Many people picture their senior years as the time when life slows down. However, the opposite can also be true. Aging is a time of many transitions. People retire, leaving behind their stressful careers. They may move in with family or renovate their home to age in place. Many go on to fill up their days caring for grandkids, volunteering, or learning new skills.
Staying busy can keep the mind sharp and energy levels high – up to a point. Beyond that, excessive busyness turns into daily stress. This doesn’t go away after retirement. In fact, statistics show that more than 2 out of 5 adults aged 50 to 80 have reported chronic stress.
What’s Wrong With Stress?
Everyone experiences stress, but how bad is it really? Short-term stress that you handle and put in the rear-view mirror isn’t usually an issue. However, chronic stress can be. If it lasts days at a time and crops up again and again, with the worry not ever getting resolved, you have a problem on your hands.
Chronic stress shows up in every area of your life and can lead to changed appetite and body weight, reduced quality and duration of sleep or raised blood pressure and increased chance of medical complications – regardless of all the self-help tips here, it’s important to stay in touch with your doctor or visit the local urgent care for a checkup. Other physical symptoms may include headaches or chest pain, among others. Stress can distract the mind enough to increase the chance of getting into an accident, result in poor concentration and decision-making, and in general lead to a destabilized or depressed mood.
The two main culprits here are usually over-packed schedules and unbalanced daily routines. Basically, staying busy isn’t always the issue. The issue may be what you’re spending your time on.
Why Do We Prioritize Work Over Everything Else?
It’s easy for seniors to fall into the same scheduling trap as younger people. Leisure and self-care get pushed aside in favor of more urgent-seeming problems. This just gets reinforced when people praise us for getting so much done. We live surrounded by the message that constant hard work equals success.
However, there are a few big problems with this equation. First of all, it’s not possible to work with 100% energy every day without taking time to recharge. Burnout is a very real thing that affects people of all ages. Once burnout sets in, it takes a while to recover from it.
Secondly, a spotless house, booming part-time business, or packed social schedule are not the only ways to measure a successful life. The senior years are an opportunity to break free of your old workhorse habits and experience new things. If you really love volunteering and are happy to spend every waking moment on it, that’s fine – in fact, volunteering to help others may even extend your life. But a little flexibility in your schedule may also let you live a richer life.
The ‘frivolous’ activities you do for fun and relaxation play an important role in your physical and mental health. They can lift your mood, lower your blood pressure, add a bright spot to a difficult day, and more. Your leisure time deserves a slot in your schedule.
What Fits Into A Balanced Life?
You probably have a clear idea of the non-negotiable items in your schedule, things like caring for pets, staying on top of bills and going to the doctor. Buying groceries, housekeeping and yard work, and maintaining the car may be possible to delegate. Babysitting the grandkids may end up as the only real non-negotiable.
But amid all these items, where are the activities that help you relax? What about the things that give you energy? Relaxation activities directly combat stress. They clear the mind, slow the heart rate, and soothe the emotions. Add them to the list.
Mindfulness and meditation are a classic choice for relaxing. Mindfulness is simply focusing your attention on something in the present moment, no distractions. This could come from a structured meditation you get through an app. You’ll also find that many of the moments in your daily life can be mindful. For instance, savoring your morning cup of coffee qualifies, but only if you don’t multitask by checking your email – or your mental to-do list – during it.
If meditation isn’t for you, you might try reading for half an hour before bed, bird watching in the backyard, trying out arts and crafts like watercolors or playing the piano, or simply taking a hot bath with scented bath salts.
Energizing activities can get the blood going in a healthier way than a stress-packed schedule. In fact, a lot of these directly support physical and mental health. If you’re struggling to perk up in the morning, you may want to experiment with a fifteen minute walk or other workout, chatting with a friend, enjoying a nutrient-packed salad or smoothie for breakfast, or – here’s a great favorite – writing out a Ta-Dah List (it’s like a to-do list, but celebrates what you’ve already accomplished instead of detailing what still has to be done).
Do You Struggle With Balance In Your Day?
A balanced schedule is like a balanced diet. It isn’t about cutting something out completely. The daily tasks, chores, or house renovations will still need to be done. Instead of taking things out, look for spare moments when you can add variety into your day. Sprinkle in stress-busting activities like meditation and self-care.
If your schedule doesn’t have much give, see what you can trim back from daily activities to every other day. You may also want to look into enlisting a little help. For instance, if cooking has become too stressful and time-consuming, see if you qualify for a Meals on Wheels-type program. This could free up time and energy to learn, grow, and explore in your senior years.