Anxiety is a natural feeling that performs a useful and necessary function for our safety and wellbeing.
When Anxiety becomes such a recurrent and dominant aspect of day-to-day life that it begins to overpower everything else and stops people’s from living happy, fulfilling, and enriching lives, however, it starts to become cause for concern. Anxiety Disorders can have a significant impact upon how people are able to live their everyday lives, and can be really challenging to manage. While anyone can be faced with an Anxiety Disorder, certain aspects of life that are features of older age make seniors vulnerable to experiencing Anxiety Disorders. Worries associated with personal health, lower self-confidence, chronic pains, the loss of social connections as a result of death or isolation, and numerous medical conditions can all add up to create a web of worries that fill seniors’ daily lives with fears and anxieties. Cultivating an awareness of the types of anxieties that seniors may face, and learning how to identify and address them can help seniors and their loved-ones to work towards better managing Anxiety Disorders.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Not all seniors who deal with Anxiety Disorders will face the same issues or have the same experiences. Numerous forms of Anxiety Disorders exist, one or many of which might come to impact seniors at one stage or another:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Among the most commonly experienced forms of Anxiety Disorders, GAD is characterized by constant or unyielding feelings of worry that seem to exist without an identifiable trigger, reason, or cause. Seniors experiencing GAD will be constantly anxious and worried to the extent that even the solving of perceived problems doesn’t alleviate and stress. Generalized Anxiety Disorder often also leads people to always anticipate the worst in every situation, and prevents them from ever feeling at ease.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder causes seniors to experience consistent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or feelings that make them feel the need to perform certain activities, behaviours, or rituals (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions feel out of control, and time spent having these obsessive thoughts or performing compulsive actions can take up a great deal of time throughout the day.
- Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder is characterized by sudden, intense feelings of panic and overwhelming Anxiety or fear in the form of Panic Attacks that come along with physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, blurred vision, and overall discomfort. Panic Attacks can be triggered by identifiable causes or can seem to come about out of nowhere.
- Phobias: Phobias are irrational fears and worries attached to things that are not a present cause of any danger or risk. Phobias may lead seniors to avoid situations if they are concerned that they may encounter the source of their fear, and can cause seniors to avoid a great many activities or opportunities. Phobias can develop in relation to anything at all, whether it be animals, driving, thunderstorms, bridges, the outdoors, or anything else.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder involves experiencing persistent symptoms after having been through a traumatic event or experience that threatened safety or survival. PTSD does not necessarily manifest directly after a traumatic event, and some seniors find themselves experiencing their first symptoms many years after the occurrence of a traumatic experience. The stage of life in which seniors find themselves often involves a great deal of reflecting on past experiences and events, and remembering a traumatic experience from the past that has been buried within their minds can cause the mind to react through stress—responses. Common symptoms of PTSD include depression, anger, irritability, distractedness, nightmares, flashback, and social withdrawal.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Social Anxiety Disorder is, in simplest terms, an ever-present or persistent fear of social situations and interactions. Social Anxiety Disorder makes all forms of socialization feel overwhelming, to the extent that something as seemingly simple as interacting with a store clerk or answering the phone becomes deeply troubling and stressful. Seniors who experience this form of Anxiety might find themselves staying home all the time and avoiding any social interaction whatsoever, and the isolation that comes as a result can have a notably negative impact upon seniors’ overall health.
Identifying Anxiety in Seniors
It can be hard to identify Anxiety Disorders in those around us, especially because each person’s symptoms and experiences differ and manifest themselves in different ways. Starting a conversation that provides seniors the opportunity to express their feelings and talk about their experiences in a supportive environment can be incredibly helpful for identifying problems and working to come up with a plan to address Anxiety, but the truth is that not all seniors will feel open and comfortable about discussing their worries and experiences. In cases where seniors are unwilling or unable to talk about their Anxieties, there are some symptoms and manifestations that loved-ones and caregivers can look out for to try and identify the potential presence of Anxiety Disorders and work to set up support systems for their senior loved ones. Sleeping troubles, unexplained bouts of worry or panic, differences in eating patterns, substance abuse, social withdrawal, trembling or seeming constantly on-edge, and other behavioural changes that seem to indicate worry or fear can all indicate that a senior is dealing with overwhelming Anxiety.
Supporting Seniors with Anxiety
When it comes to supporting seniors with Anxiety, the best place to start is always to create an open and supportive environment in which seniors feel they can talk about their concerns and experiences without judgement. When seniors feel comfortable opening up and talking about the ways in which Anxiety is inhibiting enjoyment in their daily lives, there are various avenues that can be explored to work towards addressing the problem and putting some helpful strategies in place. Talking to a healthcare professional can be a great place to start to discuss the possibility of medication options to address the chemical level of Anxiety Disorders. Numerous forms of therapy are also accessible that can help seniors try to get to the bottom of their problems and learn strategies to cope with, or minimize, the impact that anxiety has upon their daily lives, so seeking out a registered therapist and exploring different therapy options can also be helpful. Alternatively, seniors who are less willing to choose therapy or medication can look into various other practices that try to calm the mind and help deal with Anxiety and stress, such as meditation and mindfulness based activities. The best way to provide support to seniors with Anxiety is simply to let them know you are there, and that they don’t need to be alone in their experience. Anxiety and isolation can be part of a vicious cycle, so helping to draw seniors out of their isolated bubbles back into the world in a positive and supportive setting can make a huge difference in helping them work towards a more positive state.
While many aspects of growing older are inescapable, an Anxiety Disorder does not have to be something that takes over the aging process. With help from friends, family, caregivers, and other supportive networks in North and West Vancouver, seniors can better manage Anxiety Disorders and live their lives happily and with a greater sense of comfort and ease.