65+ years

Anxiety

Anxious feelings about getting older can be related to the past, the present and the future. Past traumas are often remembered at this time, but there is also a greater sense of the need to live in the present and for the now. Anxiety about the future can be related to money, how long your money might need to last and having enough so that you are not a burden to anyone. The more nervous and apprehensive you feel about your health, particularly if you have had past health issues, the more anxious you might feel. This can be a difficult time too as you worry about new things like falling over and whether forgetting things is just normal or the first signs of something more serious like dementia?

Is this you?

LEARN Consider the different stories and pictures below, listen to a podcast or watch the video.

THINK Then, to understand more about what causes anxiety you can explore the different social, psychological and physical things that can increase anxiety. In this section you will find questions to ask yourself about each cause to see if it affects you.

DO Once you have explored the causes of anxiety then it is time to do something. Go to the ‘Toolkit’ to find a range of different tools to help yourself try and reduce anxiety.

View the causes of Anxiety for 65+ years

Do you relate to these?

I think it's the randomness of anxiety that is the last straw; it certainly is for me - that it can just come out of nowhere - or seems to.

Seniors’ SMS codes:

ATD – at the doctor’s

CBM – covered by Medicare

FWBB – friend with beta blockers

FWIW – forgot where I was

LOL – Living on Lipitor

GGLKI – gotta go, laxative kicking in

WAIT – who am I talking to

I’ve suddenly discovered that a friend I’ve known for years has suffered from anxiety which I’ve never known about and it explains so much.

I worry about the past: was I generous enough with my mother?

“I’m a very anxious person. It’s the background soundtrack to my existence.”
Sarah Wilson

"Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?" said Piglet.
"Supposing it didn't," said Pooh after careful thought.

“Old age is no place for sissies.”
Bette Davis

“I was raised to sense what someone wanted me to be and be that kind of person. It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes.”
Sally Field

“I get anxious about a lot of things, that's the trouble. I get anxious about everything. I just can't stop thinking about things all the time. And here's the really destructive part - it's always retrospective. I waste time thinking of what I should have said or done.”
Hugh Laurie

“Maybe its true that life begins at fifty...But everything else starts to wear out, fall out or spread out.”
Phyllis Diller

Causes of anxiety for 65+ years

What happens

Some personalities are more prone to anxiety - you might like having control over your world and get anxious when your independence is threatened or life is moving so fast you feel you can’t keep up. The more reliant you become on others, the stronger these fears can become.

Questions to ask yourself

Is it in my make-up to be anxious?

How much do I like to feel in control?

How anxious am I when I feel things are moving too fast and I can’t keep up?

What happens

Frightening or anxious thoughts can cause anxious feelings. It can be a thought that you don’t even notice, but it sets off a cycle of fear. You might have an unhelpful thought such as thinking something bad is about to happen, or you blame yourself when something goes wrong and say “I’m hopeless”. These thoughts are faulty and inaccurate but are difficult to challenge - you start to experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart and fast breathing and all you want to do is run away.

Questions to ask yourself

When I feel anxious what are the kinds of thoughts that I can remember having?

Are these thoughts unhelpful or faulty?

For example, do I:

  • have only negative thoughts?
  • jump to the wrong conclusions?
  • use words like “should” or “can't”?
  • think something bad is about to happen?

What is the evidence to support my thoughts?

What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is this?

What happens

You may no longer worry so much about what people think of you, but sometimes you may be anxious about whether people’s attitudes to the ‘older’ you make you feel your thoughts and opinions aren’t as useful as they used to be. You want your opinion to matter and it is distressing if you believe people dismiss your thoughts and viewpoint, or don’t value what you have to say.

Questions to ask yourself

How distressed do I get about what others think of me?

How do I feel when people don’t appear to listen to what I have to say?

How much do I feel valued by others?

What happens

When you focus on your appearance, all the little changes of ageing can make you anxious about your identity and sense of self.  ‘Growing old gracefully’ might be a great saying, but you are living it - some days you feel invisible, some days are good and some days you wonder who it is staring back at you from the mirror.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about how my body looks?

How fearful am I about being invisible to others?

What does growing old gracefully mean to me?

What happens

If you experienced abuse, neglect or harm growing up or violence in your close relationships this can cause you to be vulnerable to worry. Any kind of abuse such as emotional, mental or physical can cause you to worry about dangerous or risky situations in different ways than others who have not had these experiences. You may react more strongly to criticism, be anxious that others do not like or value you and that your thoughts or feelings are not important.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I been exposed to violence:

  • as a child?
  • from people close to me?

Have I felt:

  • neglected?
  • threatened?
  • that I might be harmed at any time during my life?

Has maltreatment or violence caused me to be more anxious?

What happens

Having roles that give you meaning are important to your mental and emotional health. You might be a friend, a mother, a grandmother, a volunteer, a worker… there are many roles you may have in life. Sometimes these roles are given to you and at other times you choose your roles. If you feel good about your roles it is easier to not be so anxious. If you don’t feel you have purpose and meaning you can feel anxious about your roles.

Questions to ask yourself

What meaning do I have in my life?

What roles and sense of purpose do I have?

How anxious am I about the roles I have?

Do I feel positive about any of the roles I have?

