Navigating Stress as We Age

As we journey through life, how we manage stress becomes increasingly vital, especially as we grow older. We often link stress with significant life events such as losing a loved one, moving to a new place, starting a new job, or financial strains. But what exactly is stress, and why does it matter more as we age?

Understanding Stress:

Stress is our body’s natural reaction to overwhelming situations, affecting us both mentally and physically. To manage stress effectively, it’s crucial to understand its different forms.

There are three main types of stress:

Acute Stress: Immediate and short-lived, triggered by specific events like public speaking or sudden work challenges. While acute stress can , prolonged exposure without positive coping mechanisms can lead to adverse health effects.

Chronic Stress: Persistent and long-term, arising from ongoing challenges such as financial issues, job dissatisfaction, or health problems. Chronic stress can harm both physical and mental health, increasing the risk of diseases like heart conditions, depression, and anxiety.

Eustress: This is positive stress that motivates and energizes us to achieve goals and adapt to new experiences. Unlike distress, eustress is beneficial, associated with excitement, anticipation, and fulfillment. Examples include starting a new job or planning for retirement.

Understanding How Stress Manifests:

Stress can manifest in various ways, affecting both our bodies and minds. Recognizing these indicators is key to effectively managing stress. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Physical Stress: This type of stress often manifests through physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension and stiffness
  • Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, stomach pain, or digestive discomfort
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

Mental Stress: Stress can also take a toll on our cognitive functions, resulting in:

  • Anxiety and nervousness.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Memory lapses or forgetfulness.
  • Racing thoughts and inability to relax.
  • Feeling overwhelmed and mentally drained.

Behavioral Stress: Stress can influence our behavior and habits, leading to:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping.
  • Changes in appetite, including overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Increased use of substances like alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms.
  • Avoidance of responsibilities or social withdrawal.
  • Irritability, mood swings, or outbursts.

Emotional Stress: This type of stress triggers strong emotional responses, such as:

  • Heightened agitation or irritability.
  • Mood swings, including sudden shifts from happiness to sadness.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism or perceived threats.
  • Emotional numbness or detachment as a coping mechanism.

Understanding these indicators of stress helps individuals identify when they’re experiencing stress and take appropriate steps to address it. Whether through relaxation techniques, seeking social support, or professional intervention, managing stress effectively can significantly improve overall well-being.

Effective Coping Strategies to Use for Stress Reduction

Utilizing coping strategies for stress is essential for maintaining mental and physical well-being. By incorporating techniques such as mindfulness, staying active, and seeking social support, individuals can effectively manage stress levels. These strategies empower individuals to navigate life’s challenges with resilience, fostering a sense of control and promoting overall health and happiness. Here are a few that you can start to implement in your own life.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help older adults manage stress by promoting relaxation and reducing negative thoughts.
  • Stay Active: Regular physical activity, even in the form of gentle exercises like walking or yoga, can alleviate stress by releasing endorphins and improving overall mood.
  • Maintain Social Connections: Spending time with friends, family, or participating in community activities can provide emotional support and a sense of belonging, which can help alleviate stress.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine can help older adults manage stress more effectively.
  • Seek Professional Support: Talking to a therapist, counselor, or support group can provide older adults with the opportunity to express their feelings, gain perspective, and learn coping strategies tailored to their needs.
  • Stay Organized: Keeping a regular schedule, setting achievable goals, and prioritizing tasks can help older adults feel more in control and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
  • Engage in Hobbies and Activities: Pursuing hobbies or activities that bring joy and fulfillment can serve as a distraction from stressors and provide a sense of purpose.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or listening to calming music can help older adults relax their bodies and minds, reducing stress levels.
  • Stay Informed: Educating oneself about stress management techniques and resources available in the community can empower older adults to take proactive steps in managing stress.

Impact of Stress as We Age:
As we age, the impact of stress can become more obvious and affect various parts of our  physical and mental health. Chronic stress in older adults increases the risk of developing conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, long-term stress can aggravate existing health issues and weaken the immune system, increasing vulnerability to illnesses. Mentally, stress contributes to heightened anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation, particularly when coping with life changes or loss. Coping mechanisms may become less effective with age, highlighting the importance of prioritizing stress management through activities like mindfulness, seeking social support, and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits for better overall well-being.

Embracing a Stress-Free Life:

While stress is unavoidable, understanding its impact and implementing coping strategies can enhance overall well-being. eternalHealth’s Medicare Advantage plans are designed to fit your life, with benefits such as dental, vision, transportation, fitness and more! Contact us today at 1 (800) 831-9218 (TTY 711) or click here to visit to learn more about how our plans can support your health and well-being.


Page Last Updated On: April 5, 2024
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Tom Cunniffe

Tom Cunniffe

Director of Operations 

Tom Cunniffe comes to eternalHealth with over 20 years of healthcare operations’ experience, having held leadership positions in Call Center, Enrollment, Credentialing, UAT and Reimbursement teams. Tom has worked with Medicaid, Commercial and Medicare lines of business and has consistently built teams who are metrics driven with proven successful outcomes. Making sure our business strives for an efficient, best-in-class customer experience is at the center of Tom’s philosophy.

Tom has a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a master’s in business administration from University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Tom Lawless

Tom Lawless

Chief Financial Officer

Tom Lawless has spent the past 20+ years building, sustaining, and growing new healthcare-related programs that balance fiscal responsibility & prudence with creativity & innovation, focusing on models of care that are novel, person-centered, and improve the social welfare of those who are served. He is very excited to continue doing so in his role as the Chief Financial Officer of eternalHealth.

Tom comes to eternalHealth from a not-for-profit, member-centric, health insurance cooperative. He helped the company continuously strive toward its dual goals of thriving financially, while keeping members at the very epicenter of its mission and service model. While there, Tom also spearheaded the creation of a brand new private, charitable foundation, which will be meaningfully giving back to those in need in the surrounding communities for years to come. Previously, Tom worked in the finance department of a successful hospice that provided high-quality care to persons experiencing their unique and poignant end-of-life journeys, assuring that the appropriate financing was always available. Tom’s career began as a civil servant in the Wisconsin Medicaid program, where he helped to create a program that expanded the institutional entitlement to care into home and community-based settings. Starting with only a blueprint in hand, the program now serves more than 57,000 frail elders and disabled adults and is considered a national model. Growing into a senior leadership role, Tom was a key architect of an innovative financing model, through which the public and private sectors successfully collaborated to better the lives of persons in great need.

Tom holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago, with additional graduate work in economics completed at the University Wisconsin-Madison.

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