National Stress Awareness Month is observed during the month of April. While a little stress can be good for our health, too much stress is detrimental to our emotional and physical well-being. Seniors aren’t immune to the effects of stress. In fact, seniors can experience stress in more overwhelming ways. Stress can exacerbate their health conditions or cause memory issues to emerge. Although unavoidable, stress can be managed. Help your group keep calm and learn new ways to manage everyday stress with the activity ideas below.
LAUGHTER YOGA – Laughter is a great stress-reliever. Invite members to participate in a session of laughter yoga. The idea is that the body doesn’t recognize the difference between real laughter and fake laughter, so seniors who participate can experience the same health benefits that real laughter provides. Seat participants in a circle. Start by introducing a laughter chant, such as saying “Ho-ho, ha-ha-ha.” Clap along with the chant. Then, lead participants in ten laughter exercises. Spend one minute on each exercise and return to the laughter chant before starting a new exercise. Do a quick internet search for laughter exercise ideas. Here are two: greet one another with a “Aloha-hahahah.” Laugh outside of one side of your mouth, then the other. End by taking several deep breaths.
HEALTHY BALANCE – Help seniors improve their overall balance while alleviating stress through mindful balance exercises. These three exercises start from the same position: participants sitting tall in their chairs, feet flat on the floor, shoulders rolled back, and stomachs pulled in. Start by instructing participants to lift one foot off the floor. Hold for a few seconds before returning to the beginning position, then repeat on the other side. Next, instruct participants to teeter-totter their upper body back and forth, shifting their body weight from one side to the other. End with a few shoulder rolls, to improve posture: Instruct participants to rotate their shoulders upward and back, then repeat going forward. To make this more challenging, participants can stand behind a chair, holding onto the back of the chair for support.
UNWIND & RELAX – Turn your activity space into a quiet, reflective space. Use lamps instead of bright, overhead lighting. Set battery-operated candles throughout the room and diffuse lavender. Serve calming tea, such as chamomile. Play calming music or put on a nature DVD. Lead your group in a mindful, guided meditation or deep breathing exercises. You could also make this space available once a week for members to use at their leisure.
PET THERAPY – If you haven’t already established a pet therapy program, make April the month you do so. Reach out to a local pet therapy training program to partner with your group. Your facility could be a training facility for new pet therapy participants, or you could find one or two volunteers to visit your group each month. Other options to consider include visiting an animal shelter, asking staff or families to bring friendly pets to visit, or taking your group to a pet store. Be sure to obtain veterinary records for pets that visit, and insist that pets stay on leashes.
POSITIVE POETRY – Create acrostic poems with your group, celebrating their positive attributes. Members can create their own individually, or do this as a group activity by creating a poem collectively for each participant. Start by writing the individual’s name vertically on a paper or whiteboard. Then, think of a positive characteristic of that individual that starts with the first letter of their name. Continue in the same patten until the entire name is complete. For example: STAN, S – smart, T – talented, A -awesome, N – nice. Display on a bulletin board for the month of April.
COLOR ME CALM – Coloring is a great stress-reducer. Offer a Color Me Calm class once a week. Set the mood with calming music. Provide adult coloring books or sheets and colored pencils. Encourage members to stop in for a few minutes or stay for an hour.
CALMING CLAY DOUGH – Mix up a batch of calming clay dough with your group and use throughout the month. In a five-quart pan, combine two cups of flour, one cup of salt, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, three tablespoons of vegetable oil, and three drops of lavender essential oil. Pour one and a half cups of water into the mixture and stir. Set the pan on a stove top and heat slowly. Continue to stir as the mixture heats up. Once the mixture forms a ball in the pan, remove from the pan and set on a sheet of wax paper to cool. Knead the cooled dough to remove any lumps. Store in an air-tight container. Use the dough as way to help members alleviate stress. This is a great activity for members with memory loss. They can knead it, roll it out, and reminisce about baking cookies.
CREATE AN HERBAL EYE PILLOW – Gather your group and make an herbal eye pillow for participants to use the next time they’re feeling stressed. These pillows can be stored in the freezer, or briefly warmed in the microwave for a soothing relief. (Be sure it’s not too hot or cold before using. Seniors are more sensitive to hot and cold than younger people.)
TINY PLEASURES NATURE WALK – While your walking group may be ready to head outdoors and pick up the pace after a long winter, be sure to plan a few slower-paced walks. Taking time to enjoy the tiny pleasures in life will allow your group to de-stress. Plan a safe, short route, and encourage members to explore their surroundings. Stop to smell the air. Look for signs of spring. Pause to listen to the birds for a few moments. Ask members to walk quietly for five minutes. Afterwards, regroup and discuss what tiny pleasures each member enjoyed during that particular walk. Talk about their feelings before and after to help them become mindful of their stress levels.
VISIT A MEDITATION ROOM – Plan a group trip to a nearby meditation room. Whether you simply tour the facility and learn more about it, or arrange for an instructor to lead your group in a class, your group will leave inspired to create more space for meditation in their own lives. Meditation centers are becoming more and more popular, so it’s likely there’s a place near your location. Do an internet search for meditation centers or yoga studios near you.
SHOOT THE BREEZE – Take time this month to gather participants and simply shoot the breeze. Spending time with others and engaging in conversation can help members feel more connected with one another. Reminisce about April activities, such as rainy days, gardening, Easter, or the start of baseball season. Serve decaffeinated tea or infused water.
NATURAL CALMING REMEDIES – Educate members about natural calming remedies. Invite a dietician to discuss teas that soothe stress, or the impact of caffeine and long-term stress. Reach out to an essential oils specialists to introduce your group to the benefits of using essential oils. Ask a fitness expert to share calming exercises members can use to help them relax.
FORM A SUPPORT GROUP – Consider forming a support group based on your members’ needs. Whether you have members who struggle to manage chronic health conditions, are lonely, or have a spouse with memory loss, evaluate where a support group could benefit your group. Invite a social worker or chaplain to lead the group.
KEEP CALM IN APRIL TRIVIA
- What type of tea, made from a relative to the mint family, is said to make cats crazy, but act as a calming agent for humans? Catnip
- Which color is considered the most soothing color on the spectrum: red, green, or blue? Blue
- Nat “King” Cole sang about one way to help someone feel better who is feeling stressed or down-hearted. What action does the song suggest its listeners do? Smile
- Spas are a great place to unwind and relax. What is the general term used for cosmetic foot treatments? Pedicure
- Name two types of exercises that use movement and poses to promote physical and spiritual wellness. Yoga & tai chi
- Some people are convinced that stress can cause a person’s hair to turn which color? Gray
- What is considered the most stressful job today: surgeon, teacher, or software engineer? Surgeon
- Which three cities in America are named the top three stressful cities? Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City
- Eating which sweet treat is thought to reduce the symptoms of stress? Dark chocolate
- Which flowering herb is well-known for inducing a state of calm, is commonly used as an essential oil, and also adds flavor to food, or fragrance to many soaps? Lavender
KEEP CALM IN APRIL THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.” ~ Ralph H. Blum
“Keep Calm in April” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2020 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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