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