Who, me? Stressed?

Retiring from work and leaving the rat race doesn’t always translate into a life without stress.

In fact, according to Dr. Blair Wheaton, director of the Institute for Human Development, Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, reaching the age of 60 is a time of stress and enormous change.

The challenges of aging and facing withdrawal from the workforce are similar to those faced by people in their 20s who are just entering the workforce.

Stress inducers
“I think there’s a profound change from a situation where you wake up in the morning and assume you have somewhere to go to a situation where no one may care,” says Wheaton.

Dr. Sonia Lupien of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging has spent 10 years studying how stress affects senior adults. She says most of us equate stress with a feeling of being under pressure, but her research proves pressure has little to do with it.

“You need at least three things to induce a stressful situation.

  • The first is novelty.
  • The second is unpredictability.
  • And third, and most important, is the loss of sense of control.

Because t world is changing so fast, senior adults are always faced with new, unpredictable situations in which they don’t have a lot of control,” she says.

Losing spouse, housing
Stress comes in many forms:

One of the toughest aspects of aging is losing a spouse.

Another, according to Lynne Gallagher, coordinator of caregiver education at the Family Services Association of Metro Toronto, is the lack of affordable housing and being on a long waiting list.

“Seniors who are looking for subsidized housing can wait anywhere from one to five years to get a place,” she says.

Gallagher says work overload, especially for those who are caring for a loved one, can lead to stress-related illnesses.

“The most important skill a senior can learn is to recognize the signs of stress before they hit a crisis.” she says.

Hobbies beat stress
The best way to beat stress, most experts agree, is to take up a hobby.

“Golf has probably been better for the mental health of seniors than most things because it’s the right level of activity, it’s outside, it’s in a beautiful environment and it’s social.” says Wheaton.

Peggy Humby, a 65-year-old from Moncton, N.B., gives stress management seminars to seniors. She says the hobby you choose doesn’t have to be a typical senior’s activity.

“If you want to learn belly dancing at 70, who’s going to stop you? Now is the time of life you can do anything you want.”