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Understanding Stress

Understanding Stress

Stress is a normal part of urban life. It has both negative and positive sides to it. Stress can provide us with the motivation needed for enhancement of work efficiency and performance. However, chronic and/or excessive stress will adversely affect our physical, mental and social well-being. Therefore, stress management is essential to our physical and mental health.

1. Common Sources of Stress for Elderly Persons

Physical deterioration Changes in family roles
Chronic illnesses or pain Lack of social support
Decline in self-care ability Chronic burden of care for children, grandchildren or sick family members
Financial strain after retirement Death of partner, family members, or friends
Loss of sustenance in life Admission to residential care homes for the elderly

2. Stress Reaction: "Fight or Flight" Response

When we are under stress, the autonomic and endocrine systems in our body will be activated. This leads to a series of bodily reactions which are called "Fight or Flight" response, including headache, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, dilated pupils, muscle tension, increased blood pressure and blood sugar level, restlessness, inhibited digestion and others. If the stress is only transient, the above response will subside gradually and our body will return to normal condition.

3. Effect of Chronic and/or Excessive Stress

However, when we are under excessive stress for a long period of time, the following physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive symptoms may emerge. These symptoms may in turn affect each other, resulting in a vicious cycle.

  • Physical aspect: Headache, muscle pain, weakened immune system, reduced sex drive; increased risk of heart disease, gastric ulcer, hypertension and stroke etc.
  • Emotional aspect: Anxiety, depression, anger, frustration and helplessness
  • Behavioural aspect: Sleep disturbance, change of appetite, decreased work performance, increased tobacco/alcohol use and social withdrawal
  • Cognitive aspect: Forgetfulness, concentration difficulty and poor judgment

4. Effective Ways to Manage Stress

✓ Adopt a healthy lifestyle, i.e. maintain sufficient sleep, perform regular physical activities, adopt a balanced diet, cultivate leisure activities, as well as abstain from smoking and drinking
✓ Set realistic expectation, learn time management and problem solving skills
✓ Share with whom you trust so that you can express your feelings while learning different ways to cope with stress
✓ Maintain positive thinking patterns, appreciate own abilities and strengths, and count your blessings in life every now and then
✓ Do relaxation exercise such as mindful breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercise

If you experience chronic and excessive stress and find it difficult to cope with, please seek medical consultation promptly.