Clues for improved physical, mental and emotional health are found in new research.
A new study has identified three factors that are crucial to older adults’ best health outcomes. Psychology researchers found that sleep, mood and stress are critical components to older adults having a feeling of control over their lives, and this sense of control had powerful ramifications for their physical, mental and emotional health.
“We found that sleep, mood and stress are all important factors in determining a sense of control and in whether older adults feel they can do the things they want to do,” says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “This finding is important because when older adults begin to lose their sense of autonomy, it can lead to changes in behavior that adversely affect their health and well-being.”
“We found that sleep efficacy – or the belief that one can get a good night’s sleep – was associated with better control beliefs,” Neupert says.
Being in a good mood made people feel better about their competence and control, while being in a bad mood made people feel worse about those things, says Shenghao Zhang, a Ph.D. student at NC State and first author of the paper.
“Lastly, we found that stressful events on one day had an adverse effect on an individual’s subsequent control beliefs,” Zhang says. “These results suggest that the adverse effect of stressful events can last for more than a day.
“We know there are things people can do to improve their mood and to improve their sleep,” Neupert says. “And while sleep and mood are things most people think are important, this study highlights a very specific reason that they are important.
“When people think they have little or no control in their lives, they may stop doing some of the everyday things that are important for self-care because they believe those things don’t matter,” Neupert says. “By acting to improve mood and sleep, older adults may better retain their sense of control and better maintain their quality of life.”
Bring Down Stress
Some types of stress come with negative impacts on health. Stress can make diabetes worse, create high blood pressure causing insomnia and can also make people become anxious, worried, depressed, or frustrated,” says Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Here are suggestions for combatting other types of stress, as reported in the Harvard Special Health Report Stress Management:
- Consider whether you might benefit from a course in assertiveness training that would help you state your wishes and handle conflicts.
- Join a support group if you are dealing with bereavement.
- Think about getting a pet—both the pluses and minuses. Several studies support the stress-lowering effects of having a dog, cat, or another animal companion. But don’t forget to take into consideration the physical and financial challenges of pet ownership.
- Attend a mind-body program. These can help at any age. Some are specifically designed for seniors. Others may focus on chronic pain or specific ailments, such as heart disease.
- Engage in regular physical activity. If you are infirm, ask your doctor whether you might benefit from certain types of exercise, such as tai chi, which enhances balance. Many other kinds of physical activity improve your health, lift your mood, and reduce stress, too.
It’s impossible to avoid stress in your life. But by taking steps to neutralize the things that are causing anxiety, you can move toward living your best life every day.
Source: Society of Certified Senior Advisors: Senior Spirit Newsletter, March 2019