Three Practical Strategies to Reducing Anxiety in Older People
Anxiety symptoms are quite prevalent among older people. In contrast to depression, however, treatment of anxiety has received much less research and clinical significance. This means, we know far less about anxiety in older people who live in their own homes or in residential care. One of the reasons we know less about anxiety is that it can be attributed to personality type rather than be recognised as a mental health condition. You may hear a relative of an older person mention “mum was always like that” rather than “mum has anxiety and needs help to manage her symptoms”.
Before we tackle the practical strategies on how to address anxiety, lets quickly review what is anxiety. In a nutshell, anxiety is more than feeling stressed and the symptoms are more severe than our reaction to everyday stress in our lives. Anxiety is a mental health condition characterised with changes to our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms. Behaviourally, we can be startled easily, be less assertive, find it difficult to make decisions and avoid objects or situations which cause anxiety. We may feel overwhelmed, fearful, worried, constantly tense and have uncontrollable sense of panic. Our thoughts may include feeling being judged, having upsetting dreams, finding it hard to stop worrying and fear that we are going to die. Our symptoms may include increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension and pain, sweating, shaking and feeling dizzy.
Interestingly, late-life anxiety usually does not involve fears about ageing. Ageing is a gradual process, and people do not wake up suddenly at age of 80 with fear about what is happening to them. Anxiety about growing older is more likely to be found in younger people, who sometimes go to great lengths to maintain a youthful appearance, with exercise and skincare regime. People with anxiety disorders in late life have frequently had them for most of their lives and rarely seek help for management of their symptoms. Older people report whatever event or circumstances disrupted their management of anxiety. For example, if they managed it driving and they are no longer able to drive they may find it more difficult to cope.
Here are three strategies that can help an older person who is experiencing anxiety:
One: “Buddha Belly Exercise”
This exercise helps to correct breathing patterns. Many people who are prone to over breathing tend to take very shallow breaths from their chest region – almost as if they are panting. The chest region is not made for sustained and relaxed breathing, this should come from the diaphragm. The Buddha Belly Exercise physically demonstrates how to breathe from the diaphragm. It’s fun too.
Two: Slow Breathing
Three: Follow the 3-3-3 rule
Look around you and name three things you see, it could be window, table and a glass. Then, name three sounds you hear. Pay special attention to different noises in the environment. Finally, move three parts of your body -- your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 km per hour, this mental trick can help centre your mind, bringing you back to the present moment. If practising this strategy with an older person and they have a sensory impairment (vision or hearing) you can amend and use other senses, for example touching three different surfaces and naming them or smelling different scents.