits, but start small by making one change at a time. Once that change is implemented, move on to the next.
When you achieve freedom from stress, you’ll be so much happier about the way you feel. And you’ll wonder why you didn’t work to reduce stress earlier in your life.