7 tips for older adults to ease anxiety

Excerpt: Anxiety disorder is more common than depression in older adults, but often goes unrecognized. Anxiety symptoms may include irrational and excessive worry or fear, avoiding routine activities, racing heart, shallow breathing and trembling. Anxiety can be reduced or relieved by practicing relaxation techniques, being physically and socially active, eating and sleeping well, listening to music or seeking help through evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

Anxiety disorder is more common than depression in seniors, but often goes unrecognized due to a focus on depression and dementia in older adults,* according to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Older adults managing anxiety have more difficulty with daily lives and are at increased risk of physical illness, falls, depression, disability, social isolation and premature death,* according to Social Work Today.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

While short-lived anxiety is a normal response to a threat or danger, a person may have an anxiety problem if the feelings of fear or worry occur often, disrupt sleep and prevent them from doing things during the day,* advises Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Some common symptoms of anxiety problems for older adults include irrational and excessive worry or fear; checking and rechecking for safety; avoiding routine activities; avoiding social situations; racing heart; shallow breathing, trembling, nausea and sweating.*

Tips to ease anxiety

Fortunately, anxiety can be successfully managed and treated in a variety of ways:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques
    Yoga, muscle relaxation, biofeedback and deep breathing* can all help ease anxiety, according to Health Canada.

  2. Be physically active
    Regular physical activity helps reduce anxiety by releasing feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins,* reported a Frontiers in Psychiatry study.

  3. Cultivate social relationships
    Social support from a network of family, friends, peers or a support group helps anxious people cope better with stress,* says Mayo Clinic.

  4. Eat and sleep well
    Eating a healthy, balanced diet without skipping meals, and getting enough sleep will help you to manage stress* and feel calmer.

  5. Listen to music
    Listening to music or singing along with others helps relieve anxiety in older adults by providing enjoyment and a feeling of social inclusion,* reported a Mental Health Practice study.

  6. Limit caffeine
    The caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate can increase your level of anxiety.* Try alternatives such as herbal tea, or adding fruits like lemon, lime or strawberries, to water

  7. Seek help
    If these approaches aren’t calming enough, talk to a healthcare professional. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective, evidence-based form of therapy for anxiety,* advises the Canadian Mental Health Association. It helps you to identify and change unhelpful patterns of thinking that feed anxious thoughts.*

Chartwell Retirement Residences offers residents many social and physical activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and its signature Rhythm ‘n’ Moves program that can help to ease anxiety and contribute to emotional well-being.

The following sources provided a reference for this blog:

1. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. “Anxiety disorders in older adults: Looking to DSM5 and beyond…” (2014), online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4169193/

2. Social Work Today. “Anxiety disorders in older adults.” (2013), online: https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/070813p10.shtml

3. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Anxiety in older adults. (2020), online: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/anxiety-in-older-adults

4. Health Canada. “Mental Health – Anxiety Disorders.” (2009), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/diseases/mental-health-anxiety-disorders.html

5. Frontiers in Psychiatry. “Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety.” (2013), online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/

6. Mayo Clinic. “Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress.” (2018), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/social-support/art-20044445

7. Science Daily. “Music as therapeutic intervention can relieve anxiety, depression in older people.” (2014), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140225122324.htm

8. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Anxiety disorders.” (2019), online: https://cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/anxiety-disorders