Crisis, Stress and Aging

An 89-year-old woman told her daughter, “Please don’t hide the truth from me. At my age, I can cope with just about anything. It’s the uncertainty that I can’t understand.”

Crisis and stressful situations occur throughout life but are thought to be more devastating in the later years when one may begin experiencing a slowing and/or decline in mental reserve. Therefore, whenever a crisis is coupled with cumulative stress, it tends to stretch the limits of one’s coping capacity. What can emerge is helplessness, lack of self-control and eventually, dependence on others.

According to the research, “Stressful situations however do not always precipitate a crisis.”

There are those who may have developed, through a lifetime of coping and stress, a tolerance for it. There are others who will be thrown into crisis mode by small changes in their lives. It has been well researched that the main factor of how a crisis can negatively affect an elderly individual’s self-esteem, is the concept known as “perception.” They may mis-perceive the crisis as huge and insurmountable, while in reality, the magnitude of the event turns out to be rather small. A crisis, according to the research, may constitute a temporary disruption in one’s coping capacity, whereas stress may be prolonged. Crisis, common to the aged, may include: loss of a significant loved one, persistent mental discomfort, or unrelieved pain due to a chronic illness or injury.

Current research highlights another form of stress identified as “hassling.” Elderly individuals appear able to cope with daily hassles, even in combination with a stressful related life event. Hassling can create severe psychological problems when living becomes uncontrollable.

If the individual tries to manage by using inappropriate coping skills, it can result in an injury with all its unintended consequences. The uncertainty of an oncoming illness and its possible outcomes can be debilitating and serious enough to warrant hospitalization. Even a common everyday hassle can contribute to a physical health problem, Examples could be a flu infection leaving the elder bedridden for an indefinite period of time, or a temporary memory disturbance. As the crisis advances and confusion reaches its peak, an incident of major proportions appears inevitable. According to Funk & Wagnalls, the term hassle is defined as “persistent arguments, squabbles or harassments.” As used in gerontological studies, hassle is defined as “an everyday irritant involving relationships, maintenance of home, finances, and just generally, daily life.” The researchers Burk & Martin state, “Old persons experience hassles frequently which may produce further stress than for younger persons.” The researcher Selye offers a “recipe” for good stress:

  1. Seek your own stress level which fits you best.
  2. Choose your own goals, not one imposed by others.
  3. Altruistic egoism – look out for self by being necessary to others and earning good will.

The following recommendations are for maintaining a continuous healthy mental and physical growth free of debilities.

How? By avoiding stressful experiences that can become a crisis of major proportions.

Suggestion Try practicing any one of the eight possibilities listed, and whenever you sense an oncoming stress-related issue, try one of the suggestions.

  1. Encourage healthy practices and fitness participation by being aware of signs of an oncoming bodily issue or illness.
  2. Involve self in events that are charitable and purposeful.
  3. Be aware of self and others regarding private as well as public commitments and follow through.
  4. Practice patience and tolerance with others, especially for those who are unable to do so.
  5. Support worthwhile suggestions and proposed civic projects that are beneficial to many as well as self.
  6. Be generous with personal assistance to those with different held values and culture by offering opportunities for further improvement.
  7. Protect, through speech and action, one’s good name particularly where falsehoods are leveled at others and self. Then proceed accordingly.
  8. Pursue requests for aid of those less fortunate, those who are in severe discomfort, whether physically and/or financially, etc.
Quotable Quote: The noblest art of man is making others happy. Anon.
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