Stress isn’t going away for the millions of Baby Boomers who are now retiring. Instead, they’re encountering a litany of new stressors that come with aging. Health concerns, lack of mobility, worries over the sustainability of a fixed income, feelings of restlessness, fear of mortality and more could come into play. Perhaps most profound are changing social dynamics. Those who retire often move to a new state or city, leaving behind not just their careers but their social spheres as well.
The level of social support that older people receive has been shown to increase their ability to cope with stress, according to a study the journal Innovation in Aging published in November 2018. But not all socialization is positive. Frequent negative social interactions may be a risk factor for mild cognitive impairment and cognitive decline for seniors, a study in the July 2015 issue of Neuropsychology indicates. That report defined negative social interaction as unsympathetic behavior, rejection or similar challenging encounters.
The dichotomy underscores the importance of choosing the right senior living community. Additional research identifies types of coping that help seniors manage stress outside of socialization. Mindfulness and self-compassion are shown to be useful for improving resilience and for reducing anxiety and stress among older people, according to a 2016 study in Clinical Gerontologist. Problem-focused coping — or meeting the issue head-on — rather than escape-avoidance coping mechanisms has proven more effective in managing stress and loneliness in older unmarried adults, another study from the November 2018 issue of Innovation in Aging shows. Spiritual coping, along with social support, was shown to be significantly related to low depression and high life satisfaction for the elderly, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work.
Seemingly as many treatments as there are causes exist for stress among the aging. Senior living communities would do well to offer supportive social environments along with a holistic approach that encourages seniors to choose the mechanism that works best.