Many seniors go through life changes that could make them more vulnerable to stress and depression. In addition, many find it increasingly difficult to relax, as aging wears down systems in the brain that responds to stressors. They may experience anxiety, panic attacks, sleep deprivation, migraine and chest pains, mood swings, and other symptoms of stress.
Some common sources of stress include the loss of a partner, financial and retirement concerns, and loneliness. While there are no quick fixes for these issues, seniors can develop some relaxation techniques to help put their body and mind at ease. Below are some ideas to help them de-stress.
1. Breathing meditation
One of the most effective relaxation practices is breathing meditation. This practice comes with many emotional and physical benefits, including slowing down brain aging and fighting depression. There are a variety of breathing techniques to try, some being more advanced than others. Below are a couple of simple breathing exercises for beginners:
- A simple exercise, called equal breathing involves breathing in and out through your nose, while keeping your mouth shut and relaxed. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Repeat this exercise for ten minutes. For an additional challenge, hold your breath longer and count higher than four in steady increments, and then exhale and count again.
- Remove tension from head to toe by closing the eyes and focusing on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each. This time, inhale through the nose and hold for five seconds, then exhale through the mouth. Start with the feet and toes, then slowly work your way up: to your calves, thighs, waist, chest, arms, fingers, neck, jaws, eyes, and forehead.
2. Calming music
Relaxing music can ease fear and anxiety in the elderly. Music connects with the autonomic nervous system (brain function, blood pressure and heartbeat) and the limbic system (feelings and emotions). Slow music helps slow down the bodily system, leading to lower blood pressure, slower breaths, and natural pain relief. Some popular genres that can help with relaxation include the following:
- Classical music
- Nature sounds
- Spa or meditation music
- Smooth jazz
- Easy listening
Typically, music without any vocals or loud rhythmic beats are ideal for creating tranquility.
3. Crosswords and puzzles
There are numerous puzzle books you can find to help seniors focus and take their mind off stressful thoughts. These activities are easily accessible and very affordable. Some of the fancy pocket-size puzzle books come with unique cover designs, and are available online and in bookstores. Popular puzzle books include the following:
- Word hunt
As well, the classic jigsaw puzzles are also great for relaxation and mindfulness. Assembling interlocking and tessellation pieces can help seniors not only become more focused and relaxed, it can also improve memory and moderate Alzheimer’s.
This technique involves participants closing their eyes and imagining a pleasant setting, such as watching the sunset rise on a sandy beach, being surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden, or sitting at a cafe in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in plain sight.
Play music or nature sounds in the background to help create the setting. As an alternative, reading books with colourful imagery and a good storyline can also relieve stress, as well as provide comfort and entertainment.
It’s the simple things that matter
Often times, it’s the simple things that make people happy even as one ages. Whether it be enjoying a savoury meal, spending time with family friends or looking out the window and appreciating the moment. Through practicing mindfulness activities—such as breathing meditation, listening to music, solving crossword puzzles, and visualization—seniors can develop the relaxation techniques to help them cope with stress and the challenges of aging.