Although some cases of anxiety are classified as abnormal regardless of age, much of the anxiety that seniors commonly feel is a natural response to life transitions and stems from legitimate concerns. In a personal interview, retired psychologist Dr. Ron Masa, now a senior himself, offered his views on common causes of anxiety in seniors and ways to deal with them based on his own experience and his decades of working with clients. Some anxieties, says Dr. Masa, can serve an adaptive function by promoting constructive action. This article examines three common sources of anxiety among seniors and offers suggestions for addressing these concerns.
Changes in Physical Functioning
Seniors often experience anxiety due to physical changes such as reduced strength and mobility. They may worry about losing their independence and becoming a burden to others. Fortunately, modern technology provides numerous mobility aids that allow seniors to empower themselves physically regardless of budget. These tools include implements for reaching and grabbing as well as graspable handles that attach to car doors, bathtubs and showers. Seniors can also find raised toilet seats and a variety of canes, crutches, walkers and mobility scooters.
In addition, physical exercise boosts physical and mental health at any age. Nowadays many physical-exercise options exist for all fitness and mobility levels. Several fitness companies produce chair-exercise and even bed-exercise videos that seniors can use at home. Many communities also provide gentle senior yoga classes. Some physical-therapy establishments even offer sessions on anti-gravity treadmills that allow people whose legs cannot usually support them to walk normally and regain muscular strength.
Questions Regarding Life Purpose
After they retire or their children leave home, seniors often find it stressful to readapt after many years of focusing primarily on caring and providing for others. Sometimes they experience loneliness and struggle to find a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Later life, says Dr. Masa, is an ideal phase for contemplating life’s big spiritual and philosophical questions. This phase can also be a joyous period of liberation and fulfillment in which people finally have the time to explore their own interests, dreams or hobbies. The Internet abounds with social hubs and online forums where people can gather to discuss shared interests and experience a sense of community.
Seniors who wish to continue working can volunteer for causes they care about or start their own online businesses to earn extra money. Even for non-entrepreneurial seniors, many legitimate online work-from-home job opportunities exist. For example, author Connie Brentford, who has been making a living working online from home for a decade, has written a series of books that provide details on a large, diverse list of work-from-home possibilities.
Death constitutes one of humankind’s biggest fears. While younger people may find it easier to ignore death, seniors must eventually face their own mortality and that of peers and loved ones. Seniors often experience anxiety as they first witness their parents and those they look up to passing on, followed eventually by friends and family in their own age group. Fear of death stems largely from fear of the unknown, says Dr. Masa. Rather than treating death as a taboo subject, seniors can reduce their anxiety by exploring the question of what happens after death.
Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, numerous traditional and contemporary resources, from the Bible and other ancient spiritual texts to new-age media, address the subject of death. Dr. Masa recommends “Journey of Souls” by Dr. Michael Newton and the “Conscious Aging” audio program by Ram Dass, a former Harvard professor turned spiritual teacher. Seniors who borrowed this recording from his office over the years found it very helpful and comforting, says Dr. Masa.
In conclusion, much of the anxiety seniors experience is natural when facing many later-life transitions. Rather than letting anxiety negatively impact their lives, seniors can benefit from channeling these feelings into constructive exploration. Seniors can also empower themselves by taking advantage of modern technology to address their changing physical needs. In addition, seniors can embrace the opportunity to focus on their own interests and make peace with life’s biggest questions.