According to the National Council on Aging, about 80 percent percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease. What’s more, 77 percent have at least two of them.
Chronic diseases are conditions that last a year or more and require ongoing and long-term medical attention. Common chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
People living with chronic diseases may experience invisible symptoms, including pain and fatigue. Stress can also emerge with a chronic condition, which can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, and other mood changes.
However, while chronic diseases can be stressful situations, they do not have to negotiate mental health. Learn how to deal with stress, anxiety, and other negative symptoms for chronic conditions.
6 Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety and Chronic Conditions
Whereas stress management is personal, these coping strategies prove to be effective.
They include getting more familiar with anxiety and the chronic condition at hand. Building a trusted support network and using positive coping mechanisms are beneficial as well.
1. Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
First and foremost, it is important to recognize anxiety and its related symptoms. Doing so allows the chance to acknowledge feelings and put an action plan into place.
Anxiety can be a natural, even productive feeling. But when it starts to interfere and disrupt daily routines and life in general, it is considered to be unhealthy.
The most common elderly anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and phobias. Seniors also experience panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.
The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) warns anxiety in the elderly may be recognized by:
• Excessive worry or fear
• Refusing to do routine activities or being overly preoccupied with routine
• Avoiding social situations
• Overly concerned about their safety
• Racing heart, shallow breathing, trembling, nausea, sweating
• Poor sleep
• Muscle tension, feeling weak and shaky
• Hoarding and collecting
• Self-medicating with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants
If facing any of the above symptoms of anxiety, seek out professional assistance as soon as possible. The faster you get help, often the better the outcome on overall health.
If concerned about a loved one, it is important to address the anxiety appropriately as well. The AAGP further suggests the following tips when talking to them:
• Be calm and reassuring
• Acknowledge their fears but do not play along with them
• Be supportive without supporting their anxiety
• Encourage them to engage in social activities
• Offer assistance in getting them help from a physician or mental health professional
2. Understand Your Condition
The unknown can increase stress levels, so learning all you can about your health condition is helpful. Consulting with a doctor is a great place to start, as they can also create a personal plan for you.
Research symptoms and treatment options on your own as well. Being well-informed helps you become your own advocate and notice any changes in health status deserving of attention.
3. Build a Trusted Healthcare Team
A primary care provider is a great resource for managing a chronic condition. But there are additional healthcare professionals that can assist.
For instance, if managing diabetes, a dietitian can create a nutrition plan to control blood sugars. A physical therapist would be useful for devising safe and effective exercises when managing arthritis.
Ultimately, a healthcare team is unique to the condition. But additional members to consider include an endocrinologist, psychologist, and pharmacist.
4. Find Support In Others
While a trusted healthcare team offers support, it should not displace the care from loved ones. And relationships with others is especially critical when aging and managing a chronic condition.
It is likewise important to inform others about the condition you are managing. They are then better equipped to understand the challenges faced and assist with greater compassion.
Keep life social by structuring regular interactions with friends, family, and the community. Being social boosts cognition, self-esteem, and quality of life. This is especially important to lessen feelings of isolation, which can have a negative impact on health.
5. Practice Positive Coping Mechanisms
People cope in their own unique way. But it is important to do so in a positive manner. For instance, taking to alcohol can exacerbate symptoms tied to both physical and mental health.
Fortunately, there are many positive coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, including the following ideas:
• Practice yoga and meditation
• Call a friend
• Cook a healthy meal
• Go for a walk or hike in nature
• Listen to music
• Read a book
• Spend time with a family member
• Take a few deep breaths
• Use essential oils
• Get a massage
Really, cope with stress using whichever methods work best for you. Continue to use those techniques to diminish negative and anxious thoughts.
6. Be Able to Adapt
For better or for worse, health is ongoing. That being said, there are ongoing changes that come with managing a chronic condition.
Being able to adapt is important to not let stress and anxiety overwhelm you. But allow yourself to explore feelings and different options, too.
A healthcare team is helpful for adapting treatment plans and recommendations. Seeing a counselor can assist you in processing those feelings as well.
All-in-all, coping with anxiety and a chronic condition often involves many care groups, therapies, and strategies. These may include a healthcare team, loved ones, and, truly, whatever combo works best for you.