Unfortunately, we’re all very familiar with stress.

Stress is defined as “a process in which environmental demands strain an organism’s adaptive capacity resulting in both psychological demands as well as biological changes that could place at risk for illness.”

Stress presents itself in different forms throughout our lives. As a young child, losing a toy can be stressful. Later on, adolescent friendships become stressful. In college, stress propels us to complete that overdue paper. In adulthood, stress at work might prevent us from being truly present with our families. The range of a stressful situations can be anywhere from another driver cutting you off on the road to an extremely stressful decision that seems to paralyze you. Obviously, some scenarios can be more stressful to some than to others. In any case, our bodies are unique and respond differently to arrays of “stressors.”

Illnesses can cause different individuals to respond in alternate ways, and our response to stress is no different.

Some are more susceptible and therefore battle illness more prevalently than others as an effect of the stress on their lives (as well as other factors). One person might respond to a stressful situation and be energized, while another could spiral into a deep depression. Stress can certainly exacerbate any present medical conditions, including chronic illness.

But did you know that chronic illness has been linked to the presence of stress?

Chronic illness is sometimes an unfortunate and unwelcome part of aging. Approximately 80% of older adults suffer from a chronic illness.

Studies have shown that “chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifests an illness.”

Chronic illness can certainly cause stress, and stress is a factor in chronic illness. So the vicious cycle is propelled!

Did you know that “emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States:”

  1. Cancer
  2. Coronary heart disease
  3. Accidental injuries
  4. Respiratory disorders
  5. Cirrhosis of the liver
  6. Suicide

Most importantly, we must recognize the effects of much stress over time on chronic illness. It can deter the healing of the patient, prolonging the symptoms of the illness. With an increase of stress as well as holding it inside and trying to avoid processing, chronic illness can worsen. Unprocessed stress builds on unprocessed stress, and one becomes unable to cope with even the smallest stressors.

No matter how stress has presented itself in your life, with knowledge of stress management, anyone can mitigate the adverse effects of stress. If Seniors in your life are dealing with chronic illness, there are many ways you can help them cope with stress and mitigate the effects of stress on their wellness:

  1. Exercise

    • Exercise can be a wonderful way to blow off some steam and get out of one’s head. A short walk around the block or a quick arm workout can make the difference between a tough day and a great one.
  2. Music

    • A soothing song or your Senior’s favorite oldie can really lift one’s spirits and take one’s mind off of symptoms of chronic pain or illness.
  3. Hobbies

    • Helping your loved one continue to do what they love during a time of stress and illness can be vital. Gardening, knitting, cooking, reading or painting can be great ways to unwind from a stressful day.
  4. Verbally Processing

    • Talking about the stressors, the illness, and how to cope with symptoms can be very therapeutic. Encourage your loved one to open up about their stress and process out-loud.

Consider the stress present in your life, how you respond to it, and how you manage your stress. We can all educate ourselves on best practices to minimize the effects of stress on our well-being. The role of stress is chronic illness is clear, and in order to prevent worsening of existing conditions, we can encourage those around us to manage their stress wisely.



Cohen S, Kessler RC, Gordon LU. Strategies for measuring stress in studies of psychiatric and physical disorders. In: Cohen S, Kessler RC, Gordon LU, editors. Measuring stress: A guide for Health and Social Scientists. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1995. []



Healthy Aging Facts

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