Anxiety Treatments Best For Seniors



If you live with a continuous sense of worry, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can include constant stress and bouts of panic. It can be pronounced or even just buzzing under the surface. Phobias — including fear of failure, illness, or even going outside — are all symptoms of anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 31 percent of U.S. adults have dealt with an anxiety disorder during their lives [1]. Older adults have an equal amount of anxiety as younger individuals. In fact, generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD, is the most prevalent type of anxiety disorder among older adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) [2].

Neck and neck with an anxiety disorder is depression. While each disorder is different, it is very common for someone dealing with anxiety to grapple with depression — and vice versa. For senior adults, these two disorders can be particularly debilitating. As people age, physical and cognitive abilities diminish. Dietary limitations keep us from being able to eat or drink anything we want. It may not be as easy to drop everything and go anywhere. Certain freedoms experienced in youth can become much more restricted as people age.

According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocacy organization, more than 50 percent of adults dealing with mental illness don’t seek help [3]. This number includes seniors. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that although mental health treatment has a high success rate, more than 90 percent of adults over 50 do not report long-term anxiety [4]. Some of the reasons older adults may not receive mental health treatment include:

  • Societal stigmas about mental health
  • Emphasizing physical impairment over mental distress
  • Lack of access to mental health treatment
  • Insufficient social and emotional support systems

Recognizing Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for many different types of anxiety. However, one of the most prevalent is generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD [5]. This type of anxiety disorder is defined by a constantly floating sense of worry. It doesn’t need to be triggered to exist. It is just there, despite a person’s efforts to subdue it. It’s important to note that anxiety can be a byproduct of medication that many older adults take. Otherwise, some of the signs of this disorder may include:

  • Being unable to relax
  • A constant sense of restlessness or tension
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling grouchy or irritable

Possible Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

For the most part, anxiety disorders are very treatable. However, every person is different. Therefore, different treatments work for different people. Fortunately, there are various types of methods to treat older adults dealing with an anxiety disorder.

Talking to a Counselor

Sometimes, talking to someone goes a long way toward feeling better. Seniors dealing with anxiety disorders may need a non-judgmental space to discuss what’s going on. A counselor can listen and help seniors work through anxiety. Through a series of sessions, you may be able to identify the root of their anxiety. Counselors can help draw up treatment plans to address the issue.

Meditation and Breathing Exercises

Meditation is the process of self-reflection that utilizes deep breathing and mindfulness. These relaxation techniques can help minimize anxiety.

Deep breathing optimizes the body’s oxygen intake. This also optimizes carbon dioxide output. It lowers the body’s heart rate and naturally reduces anxiety by instilling a sense of calm.

Besides that, deep breathing has beneficial effects on both the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The sympathetic nervous system is the basis of the body’s “flight or fight” stress response. Deep breathing reduces stress, diminishing the heightened stress response of the SNS, and extending those benefits to the SNS.

Mindfulness involves acute, unbiased awareness of one’s own feelings and senses. Allowing oneself to simply be while combining deep breathing can be a very effective way for seniors to address anxiety.

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Physical and Dietary Changes

Some seniors may not be as active as they were in their younger years. However, physical activity is a great way to counter anxiety symptoms. For older adults with impaired mobility, even modified physical activity can be helpful. Exercising creates endorphins, a hormone that increases pleasure. As it courses through the body, it helps naturally relieve tension and elevate moods.

Another way to curb anxiety symptoms is by making changes to the diet. Of course, healthy eating is great practice, in general. When people eat better, they also feel better. When you feel better, it helps alleviate negative experiences and sensations, including anxiety.

Try avoiding stimulants, such as smoking (nicotine) and caffeine. Those substances can increase heart rates, decrease relaxation, and ramp up anxiety.

Psychotherapy Treatment

Psychotherapy is a more in-depth approach than counseling, combining elements of talking with a professional while undergoing psychiatric-based treatment. One of the most effective ways to treat anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT.

CBT is a skill-enhancing approach that focuses on problem-solving techniques for the individual. It has proven to be extremely effective for treating a host of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders.

It’s always a good idea to check in with a medical or mental health professional before undertaking a treatment method. The good news is anxiety is very treatable and doesn’t have to take over your life.

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