By Oliver Broudy for AARP
There are some polls that show healthy and socially connected seniors handle stress better than younger generations. One example is COVID-19. 94% of all Americans that died from the disease were 50 and older. Those 65+ make up 17% of the population but accounted for 76% of the deaths. A 2021 University of Michigan poll in the midst of the pandemic found that 65% of older Americans, ages 65+, rated their mental health as “excellent” or “very good”. 38% of those in their 40’s rated their mental health as “very stressed” as did 33% of those in their 50’s, 18 % in their 60’s and just 13% of those in their 70’s were in “high stress” levels.
So what is going on! Susan Charles, professor of psychological sciences at UC-Irvine says, “When we bring both older and younger people together into the lab and place them in uncomfortable situations, older adults are much more likely to say it’s not as stressful when compared to the younger people’s reaction. Younger people are much more reactive.” Charles goes on, simply put, older people are able to navigate around the stressful situations.
Studies show that seniors are more likely to focus on positive emotional stimuli that block the negative emotional stimuli, than their younger counterparts. One particular study showed that the elderly are 50% more likely to use proactive coping skills they have learned to prevent stressful situations from developing. Older adults have gained coping assets through life experiences, self-knowledge, and time perspective.
Seniors are more likely to disengage from minor problems that have no importance or worth. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. However, they are much more likely to focus their energies on important relationships such as close friends and family.
Next we will talk more about coping skills.