I was so naïve. I thought that worry and anxiety did not affect the elderly. I even admit that in my fantasy mind, when I see myself as an elder, I am calm and wise. Like Yoda in Star Wars.
The truth is that I am a worrier. And yes, it can be uncomfortable but it is the way that I think through and plan for future contingencies. When all turns out well, I feel relieved.
Recently, two of my single, elderly women friends shared their stories with me about their worries and anxiety. I listened and discovered how big this problem is. Anxiety is what they experience when the worries are so numerous and intense that they can no longer think clearly. Their minds become fixated on worst-case scenarios and overwhelmed by a feeling of fear and helplessness, even when real danger has passed.
When I feel anxious, my body does some things in response; my muscles tense, I either have insomnia or wake up at 3 a.m.; and find myself irritable with a general lack of patience with just about everything. This comes even though I have been meditating for more than 25 years. So, just imagine what I used to be like!
I wanted current and correct facts about anxiety and depression. According to the website for Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), "Until recently, doctors believed that anxiety disorders declined with age. That's because older patients are less likely to report psychiatric symptoms and more likely to emphasize their physical complaints."
I learned that anxiety, if left untreated, may disrupt sleeping, eating habits, exacerbate chronic medical conditions, and ultimately contributes to a downward spiral of fear and isolation. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of being incapable or not having the coping skills to handle life challenges.
According to an article published March 10, 2017, in U.S. News & World Report written by staff writer Lisa Esposito, anxiety and depression go hand in hand. The usual treatment is counseling, medication and do-it-yourself lifestyle approaches. And, since each person is different, there is a puzzle in putting these components together in the right way. Medication should not be used until there is a correct diagnosis. And, in many cases, this takes time to determine the optimal drugs and dosages, and how they affect each condition/individual.
Over and over I read that it's very important to have a social support system. So I started asking this question to the elderly people I met at senior dining: "Who are the people in your support system?" The most common response was spouse, family or friend. But, then there was Margaret (not her real name), age 82 who moved to Portland on her daughter's insistence. She moved into an independent senior building and does not know many people. Her worry is that her daughter may be overwhelmed if she becomes her primary caregiver.
More than one article recommended exercise, a healthy diet and openness to different types of therapy which can be invaluable in helping to redirect your thinking about your life. Then as you begin to feel better, your hope starts returning because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I found these suggestions on various websites. Hopefully, three or four may work for you.When you go to the doctor, take a friend to listen and make notes. Bring a list of questions for the doctor. Bring a list of all current medications, vitamins, herbs and over-the-counter supplements. Silent Unity Prayer line is available 24/7, and it's free. 1-800-NOW-PRAY (669-7729) Clean and organize you entire living area. It will help you feel calmer. Clean out the junk food. Replace it with healthy alternatives. Establish an exercise routine at least three days a week. Increase as you feel better. Be kind and patient with yourself. Change is not easy and it takes time. Get some funny DVDs. Then go home and laugh out loud. Pet your cat or dog, it will lower your blood pressure. Start a journal. Writing your feelings helps relieve mental pain. Learn yoga or meditation. Both use breathing techniques that help calm your entire system. Educate yourself on alternative treatments like St. John's Wort (herbal remedy), Hyland's Calms Forte (homeopathic remedy) and Bach Rescue Remedy (Flower Essence Remedy). Bear in mind that some herbs may affect the prescription drugs you are taking.
In my life, this is what I've found to be most helpful to reduce anxiety: I attend a peer support group through Cascade Behavioral Health, go on walks by NeighborWalks organized by AARP, and I have two woman friends that I consider my "true-blue" confidants.
Enjoy your life more, and take the next step to reduce anxiety in your life by trying one or two of the proven, evidence-based suggestions listed above.
Kathryn Kendall is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.