The road of life is filled with obstacles, from limited retirement savings to impaired mobility and chronic illness.
"Some of the challenges we experience in later adulthood are not always expected. Aging can be difficult to cope with and things do not always turn out as we had hoped," says Caroline Atterton, LCSW, lead therapist in the senior intensive outpatient program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
These challenges can contribute to physical and emotional pain, as well as affect our quality of life, sometimes giving rise to a variety of problematic symptoms, including:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling depressed, anxious, irritable, lonely and hopeless
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Feeling emotionally and physically exhausted
- Physical pain and discomfort, including headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms
- Problems with memory and cognition
Taking care of yourself and staying connected can help
To cope with life's transitions brought about by aging, it is important to understand the role our thoughts play in the way we feel and behave. What we think affects how we feel, and how we feel in turn affects how we behave. Therefore, being aware of what we are telling ourselves about these transitions or challenges and how we are dealing with painful or unpleasant feelings are important. When we are struggling with a difficult or painful emotion, we are inclined to withdraw from others or do less of the activities we normally enjoy, all of which can make it harder to deal with these transitions.
"Loneliness and depression in older adults go hand in hand," says Atterton. "Relationships are of paramount importance here. They lead to increased physical and emotional well-being and improved quality of life."
She also recommends the following tips and tools for coping with challenging transitions:
- Find someone you trust to talk with
- Eat right and get plenty of sleep
- Practice breathing techniques
- Allow yourself to fully feel your feelings as they come
- Pay attention to your thoughts
- Be caring and compassionate to yourself
- Do things you're passionate about
- Remind yourself that you have made it through other challenges