Skip to content

Coping with Anxiety

Most of us have had the experience of worrisome thoughts and anxiety. In fact, anxiety is a natural reaction in the face of crisis. It serves to heighten awareness, to speed up action taken to avoid danger or to handle the problem faced, so as to get through the crisis safely. Therefore, transient anxiety in stressful situation is natural and adaptive. However, if the anxious emotion becomes chronic and is not managed properly, it could lead to anxiety disorder which affects daily living and well being.

Anxiety Symptoms

Physical aspect: shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, muscle tension/pain

Cognitive aspect: concentration difficulties, memory problems, judgment problems, negative thoughts, loss of self-confidence

Emotional aspect: feeling nervous, panicky, irritable

Behavioral aspect: startled response, restlessness, insomnia, decreased work performance, avoidance behaviours e.g. procrastination

How Common is Anxiety among Elders?

Anxiety in older persons is quite common. Overseas research found that anxiety disorders were present in 15% of elders. An Asian study found that about a quarter of Hong Kong elders showed anxiety symptoms. Risk factors for anxiety disorders in elders include being female, having low education level, poor family and social support, and more than three types of chronic illnesses, as well as living in residential care setting.

Common Sources of Anxiety in the Elderly

  1. Health: in response to functional decline and illnesses, older adults often worry about decreased ability in independent living. Some diseases such as stroke and dementia are also associated with anxiety symptoms.
  2. Finance: there are more and more nuclear families in Hong Kong. Adult children are more likely to live away from their elderly parents. Financially the elders may not be able to depend fully on children’s support. Moreover, inflation and the rising cost of living are also sources of their concern.
  3. Life Stressors: changing life circumstances in late life such as retirement, relocation, sickness of self or spouse, bereavement, living alone, family conflict etc. all contribute to stress reactions in elders.

Impact of Anxiety on Health

People with anxiety are more likely to report physical symptoms and discomfort that cannot be fully explained medically. Their self-perceived health is worse and they are more likely to have depression and memory problems. They tend to have stronger sense of loneliness and are more dissatisfied with life.

Elders who experience uncontrollable anxiety, resulting in significant distress or impairment in daily living, should seek professional help early.

Treatment for Anxiety

Psychotherapy and pharmacological treatment are two evidence-based treatment approaches for anxiety. Some may require combined treatment in order to maximize the efficacy. Please consult health professionals in case of need.

Self-help Strategies for Coping with Anxiety

Prolonged anxiety is hazardous to health. Here are some suggestions to help relieve stress and to prevent development of anxiety disorder:

1. Relaxation skills

Deep breathing, body scan and progressive muscular relaxation exercises help relieve anxiety symptoms. Please consult health professionals for details. You could also refer to the demonstration videos on Student Health Service homepage.

2. Right attitude, right actions

Embrace your feelings, maintain positive attitude, and affirm your own competence. When faced with problems, stay objective and calm, avoid catastrophizing the situation. Turn to people you can trust for help and make best use of community resources for solving problems.

3. Healthy living, happy life

  • Slowing down
    Some people with anxiety have high expectations on themselves and others. They lead hectic and competitive life, resulting in chronic mental stress. If you belong to this group, consider doing the following:
    • When scheduling your daily work, allow ample space and time for rest in between two tasks.
    • Stay focused when performing tasks or enjoying your meals. Live in the present moment.
    • Take good care of your own needs, save time for connecting with family and friends, criticize less but try to listen and appreciate more.
  • Healthy lifestyle
    • Balanced diet, adequate sleep and rest help relieve and prevent anxiety
    • Maintain regular exercise. By joining others for exercise, you are more likely to keep up with your plan and have more fun.
    • Avoid using alcohol, drugs, smoking or caffeine intake for combating anxiety.
  • Leisure activities and social network
    • Healthy leisure activities add pleasure to life. Cultivate new hobbies or resume past interests. Hiking, painting and calligraphy, etc. are among the many fun activities you can choose from.
    • Participate in elderly centres, volunteer groups, or interest classes. You may make new friends there. An active social life can help you cope with the negative impact of stress.

If you have followed the above advice but still experience persistent anxiety, do seek help early.

You can call the following hotlines for assistance:

Social Welfare Department: 2343 2255
Mental Health Hotline, Hospital Authority: 2466 7350