Seniors are feeling anxious

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For older adults who have lived through the Great Depression, news stories comparing present circumstances to the harsh realities of food lines, few jobs, and extreme poverty of the 1930’s may be panic-producing.

Add that to the fact that an economic crisis disproportionately affects older adults who need access to retirement funds, and it’s not surprising that seniors are feeling anxious.

Saint Louis University psychiatrist George Grossberg, M.D., has seen an increase in economy-related anxiety. “The anxiety and worry are immense. It is affecting millions and millions of people, especially those who were looking forward to a comfortable retirement,” said Grossberg.

Grossberg, who directs Saint Louis University’s geriatric psychiatry program, notes that in many cases, older adults respond well in a crisis, drawing on a lifetime of experience. For example, after September 11, seniors often had a less impulsive, more measured response than did younger people. In today’s economic crisis, however, older adults have the most to lose financially and a sense of what a true economic depression can look like.

Retirees who have planned to rely on investments are hit hardest by financial downturns, but they may also have less obvious reasons for their fears. For some, the worry extends beyond retirement funds to a general and sometimes intangible sense of unease. “I’ve had patients who are themselves financially secure talk about their anxiety for society as a whole or their worry that there may be unprecedented problems, like civil unrest,” said Grossberg.

The constant drum beat of bad economic news and promises of worse to come can be stressful everyone. For those who are suffering because of economy-related stress, Grossberg offers the following pieces of advice:

Do a reality check: Take a breath and look at the facts. Don’t let speculation about the future run wild. Most over-the-top grim predictions won’t come to pass.

Don’t act impulsively: Be careful that you don’t make poor decisions in a moment of panic. Grossberg gives the example of one patient who sold off the bulk of his investments while the market was low, fearful that he was losing his retirement savings. Discuss what you plan to do with someone else before you make a rash decision.

Count your blessings: Take time to think about the things for which you’re grateful. Whether it’s your health, your family, or $1.49/gallon gas, being thankful is a healthy reminder of what’s good in your life.

Take care of your health: Exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, and don’t put off preventive doctor visits. Staying healthy will help you to deal with financial issues and other stressful problems, and exercise has benefits for mood.

Get help: If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, seek help from a doctor.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.


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