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Thriving Kupuna: Simple steps can help elderly manage stress

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2012

    Daily, moderate exercise and activity increases endorphins — sometimes called happy hormones — and releases built-up toxins from the body.

The kids are grown and you’ve left your career behind to enjoy the golden years of life. No kids, no career, so no worries — right?

Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end with retirement or disappear once you reach a certain age. For many seniors, changes in income or lifestyle, as well as the passing of friends and loved ones can cause distress and anxiety.

As aging weakens our immune system, it becomes more difficult to combat the negative effects of stress on the body.

Taking steps to manage stress, as well as recognizing common stress symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, fatigue, headaches, frequent sadness and feeling overwhelmed, can motivate you to make simple, yet effective changes and encourage a happier, healthier life.

Here are some easy ways kupuna can manage stress:

>> Stay active: Daily, moderate exercise and activity increases endorphins — sometimes called happy hormones — and releases built-up toxins from the body. Even with limited mobility, there are several ways to use low-impact exercises to boost your mood and physical health.

Walking, swimming, seated aerobics and tai chi are great heart-pumping activities that are easy on the body.

A quick way to get started is to use music as a motivator — put on your favorite song and move or step to the beat.

Light stretching before and after physical activity can help increase flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.

Check with your doctor before beginning a exercise program.

>> Practice breathing and meditation: Focused, intentional breathing exercises and meditation can help ease your body’s stress reactions and make a big impact on daily life.

Close your eyes, take a big breath in and visualize the air filling your lungs, then release the breath and imagine blowing the stress out of your body.

To meditate, find a peaceful place and sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Quiet your mind and relax your body for a few minutes at a time — it’s as simple as that.

Making time in your schedule to quiet yourself and meditate can significantly lessen stress and anxiety, realign your mind and body and increase your sense of control.

These mindful practices help reduce blood pressure, quell the physical symptoms of stress and allow you to be present and experience the “now” rather than worry about the past or future.

>> Be social: People are social beings, yet many kupuna find themselves in an isolating environment as they age, especially if they live alone.

The effects of stress, anxiety or depression can cause even further avoidance, withdrawal and isolation.

Connecting with others — whether it be friends, family or people with shared interests — brings renewed vitality and enjoyment to daily life.

Join or start a book club, or schedule regular meeting times with friends. Allowing yourself to be in a social environment can do wonders for stress relief, as well as add variety and adventure to your day.

Head to the mall or a coffee shop and enjoy people watching in a different setting.

Take in Hawaii’s fresh air and beautiful scenery by sitting outside and saying hello to friends and neighbors passing by.

>> Engage in a new hobby: It’s never too late to strike up new interests. Studies show learning or mastering new skills or adopting hobbies later on in life can act as mental exercise and provide helpful distractions from any looming stressors.

Try doing sudoku puzzles, growing a bonsai tree, learning a new language or taking up new a musical instrument. Keeping busy and doing something enjoyable provides relief and stimulation for your mind and body.

Finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress can help reduce anxiety in the long run.

Learn what works best for your lifestyle to enjoy the benefits of these simple destressing techniques. Establishing long-term solutions can lead to a happier, stress-free life.

Dr. Justin Maeda, is a clinical psychologist at Kaiser Permanente Waipio Medical Office.

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