Clues for improved physical, mental and emotional health are found in new research.
A new study has identified three factors that are crucial to older adults’ best health outcomes. Psychology researchers found that sleep, mood and stress are critical components to older adults having a feeling of control over their lives, and this sense of control had powerful ramifications for their physical, mental and emotional health.
"We found that sleep, mood and stress are all important factors in determining a sense of control and in whether older adults feel they can do the things they want to do," says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. "This finding is important because when older adults begin to lose their sense of autonomy, it can lead to changes in behavior that adversely affect their health and well-being.”
"We found that sleep efficacy - or the belief that one can get a good night's sleep - was associated with better control beliefs," Neupert says.
"We also found that positive affect was good for an individual's control beliefs, while negative affect was bad," says Shenghao Zhang, a Ph.D. student at NC State and first author of the paper. "In other words, being in a good mood made people feel better about their competence and control, while being in a bad mood made people feel worse about those things.
"Lastly, we found that stressful events on one day had an adverse effect on an individual's subsequent control beliefs," Zhang says. "These results suggest that the adverse effect of stressful events can last for more than a day. It would be interesting to conduct additional work to determine how long the effects of stress resonate in regard to control beliefs.”
"We know there are things people can do to improve their mood and to improve their sleep," Neupert says. "And while sleep and mood are things most people think are important, this study highlights a very specific reason that they are important.
"When people think they have little or no control in their lives, they may stop doing some of the everyday things that are important for self-care because they believe those things don't matter," Neupert says. "By acting to improve mood and sleep, older adults may better retain their sense of control and better maintain their quality of life.”
Bring Down Stress
Harvard Health has some tips to reduce stress, and help you sleep better, too. If insomnia is a problem, a special type of cognitive behavioral therapy, called CBT-i, may be your best bet. It works to remove ingrained patterns of self-defeating behavior and replace them with new habits. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends the therapy as the first-line treatment for insomnia.
Other types of stress come with negative impacts on health. "Stress increases blood sugar and can make diabetes worse. It can create high blood pressure and cause insomnia. It can also make people become anxious, worried, depressed, or frustrated," says Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Chronic stress should be treated as soon as it’s identified.
Here are suggestions for combatting other types of stress, as reported in the Harvard Special Health Report Stress Management:
- Consider whether you might benefit from a course in assertiveness training that would help you state your wishes and handle conflicts.
- Join a support group if you are dealing with bereavement.
- Think about getting a pet—both the pluses and minuses. Several studies support the stress-lowering effects of having a dog, cat, or other animal companion. But don't forget to take into consideration the physical and financial challenges of pet ownership.
- Attend a mind-body program. These can help at any age. Some are specifically designed for seniors. Others may focus on chronic pain or specific ailments, such as heart disease.
- Engage in regular physical activity. If you are infirm, ask your doctor whether you might benefit from certain types of exercise, such as tai chi, which enhances balance. Many other kinds of physical activity improve your health, lift your mood, and reduce stress, too.
How will you know if there’s too much stress in your life? It can show up in a variety of ways, including:
- tension headaches
- back pain
- heart palpitations
- poor concentration
It’s impossible to avoid stress in your life. But by taking steps to neutralize the things that are causing anxiety, you can move toward living your best life every day.
Click below for the other articles in the March 2019 Senior Spirit