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Managing pandemic stress at every age

Healthy aging experts share insight into how older adults cope with stress related to the pandemic, and how people of all ages can use it as a learning experience.

By Alexis Croisdale

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been stressful.  

According to the American Psychological Association, eight out of 10 people say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, with younger generations experiencing a higher increase in anxiety and depression than older adults. 

Researchers in Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences looked at the long-term effects of pandemic stress and discussed their findings, as well as tips on managing stress and bouncing back through resiliency at any age in a recent Public Health Insider webcast.  

Carolyn Aldwin, Jo Anne Leonard director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research, says that older adults are having an easier time with pandemic stress because they tend to appraise problems as less stressful than younger adults and are often better at emotion regulation. 

Her tips to reduce stress include:  

  • Taking deep breaths  
  • Exercising 
  • Being in nature 
  • Focusing on the positive 
  • Practicing mindfulness 
  • Showing compassion to yourself and others  

Karen Hooker, Jo Anne Leonard Petersen endowed chair in gerontology and family studies, says that personality traits significantly affect how we handle stress as individuals.  

“There is growing evidence that personality traits can be changed, which is important because traits shape how we appraise and experience stress,” Karen says. She adds that some personality traits get better as we age, such as being more agreeable and less neurotic.  

Recent CPHHS doctoral graduate Heidi Igarashi authored a study with Carolyn to see how adults over 50 coped with the initial lockdown in April 2020. They found that although 94% of participants listed difficulties, roughly 63% shared positive experiences on personal, interpersonal and societal levels. 

“An aspect of resilience is the ability to achieve personal growth and wisdom,” Heidi says. “Difficult situations can really shake up your world view, and in that is the opportunity for individuals to come to have greater self-understanding, compassion and acceptance of uncertainty.” 

Hear more from Carolyn, Karen and Heidi by watching the recording above or on the CPHHS YouTube channel.   

You can learn more about this series and register for the upcoming webcast, “Health back home,” on March 2, on the OSU Alumni Association website.