How Managing Stress Helps Our Brain Health

How we cope with stress is an important factor in our mental well-being which, in turn, impacts our brain health as we age. How we personally view getting older is also related. Adults who look at aging positively report higher mental well-being scores, says a new survey.

A recent AARP Research survey of adults age 18+ found some interesting insights about stressors and how people cope. Researchers compared their findings across the major generational groups [Leading edge of Gen-Z (ages 18-21), Millennials (ages 22-37), Gen-X (ages 38-53), Baby Boomers (ages 54-72), and Silent/Greatest Generation (ages 73+)].

Some Key Survey Findings

  • The most common stressor for all adults was the death of a close family member. Six in 10 people experienced a death in the family within the last five years.
  • Stress levels actually DECREASE as people age.
  • Prayer was the most common activity that people reported doing more often when feeling stressed. People who cope with stress by putting their faith in God reported among the highest average mental well-being scores.
  • A positive personal view of aging is related to lower rates of depression and anxiety.


Life’s Stressors

Interestingly, stress levels tend to decrease as we age. Millennials reported the highest levels. The most common stressor for all adults, regardless of age, was the death of a close family member. Jobs and money were the next leading stressors.

More good news is that the negative impact of most stressors—like break-ups, job stress, money problems—tend to lessen over time.

However, certain events—the death of a child, caregiving, being victimized by fraud—brought chronic stress that didn’t diminish over time.

How People Say They Cope

When faced with stressful problems, most adults (59 percent) say they’re confident they can handle them. More people (40 percent) believe they’ll figure out a solution to their problem themselves, but a third say they trust that God will provide a solution.

More than half of adults (51 percent) say that they routinely pray when facing life’s challenges. A large percentage of people (42 percent) also say that they meditate when dealing with problems.

“It’s encouraging that we may be better at handling stress and anxiety as we age. Looks like experience pays off again with improved mental well-being as we get older,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s Senior Vice President for Policy & Brain Health, and Executive Director of the Global Council on Brain Health.

Health Status and Mental Well-Being

Another noteworthy finding is that people with health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis, had essentially the same higher-than-average mental well-being scores as those without health problems. However, people who were obese, or had mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, had LOWER mental well-being scores.

“Taking charge of your attitude towards aging, making healthy lifestyle choices and volunteering with a purpose are great ways to bolster your mental well-being,” said Lock. “This research shows that people of all ages who do these things also have better memory and thinking skills, and cope better with stress and anxiety.”

Nearly everyone deals with challenges and stress in life. Dealing with it in healthy ways will lead to a positive sense of mental well-being which, along with eating healthy, exercising, learning new things, and socializing with family and friends, will help keep our brain healthy as we age.

To read the full survey results, visit:  https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/health/info-2018/brain-health-mental-well-being.html