Stress (and how you deal with it) changes as you age
What fears and worries keep you up at night? For my toddler, it’s very specific: big monkeys. For my mother, it’s retirement. Mental health experts say each generation—from kids to seniors—have unique stressors. Understanding this can help us all find a bit more peace for ourselves and those we love.
Canada is heating up at twice the global average. According to Rebecca Higgins, a mental health educator with the Canadian Mental Health Association, climate change is one of the top things contributing to children’s stress levels. “Climate anxiety and climate grief is something we wouldn’t have seen as much in earlier generations,” she says.
“But on the flip side, it is also the kids who are really galvanizing, and they’re supporting each other, finding reasons to hope, and coming together to affect change,” she points out.
And that’s just one of the stressors. From our teens to early adulthood, we experience a lot of transition and change. “You’re looking at a shift in independence, so finances, work, and housing costs are becoming more of a concern,” says Higgins.
This continues into our twenties and thirties. “Millennials are making choices about their relationships and starting families, and are also stressed about how they compare to their peers,” says Higgins. “When people around you are hitting markers that conventionally mark success, you can feel really lonely and really left out.”
To cope with rising stress, millennials are twice as likely to try yoga and meditation compared to older generations. “Those are grounding tools,” explains Higgins. “Spirituality, where you’re finding a connection to what’s important to you, is one of the foundational things that shore up our well-being.”
Researchers theorize that parents’ stress levels can directly affect the genes of their children, including the genes that affect a child’s sensitivity to stress. For example, one study found that children of Holocaust survivors had gene changes that increased their chances of having stress disorders. The intergenerational trauma inflicted on First Nations people by residential schools is another example of transgenerational stress.
Our stress levels start to peak in our mid-thirties to mid-forties, which is also when most Canadians experience the greatest level of debt and financial burdens. No wonder money and work continue to be the number-one stressors.
“People in their early forties are often caught in the ‘sandwich generation,’” says Higgins. “They’re taking care of kids, taking care of elderly parents, and also potentially dealing with student loans and mortgages. This is a time of increased financial and emotional labour.”
For Gen Xers, alcohol, entertainment, and smoking are their go-tos for stress management.
Work and money finally stop being our primary worry once we hit our mid-40s, getting supplanted by stress about health, whether that’s our health or the health of those we love.
“People ages 55 and up tend to be less stressed and better at coping,” says Higgins. “One reason is due to practice and resilience—you’ve gotten through life up to this point. You also have more experience and self-awareness. That doesn’t mean you have fewer problems, but you’ve learned what stress management tools work for you and what doesn’t.”
Higgins says there are proven strategies that all generations can use to tackle their stress. “Connection to others is central, as is finding a sense of meaning, hope, and life purpose,” she says.
Exploring the outdoors also helps reduce our stress and improve our mood. “Being in nature doesn’t make the bad thing go away, but it helps shore up our resilience to go back and face it,” says Higgins.
“And the most important piece I’ve learned is that when there’s a big thing that overwhelms you, break it down into individual, more manageable pieces,” says Higgins.
If you’re feeling stressed, natural supplements may help you find the calm you seek. Get enough vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium. The following herbs are also often used for stress relief: <Rhodiola rosea>, valerian root, bacopa, and ashwagandha.
Worry is when you’re upset over something that’s about to happen or may happen. Chronic, excessive worry is often a symptom of an anxiety disorder.
Stress is a series of physical and emotional reactions in your body and mind in response to something that is stressful to you.
Anxiety is your reaction to stress and helps you avoid future danger. However, if you have an anxiety disorder, you have an excessive level of fear or anxiety.
Depression is a medical illness where symptoms such as feelings of sadness, mental fogginess, and fatigue last for more than two weeks. It may include excessive anxiety, but not always.