Older adults spend almost twice as much time worrying about health, finances since onset of COVID-19

LONDON — Before the world faced a pandemic, anxiety and stress were already marking territories. COVID-19’s destructive nature has left majority of us in an unfamiliar transitional period. The rapid transitional period brings about uncertainty and fear. This is especially the case for older adults and seniors. One recent study shows how people over 60 are worrying about life far more than they typically would before the outbreak began.

The study, commissioned by British well-being brand Healthspan and conducted by OnePoll, uses data from a survey of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom. Prior to lockdown, the average adult spent an average of 59 minutes a day worrying about health, finances or work. In the midst of the lockdown, however, this number has now increased to one hour and 28 minutes per day.

Twenty-somethings are now worrying for an average of one hour and 45 minutes a day, an increase of 23 minutes. But the greatest jump in jitters is among the 60-and-over population. Researchers say this segment is mired in fear for 67 minutes each day — up from an average of 37 minutes. Fifty-somethings’ times spent worrying is up from 57 minutes to an hour-and-a-half.

“For a long time, young people have been thought to be most likely to suffer from an increase in stress and anxiety as they find their way in the world, or juggle young families and work,” Dr. Meg Arroll, a psychologist assisting in the Healthspan study, says in a statement. “But while they are still spending a large part of their day feeling anxious, those over 60 have seen the biggest jump in the time they spend suffering from stress and anxiety in recent weeks.”

Worrying day and night

Perhaps surprisingly, a fifth of adults and 16 percent of 60-somethings think they’re experiencing anxiety for the first time ever. Just as alarming: 47 percent of the study’s participants reveal they feel constantly stressed and anxious.

“There is a real worry about people’s mental health as they adapt to a new normal – particularly for older people who may see more changes than most in the way they live their lives in the coming months, leading to feelings of isolation, vulnerability and helplessness,” Dr. Arroll notes.

Additional findings from the study from those experiencing stress:

  • headaches or migraines (40 percent)
  • stomach discomfort (38 percent)
  • palpitations  (32 percent)
  • loss of appetite (22 percent)
  • dwindling libido (16 percent)
  • dizziness (14 percent)
  • mistake at work (17 percent)
  • cancelled a night out (16 percent)
  • argued with a partner (23 percent)

How to ‘turn the volume own on anxiety’

When faced with stress and anxiety, many people look to others for comfort. But unhealthy coping mechanisms have increased since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, two in five respondents admit to using food as a coping mechanism when feeling overwhelmed. Habits like snacking can form when under duress, and it can be hard to remove oneself from the negativity. Dr. Arroll encourages people to find healthy coping mechanisms.

“With so much going on at the moment, it can feel like all we do is worry,” Dr. Arroll states. “This type of negative identity can be damaging over time as we ignore the other positive coping traits we have. To combat this there are exercises here that can help to build a more positive self-identity, which in turn will help you turn the volume down on anxiety.”

Dr. Arroll adds that it’s imperative to know the difference between stress and anxiety. Stress is a response to things already happening, while anxiety is a response from what you think could occur, but hasn’t. Arroll also encourages writing down concerns in one column and in the other column, writing the ways in which this will be alright.

Stress and anxiety bleeds over into multiple aspects of life. It can have a profound effect on life if not managed. Even if managed, the resiliency doesn’t prevent future trauma from occurring — it may actually amplify the chances of it happening. However, by better managing the stress and anxiety, there’s a prevention of further enabling inner fears to prosper.

The survey results were released on May 20, 2020.

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