Aging appears at first glance to be a process solely associated with decline. Eyesight, hearing, and muscle mass wanes, hair grays and thins, and physical abilities often diminish. But beneath the surface, there are many strengths and skills older adults acquire that help them develop resilience even in the most difficult times.
During the pandemic, older adults with a lifetime of experience were often better able than younger people to patiently wait out social isolation and lockdowns with a “this too shall pass” attitude. With age and perspective, older adults can handle stressful situations consistently better than their younger counterparts, according to recent polling.
According to a recent AARP article, a 2021 University of Michigan poll found that 65 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 80 rated their mental health as excellent or very good during the pandemic. A 2020 AARP poll found that 38 percent of adults in their 40s reported being “highly stressed”, but older adults appeared to be more resilient with only 18 percent of people in their 60s, and 13 percent of adults over the age of 70 reporting high-stress levels.
While the discrepancies in stress levels during the pandemic between younger and older adults may have had something to do with home-schooling children while working via Zoom, even in a controlled lab experiment, younger people tend to be much more reactive to potentially stressful situations. Older adults have the advantage of greater self-knowledge, perspective and experience, helping them to better cope and compromise in difficult situations. They can take a “don’t sweat the small stuff” approach more effectively than younger adults and their social support network is firmly established.
Developing tools to manage stress is important at any age because chronic stress can spike cortisol – the “stress hormone” levels and increase inflammation leading to a host of health problems. Practicing guided breathing exercises, taking a brisk walk, standing in a warm shower, or listening to music can help tamp down stress and lessen its effect on the body. Volunteering is also a great tool to cope with stress by providing social interaction and a sense of purpose.