The past 18 months have certainly been a challenge in so many ways. While the exact stress points in our lives is personal, I think there is a universal prescription that can help deal with anxiety and depression.
Spend more time with your elders. They tend to be less stressed. Maybe there’s specific advice to be gleaned in conversation. But I think there’s also the powerful gift of soaking in the energy of others, especially older people whose experience seems to bestow an inner calm that is one of aging’s gifts.
That’s not just my opinion. It’s documented to be true.
The pandemic highlighted an interesting generational divide: younger adults are far more likely to report feeling depressed or anxious than older adults. Sure, everyone’s stress rose during the pandemic, but even before the pandemic there was a long-term telling gap between how generations process adversity. And the pandemic didn’t change things.
Recently around 50% of adults between the ages of 18-29 reported feeling anxious and depressed in the prior week. About 40% of people between the ages of 30 and 49 said they were stressed out.
The older folks were far less likely to be on edge. Fewer than 20% of people older than 70 reported being anxious or depressed.
And older folks tend not to be just less stressed, but also happier. In the heart of the pandemic, an academic research project studied the emotional well-being of more than 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 76. Older participants were aware that the virus was a serious risk for them, compared to the health dangers it presented to younger people. But the older folks still had fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions than younger people.
All of that suggests there could be a powerful self-care aid that is absolutely free to add to your arsenal: spend time with older folks. Share with them. Ask advice. Or just pencil in the time to soak up being around them. You just might find yourself better able to calm your nerves and gain some strength and perspective.
And it’s a two-way street. There is no older person who won’t enjoy and benefit from the energy and insights of younger adults. Everyone has so much to bring to the table. We just need to all make it a priority to sit down together.
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