Stress and anxiety in the elderly

It’s mental health awareness week but, to be honest, this topic has been at the very top of our minds since we first heard about COVID-19 and the effects it was having on our clients and their families back in March 2020.

It’s been a long and hard year and a bit, and though we are happy that life seems to be going back to normal somewhat, we are still seeing evidence that the stress and anxiety which has been created thanks to COVID-19 is still there.

In some cases, this is due to events that have happened since March 2020 and how they’ve impacted our clients. In others, it’s due to worries around the world opening up again and fears about how that may look.

Our clients have been worried about themselves of course, but also about children, grandchildren and friends who may live a long way away and who they may not have seen for many months. Throughout, we’ve been on hand to listen to and help our clients and their families.

Not just home care

It can be very stressful to have a family member who has depression, general anxiety, any symptoms of anxiety or a panic disorder – especially if they are older adults also dealing with other issues. We’re proud that our clients’ families trust us to look after their loved ones’ mental health care as part of their home care, so this blog features some top tips we use every day which may help you look after your mental health from now on.

When you’re feeling refreshed and calm, you’ll find it easier to cope with usual day-to-day pressures including the challenges of caring about someone who is getting older and may not be living close to you right now.

Feeling stressed?

On a good day, you may have a reasonable amount of energy, a tip-top memory and motivation to get on with your day. But sometimes you may feel lethargic, overwhelmed and just stuck – unable to do even the simplest thing on your to-do list. That’s the power of stress.

Sometimes stress can make an existing mental health problem worse. And sometimes it’s the other way around and mental health problems that are pre-existing can cause stress. At this stage, it may be hard for you to cope with your symptoms, and the need to manage your energy, medication, health care and treatment can make this situation even harder to deal with.

What are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are health problems that have a big impact on how you interact, feel, think and behave.

Mental illnesses can vary in type and severity. They include depression, generalised anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) personality disorders, and eating disorders.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a feeling of sudden, intense anxiety. Physical symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeats
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling disorientated

Having a panic attack can make you think you’re having a heart attack (you’re not) or that you’re going to collapse or even die. It can be helpful to know that they tend to last from between five minutes to half an hour.

It’s possible to have panic attacks after traumatic events and also during an activity which you enjoy, and which is totally harmless and fun.

How to cope with panic attacks

According to Professor Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, it’s important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you.

“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening,” he says. “Tell yourself that the symptoms you’re experiencing are caused by anxiety.”

You can try and do a breathing exercise to ease your symptom. First of all, close your eyes and focus. Breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose and then breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth. You can count from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath. You should start to feel better in a few minutes though you may feel tired afterwards.

Strong mental health

Strong mental health is so important so here are the top five tips we share with our clients and their families and which may help you too. Stress and anxiety in the elderly is something we have much experience with. So, if you’re feeling down more often than feels usual for you, we’d offer you the same advice as we offer our clients and their families:

1 Start a conversation.

It’s good to talk – to anyone. A family member, a friend, your social worker or home carer. Just having a chat in the shops can help you feel better. Try and be honest about how you are feeling, especially if you are feeling down. It’s OK to say how you feel and get support.

2 Find a hobby.

There’s nothing like doing something you love with other people who all love it too! There are loads of groups around, both online and in real life, where you can share your love of books, gardening, poetry, history – anything under the sun!

3 Go for a walk.

A good walk of ten minutes or more can really help you destress. Walking has the excellent side effect of giving you fresh air and a fresh perspective on life.

4 Try mindfulness or meditation.

Practising mindfulness or meditation over the long term can help you feel more present and less anxious. There are many apps, books, videos and groups that can help you.

“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living “in our heads” – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour. Mindfulness is about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”

– Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre

5. Help other people

Sometimes the best way to help yourself is by helping someone else. Is there anything you can do to help someone in your family, your road, your block of flats or the wider community? Volunteering opportunities are not hard to find and can add seven years to your life!

“If you don’t have time to volunteer, try to do someone a favour every day. It can be something as small as helping someone cross the road or going on a coffee run for colleagues.” “Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective. The more you give, the more resilient and happier you feel.”

– Professor Cary Cooper, University of Lancaster

It’s all about care

As a close-knit family, it’s imperative to our company that we look after our employees’ stress levels as they are so outstanding at caring for our clients. So, as well as looking after our clients and their families, we also take care of our own staff.

All staff have access to our Employee Assistance Programme which supports and helps them to achieve a happy work-life balance via a free 24/7 helpline available 365 days a year. This provides confidential help and advice on all well-being-related matters.

Since the onset on the pandemic, the Management Team realised that in addition to formal staff meetings, staff could also benefit from optional ‘virtual hugs’ as a Team, to boost morale and exchange hopes and fears.

Every year we also run an Annual Summer Get-Together in appreciation of our team’s hard work throughout the year. Fun and games and food are put on for staff to enjoy, usually at a local picturesque riverside setting in view of Windsor Castle. One year, we all enjoyed a fun round of team crazy golf with ice-cream treats afterwards. Needless to say, everyone went home de-stressed!

What steps can you take to destress today?