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Coping with COVID-19 stress

Older couple visiting via the internet.
Recent surveys found COVID-19 hasn’t threatened the emotional well-being of many seniors despite their increased risks from the virus. (Source: Adobe Stock)

It’s now a well-established fact that older people are at greatest risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. However, two recent studies point to another fact: Many seniors are faring well emotionally in spite of those risks, feeling less stressed and threatened by the pandemic than their younger counterparts.

Two surveys conducted in April, one in the U.S. at the University of Georgia and one in Canada at the University of British Columbia, asked groups of adults about their emotional well-being during a period of high uncertainty amid the early pandemic lockdowns. The UBC survey involved adults between the ages of 18 and 91, while the UGA poll participants were all age 60 and older.

The Canadian survey found that adults over 60 experienced greater emotional well-being and felt less stress during that period than both 40-59-year-olds and younger adults between the ages of 18 and 39. Lead author and UBC psychologist Patrick Klaiber suggested those results may point to differing age-related stressors, as well as differences in how people in different age groups respond to stressful situations.

“Our findings provide new evidence that older adults are emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability… While (they) are faced with stressors such as higher rates of disease contraction, severe complications and mortality from COVID-19, they also possess more coping skills to deal with stress as they are older and wiser,” Klaiber said.

He added that younger and middle-aged adults have been faced with a different set of challenges during the pandemic, such as working from home, homeschooling children and dealing with the possibility of unemployment.

In the University of Georgia study, those over age 70 seemed to be handling the pandemic stress best, even compared to people a decade younger. Many equated the current situation with living through past wartimes, and nearly three-quarters of those in the over-70 group said they were experiencing “little to no stress” as a result of coronavirus.

“That’s where older adults have a strength,” said Kerstin Emerson, the UGA study author. “They have life experience and coping mechanisms that we don’t often give them credit for, but that’s part of their wisdom. We can really turn to older adults as examples of how to manage and live through bad periods of history.”

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