Coming to terms with aging can be difficult for people to deal with for many reasons – changing looks, aching joints, and shrinking social circles, to name a few. As such, even preciously social, outgoing people can become withdrawn and socially anxious as the years progress. Social anxiety can be crippling at any age, but it can quickly become debilitating for older adults dealing with such life changes. Learning how to support senior-aged relatives to overcome social anxiety is therefore essential to their continued good quality of life and longevity.
There are various ways of helping elderly relatives suffering from anxiety, and listening is one of those ways. Active listening allows your loved ones to voice their fears and feelings openly and fully. It’s easy to jump straight to reassurance that everything is fine, but such language can unintentionally shut down how the other person is talking and feeling. Instead, following up with reassurance that it’s normal to have such feelings will give a sense of calm that helps relieve anxiety.
A wealth of resources is available online, including many suitable for senior citizens. Supporting older relatives to access the internet opens these vital resources to them. Therapy is an excellent tool for helping with anxiety issues, and the rise of online therapy platforms in recent years has been a boon for those with social anxiety. Seniors can access therapy from the comfort of their own homes, making it more attractive to attend than if they had to travel to a therapist’s office.
Access to the world wide web provides other services for those struggling to get out and be around people. Online shopping lets people shop at their leisure, without fear of being in crowded shops. They can also join online support groups and receive much-needed support for all issues, such as grief or a health issue. Even staying in contact with family is easy with video calling making contacting children and grandchildren cheap and easy.
Seek Medical Help
Anxiety disorders were not well diagnosed or recognized in the past, which means a senior citizen presenting with one recently may have had it for years. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression, meaning a trip to their primary care physician for diagnosis and treatment is advisable. Anti-depressants can help ease the underlying chronic depression and anxiety your older family member is dealing with. Once these symptoms are treated, it’s easier for holistic treatments to treat the residual issues.
Encourage Getting Out
Although being around others, especially in new situations, will make those with social anxiety feel uncomfortable, confronting those feelings are a significant part of overcoming them. As such, gently encouraging your family member to engage in social activities is vital to moving past their anxiousness. If they feel comfortable being around people they already know, then facilitate their getting to an event with friends and acquaintances. From there, they can build their confidence back to being around more unfamiliar people.
If they have experienced a significant life change, perhaps from a medical issue, even being around friends may be too much. In this instance, find a neutral place where people are in the vicinity but not directly interacted with and go together. For example, a walk through a public garden or a quieter art gallery is ideal places to visit. Such outings will help them begin to feel comfortable being around people again safely and gently.
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Find Their Bliss
While gentling and encouraging social interaction is vital, finding activities that bring your loved one joy is also essential to overcoming anxiety. Remind them of music they enjoy listening to or hobbies they love. Painting and gardening are relaxing while mentally stimulating and can be done alone or with others. Engagement with such activities brings feelings of happiness that combat underlying feelings of depression and stress, which in turn relieves anxiety.
Finding new activities or modified versions is ideal if they were previously very active and can no longer undertake the same activities they once enjoyed. Gentle sports like yoga and shuffleboard are popular with the older demographics for a good reason, and no one should be ashamed for taking them up when more physical sports are no longer an option.
Helping an elderly relative overcome social anxiety or anxiety, in general, can be difficult, especially if they are actively avoiding other people. However, there are ways to support them and help them overcome these issues, like online therapy and actively listening to their fears.