Stress and distress:
About 50 years ago, Dr. Hans Selye began to recognize the connection between an individual’s mind and body as his patients seemed to have similar physiological and psychological characteristics when experiencing stress. He came to the conclusion that stress is a “non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it”. He claimed that it is not stress that harms us but distress. Distress occurs when we prolong emotional stress and don’t deal with it in a positive manner. The body’s actual physical response to stress is known as the “general adaption syndrome”. When stressed , your body creates extra energy to protect itself. This additional energy cannot be destroyed. If not used, it creates an imbalance within your system. Somehow the energy must be channeled into some type of response to regain some balance.
Stress is a natural part of your life. Without some stress you will lose your energy for living. We all thrive on certain amounts, but too much or too little stress will limit your effectiveness and your functioning . When your functioning or your life is effected in a negative way you are feeling distress. Distress is a feeling of being overwhelmed which sometimes may lead to depression or anxiety disorders.
Cause and effects among the elderly:
Medical research estimates that as much is 90% of illness and diseases are stress-related. Stress can interfere with your physical functioning and bodily processes eventually leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, allergies, headaches and gastrointestinal problems. Most health professionals agree that stress or distress can actually cause medical problems or make existing medical problems worse, and can eventually lead to a feeling of depression or problems with anxiety or nervousness.
The perspective of many elderly as well as with most younger individuals is that stress is related to change. Change is always associated with new opportunities and new challenges. The elderly face unique stresses associated with adjusting to retirement, changes in living arrangements, failing health, deteriorating sight and hearing, loss of friends and family members, and the stress of facing their own death. A major source of the distress for the aging in Western societies is the notion that one’s worth as an individual depends on productivity and on looking young.
What do we do?
Ironically, in societies where wisdom and understanding are venerated, elders tend to thrive and look forward to old age. It is, of course, possible for one to come to that conclusion on his or her own, regardless of the notions of others. So, the first thing we need to do, is to find a way to develop a positive perspective. In my work as a geriatric psychologist, I frequently see the same circumstances (such as the death of a loved one) break one individual down while propelling another individual forward with an increased sense of love and desire for service. So, our perspectives are easily the most important factors in how we react to stress and whether it becomes distress. Additionally, we may reduce the effects of stress by taking care of both our physical and psychological needs.
During distressful and peak activity periods we need to:
• Rest adequately
• Eat well-balanced meals
• Take breaks and find ways to relax
• Rebuild energy resources through enjoyable activities
• Maintain connections with family and friends
• Pay attention to changes in physical and psychological functioning
Where do we go from here?
If you are doing all or most of the above and you are noticing a change in physical symptoms, contact your medical doctor immediately. If you’re noticing changes in your moods and behaviors such as difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, difficulty relaxing, a low mood and reduced energy levels, a recent desire to not be around friends and family and a lack of interest in your normal activities, you may want to contact a mental-health professional such as a geriatric counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
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