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Side Effects of Stress on Seniors

Although stress is an inevitable aspect of our life, the side effects of stress can actually be a big concern, especially for seniors. Your body prepares for a ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction by exhibiting symptoms like heightened senses and quickened heartbeat. You experience such symptoms due to normal stress. However, stress can be really dangerous if it persists for too long.

Side effects of stress can be both short term and long term. Prolonged stress in seniors can be due to chronic illness, loss of spouse or disability. These long-term stressors might be very difficult to deal with for seniors. During high stress, your body releases stress hormones called Cortisol, which floods your body and brain. These stress hormones can take a toll on aged people over time.

Common Stress-related Symptoms:

Side effects of stress can involve all aspects of your life, for example, your physical health, your behaviors, emotions, and thinking ability. No area of your body is immune to stress. However, since people deal with stress in different ways, the stress-related symptoms can also vary. These can be vague and possibly similar to the ones caused by any medical ailments. Therefore, it is important for you to consult your doctor regarding these symptoms.

stress exacerbates quote

Following are the general types of symptoms due to side effects of stress:

1.) Behavioral symptoms

  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Procrastinating
  • Appetite change (eating less or eating in excess)
  • Displaying nervous behaviors, for example, pacing, fidgeting, nail biting etc.
  • Excess use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol

2.) Physical symptoms

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Muscular pains and aches
  • Diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea and constipation
  • Frequent infections and colds
  • Faster heartbeat and chest pains
  • Sweaty or cold feet and hands, ringing ear, shaking and anxiety
  • Lower libido
  • Grinding teeth and clenched jaw
  • Difficulty in swallowing and dry mouth

3.) Emotional symptoms:

  • Avoiding people
  • Feeling besieged as if you have no control or losing control of everything
  • Getting easily disturbed, aggravated and temperamental
  • Suffering from low self-esteem
  • Feeling depressed, insignificant and lonely
  • Finding it difficult to relax your mind and body

4.) Cognitive symptoms

  • Wandering mind and racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Not being able to focus
  • Absentmindedness, loss of memory and clumsiness
  • Being cynical, negative and unenthusiastic
  • Lack of judgment

Short-Term Side Effects of Stress:

  • Short periods of stress: For example, stress after a hard day at work or during traffic chaos or the stress during emergency situations like running to the hospital to attend a family member. It can lead to a lot of health-related problems.
  • Stress eating: When you feel stressed out, you tend to eat a lot of junk food rich in sugar and salt, which can result in obesity and other health issues. Stress can also cause loss of appetite and you tend to eat less.
  • Asthma attacks: If you’re suffering from breathing problems, stress can stimulate severe and more frequent asthma attacks.
  • Digestive problems: Such issues can be of several types. For example, stress can cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It means you won’t effectively digest what you eat.
  • High BP (blood pressure): Stress can lead to high blood pressure, which further can result in other blood pressure related problems.
  • Headaches: Stress can cause severe headaches in some people. It will punish you right at the moment when you feel you need your brain the most.
  • Sleep-related problems: Stress can cause a whole lot of sleep-related troubles such as insomnia, sleep-apnea etc. Some people have been reported to experience sleepless nights when they feel anxious about the next day.
  • High blood sugar: Stress can spike blood sugar levels in your body. So, it can be a big concern for people with diabetes.
  • Stress can cause hair loss.
  • Stress can cause skin rashes and breakouts such as hives and acne.

when youre under stress quotes

Long-Term Side-effects of Stress:

A bit of stress once in a while is not a big concern. But, long-term stress can worsen or cause the following serious health issues:

  • Cardiovascular ailment such as heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.
  • Gastrointestinal issues like gastritis, GERD, irritable colon, and ulcerative colitis
  • Mental issues like personality disorders, anxiety, and depression
  • Menstrual problems
  • Various eating disorders
  • Hair and skin-related issues like permanent hair loss and eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
  • Sexual dysfunction like premature ejaculation and impotence in men and lower libido in both women and men

Long-Term Side-Effects of Chronic Stress:

  • Cancer: Scientists are still indecisive about stress resulting in cancer. But, there are high chances that it can worsen your body’s response to cancer, which can escalate the growth of cancerous tumors and cells and even help them spread further at a rapid pace.
  • Weak immune system: Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, which increases the risk of nearly every sickness, virus, or disease out there. Due to long-term stress, your body will find it very hard to defend against looming ailments.
  • Heart disease: Chronic stress can cause long-term high blood pressure, which can vastly increase the risk of a serious heart ailment. It eventually can end up causing a stroke or heart attack.

Sources of stress for the elderly:

  • Changes of financial status and lifestyle post retirement
  • Taking care of a sick spouse
  • Taking care of grandchildren
  • Chronic illness and weakening of physical abilities
  • Death of close friends, beloved or relatives
  • Institutionalization fears
  • Worries for being dependent on others

Common symptoms and side effects of stress in seniors:


  • palpitation
  • loss of appetite
  • nightmare
  • insomnia
  • tiredness
  • muscle pain
  • frequent urination

Psychological and Emotional:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Forgetfulness
  • poor concentration
  • restlessness

How can the elderly keep the side effects of stress at bay?

Following are the proven ways seniors can manage stress:

  • You need to follow an active, healthy and social lifestyle and regularly practice breathing and relaxation exercises to manage stress.
  • During high stress, you need to share your feelings and difficulties with your family members, friends, and relatives. It’ll help express your emotions and learn different ways to manage stress.
  • Have a positive mindset; for example, appreciate the strengths and achievements of others. It’ll improve your self-confidence and help manage stress.
  • Participate in volunteer work to give back to the society. It means helping the less fortunate. It helps broaden your outlook and improve your self-confidence.

Consult a counselor or a therapist if you find it difficult to cope with stress. Avoid drugs, alcohol, and smoking as these will only escalate your stress levels.

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