Social causes →
What happens

Problems with your family can include lots of things. It might be that your parents or a sibling are older and more reliant on you, or you have lost a parent, or both parents. Perhaps your children are busy with their own lives or live a long way away, perhaps you don’t have children and rely on others for support. Or someone is reliant on you and you fear you do not have the energy to deal with their problems. All of these things can be unsettling and make you fearful about the future.

Questions to ask yourself

Are there family problems which cause me to be anxious?

Have there been changes to my family which I am anxious about? If so, what are these changes?

How anxious am I about who I can rely on for support?

How anxious am I about meeting the needs of people who rely on me?

What happens

Sometimes change is stressful. You might be anxious about changes to your independence, or be thinking about whether you can continue to live alone, or where you should live if you need support.

Life events such as serious illness or the death of someone you love can lie unresolved in your heart and mind and cause you to feel anxious.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I experienced any stressful or difficult events recently?

How do I cope with change?

How anxious am I about losing some of my independence?

What happens

Sometimes the trauma from a past event comes up again when you are older and you find yourself reliving some of the anxious thoughts and feelings you had at the time. This may not be a full on anxiety disorder but it can make you nervous and unsure.

Questions to ask yourself

Are my anxious feelings and thoughts associated with an event that happened in the past?

What happens

How much anxiety you feel about money depends to some extent on your assets and financial situation. There is often a fear of not having enough money to last you and not being a burden to others or a fear that others may not be being careful with your money. These things can make you apprehensive about your future and constantly concerned about your finances.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about money?

How anxious am I about being a financial burden to others?

What happens

Friends can accept you for all that you are and sometimes they can reject you. This happens at every age and stage of your life. As you get older friends may change and you may be anxious about losing old friends, and or finding new friends who will accept you.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I feel accepted by my friends?

Who accepts me or does not accept me?

How anxious am I about losing friends?

How anxious am I about making new friends?

What happens

Having people to talk to when you need support is one of the most important ways to feel good about yourself. This might be friends, family, people in community groups you belong to, or the people you mix with at work or as a volunteer. As you grow older some supports you may have relied on may change, perhaps because you have moved to a new community, perhaps through illness or death. Feeling alone and grieving for support networks you have lost can negatively affect your mental and emotional health. You may start to get anxious about being left alone.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I have good friends, family or people I trust who can be there for me when I need them?

Who do I have that I can talk to or turn to for support if I need?

Have people who I turn to for support moved on, or are no longer there for me?

Community causes →
What happens

The community in which you live is important to your mental health and to feeling safe. If there are places to go, ways to get there and things to do within your community, this can help you to feel connected to your community and that you belong somewhere. If you move to a new community, you may get anxious about finding your way around, and finding the same type of services you are used to.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about the community where I live?

How connected do I feel and do I feel that I belong in my community?

What services are available to me?

What happens

Feeling safe is a basic human right. When you are older you can feel more vulnerable and less safe. This might be physically, such as feeling more vulnerable to a physical attack – or it can be emotionally, where you feel more vulnerable to being exploited or financially cheated.

Questions to ask yourself

How safe do I feel in the community?

How anxious am I about being physically attacked?

How anxious am I about being cheated financially or exploited?

Physical causes →
What happens

As you age, aches and pains, problems with high blood pressure and cholesterol, and illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes can increase. Having these reminders of poorer health can cause you to be anxious about yourself and make you fearful about your future health.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about any illnesses I might have or get in the future?

What happens

46% of 70-85 year old women have a fear of falling. The risk of falling increases if you:

  • live alone
  • are overweight
  • are often forgetful
  • have depression
  • have problems with your balance
Questions to ask yourself

How frightened am I of falling?

Am I at increased risk of falling?

What happens

Excessive drinking (defined as more than two standard drinks on any day and with no alcohol free days in a week) can:

  • make you anxious
  • be a sign you are trying to cover up or numb your feelings of anxiety.
Questions to ask yourself

How much am I drinking?

How anxious am I about how much I drink?

What happens

Side effects from some medications including medications for blood pressure or asthma and steroids such as cortisone can cause anxiety symptoms.

Questions to ask yourself

Am I taking any medications which could be causing anxiety symptoms?

What happens

Quality sleep can be difficult to achieve as you grow older. You can wake after getting to sleep or you wake and can't get back to sleep, often lying there getting more and more anxious that you can't sleep! On top of this experience, lack of quality sleep can make you tired so it is more difficult to think clearly ans resolve issues. The combination makes anxious feelings.

Questions to ask yourself

How much sleep do I get per night?

Is it hard to go to sleep or do I wake in the night and find it hard to go back to sleep?

What happens

An unhealthy diet made up of high fat and sugary foods affects your mood and can make you more prone to anxious thoughts and feelings. Erratic eating such as forgetting to eat or eating only one large meal a day doesn’t help your mood either. Lack of exercise makes you more prone to anxiety.  

Questions to ask yourself

Do I generally eat a range of healthy foods?

Do I physically active at least 3-4 times per week for more than 30 minutes?

Created on 18/08/2013 | Updated on 10/12/2015
References for this page
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About Jean Hailes

Jean Hailes is Australia’s leading and most trusted women’s health organisation. We believe in physical and emotional health and wellbeing in all its dimensions for all women in Australia throughout their lives.

We offer a range of free resources and easy to understand information on women’s health and wellbeing. Appointments at our specialist women’s health clinics can be made in person (East Melbourne and Clayton, VIC) or across Australia via our Telehealth consultation service. www.jeanhailes.org.au

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