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Managing stress in later life

As we age, we often dream of the freedom to travel, try out new hobbies and spend time with family and friends.

We look forward to our time of economic security without the hassles of going to work every day. However, reality seldom matches our expectations. The losses and gains of new roles in our life can lead to periods of stress we did not expect.

Leaving a career can mean more freedom, but is also involves the loss of challenging work, relationships, daily routine and a sense of purpose. Some individuals may feel they have too much free time and miss the demands of the work world. If this is the case, it helps to develop a structure for our time to reduce the amount of stress this new challenge brings.

Asking ourselves some simple questions can help to provide focus and add purpose. Questions such as “What are the things I want to accomplish in the next month? The next year?” “How do these goals translate into daily tasks or objectives?” can go a long way in helping us get set into a new routine. Planning our days around the short-term objectives is a great place to start.

Our new routine may include beginning or increasing your role as a volunteer. Volunteering can provide personal fulfillment and satisfaction while also benefitting the community. A volunteer role can give us a sense of purpose and allow you to use your skills in a meaningful way while maintaining regular contact with a variety of people.

Our relationship with our spouse or partner, and many times with our children, also changes as we age. Our partner may not experience the same stressors or react in the same way to losses and gains. Your spouse may be excited to leave the workforce and venture into new things, while you are struggling with this major life change.

The key point is to take time and discuss these changes and our feelings associated with them. Share your needs and feelings, listen to your partner, be flexible and willing to take some risks. Plan activities you both enjoy, but also schedule time apart for individual interests.

We don’t ever stop being a parent, however it is important for us to keep in mind the role we play in parenting evolves over time. Disappointment, worry or sadness about family members can seem overwhelming. It is important for us to let go of the need to solve an adult child’s problems. Instead, focus on what can be done to show your support.

To reduce the stress in our relationships with adult children, we should recognize that we cannot protect our family from pain, keep communication with your children and grandchildren, find someone to talk to about your feelings, and set boundaries for what and how much you can do.

If you are a grandparent, value the role. Disagreements with adult children about your grandparenting are stressful, so talk to your children about their expectations. Long distance separation, conflicting responsibilities or serving as a substitute parent are other sources of stress.

The stress resulting from major life changes is not something that we can fix overnight, nor is it something we should ignore. Developing ways to cope with, and eliminate, stress in our lives is something that we must treat as a priority.

We must also recognize that what works for us may not work for those around us. Taking a long walk by yourself may help eliminate your stress. A friend, however, may prefer taking a walk with someone else to talk through the stress they are experiencing. Listen to your body, know what works for you, and make the commitment to take care of you, first, and do what you can to support those around you.

We must also recognize that no matter how hard we try, sometimes it may not be possible to tackle the stress on our own. If this is the case, ask for help from family, friends or professionals. Accepting help from others may be the key to moving forward on our new journey in life.

Source: Iowa State University Extension & Outreach.

For more information on family resource management or adult development and aging, contact the Marais des Cygnes Extension District in Paola at (913) 294-4306 or Mound City at (913) 795-2829, or write to [email protected] or check out the website:


By Kathy Goul Family & Consumer Science Agent

Photo by Nashua Volquez-Young: