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Senior Wellness: Stress less in retirement

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:24 a.m. CDT

Once we hit retirement, seas are calm for smooth sailing. After putting in years of hard work, wouldn’t we like that to be true? Unfortunately, stress free retirement is a myth that prevails among our society. The fact is every person experiences stress. Stress affects all shapes, sizes, and ages of people. Stress in our 30s and 40s may look vastly different than stress in our 60s and 70s, but the same toll is taken on the mind and body.

We each encounter daily stresses and our bodies react with the “Fight or Flight” response. As our defense system kicks in, heart rate and blood pressure increase, pupils dilate, muscles tense, and blood flow slows to non-essential systems such as digestion. All of these reactions help the body defend itself and remedy the situation, but are best suited for acute stress.

The issue arises when stress becomes an embedded part of daily life, causing our system to be on constant guard. For many, a career is a high stress inducer. Therefore, the belief is that entering into retirement will ease all stress. However, retirement and aging bring on a whole new set of stressors.

From medical concerns to loss of a loved one, aging adults are faced with stressful life questions and worries. Living situations may change. Chronic illness may develop. Questions regarding money may arise. Even constant worry about “who will take of me when I am no longer able” can nag at one’s mind. All of these leave an older adult in a mental and physiological state of stress.

Fortunately, you have the ability to be proactive and combat the stress of retirement. By preventing and lowering long term stress, you can keep your body and mind in top condition.

One of the best ways to deal with stress is by relaxing. As obvious as it may sound, intentional relaxation can do wonders for the mind, body, and spirit. Learn mind-body integration techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or deep breathing.

As situations begin to feel overwhelmingly stressful, try refocusing. Put things into perspective and reconsider what lies within your control and what is unchangeable. Once a factor is deemed unchangeable, let it go and move on.

For times that you just need an escape, get physically active. Take a walk, join an exercise class, or do some yard work. Exercise not only improves your physical wellness, but also improves your mental wellness by allowing your mind to focus on a physical task at hand.

As you age and your stress source changes, implementing stress reduction techniques is vital to continuing a healthy life. Whether you practice meditation or participate in exercise, identify your key stress inducers and be active in maintaining a healthy mind-body connection.