Health Watch -- Coping with Anxiety

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Something that may rev you up in your youth could instead hinder you when you get older.

In young people, a little anxiety can serve to get your motor going, to rev you up so you can tackle something big. But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that in older adults, anxiety may disrupt your coping abilities.

Dr. Myron Weiner, a UT Southwestern geriatric psychiatrist, says that in some older people, anxiety can lead to symptoms that ultimately wither a person’s quality of life. Anxiety symptoms include extreme nervousness, fear of leaving the house or driving a car, or shakiness and feelings of panic in social settings. These symptoms may cause some people to withdraw from the outside world.

The best way to fight these feelings is to spend more time doing things you enjoy. Needlework, gardening, exercise, music or whatever your favorite pastime is can help you cope with anxiety. You can also try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.

Tranquilizers are good for helping calm panicky feelings, but they can be habit forming. However, new anti-anxiety drugs are available that aren’t addictive. If you have anxiety that’s disrupting your life and that isn’t helped by doing things you enjoy, talk to your doctor about the best treatment.

If you’re a friend or family member of an older adult who shows signs of anxiety, such as being afraid to leave the house, talk to a caregiver or healthcare professional about your concerns.