How to Rebound After a Health Crisis & Find Peace after Trauma
We’re just emerging from a worldwide pandemic, folks, and let’s face the fact that it was traumatic. It turned our lives upside down for nearly two years. And many of us faced more than just the isolation, loneliness, and the scarce in-person interactions with those we love – some of us had additional health issues that complicated our already shaken existence.
What’s trickier for older adults facing a health crisis is that it can dramatically alter their strength and function leaving them with a level of weakness and fatigue never experienced before – even for those who are healthy, active and physically fit. Recovering from an injury or illness, often means long periods of limited or no muscle use. This contributes to rapid muscle loss and increased frailty called sarcopenia. The prevalence of sarcopenia in 60-to-70-year-olds is as high as 13% while for people over 80 it can reach 50%.
Now what? How do we move past a health crisis, the emotional upheaval of COVID, and get back to living our fullest, happiest life? Fortunately, there are proven strategies that will help us do that.
According to psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, the first step is to adopt the right attitude. This helps achieve a stronger commitment to regaining strength and mobility, including physical therapy or rehabilitation. Plus, embracing greater physical activity engenders pleasure and joy, and happiness aids healing. “When we experience chronic stress, when we’re upset or depressed, that actually impedes our immune system. Our body does not heal as well.” In other words, we need to move.
Committing to physical therapy, rehabilitation, or an exercise program is even more important for older adults when facing the challenge of recovering from an injury or illness. Sure, it can be daunting, but let’s break it down to manageable, measurable steps:
Dr. Jordan Metzl, a New York City-based sports medicine physician, believes no matter the injury or illness, everybody can do some sort of therapy. “I never recommend complete rest,” he says. There is a benefit in having something to work at. “Just trying to feel like you’re a master of your domain makes a big difference for people.” Start slowly and build steadily. Be realistic about your current abilities and realize that after being inactive for a year or even longer, you can’t just resume what you were able to do before your injury or a hiatus from exercise.
Deep muscle work can be illuminating. Try a massage or ask your physical therapist to explain what’s going on with your muscles and tissues. Learning more about your own body and getting to know what your muscles are capable of now and with more exercise can pave the way to greater strength and mobility.
It’s a great boon to be with other folks who are working toward the same goal of building strength and endurance. You don’t have to go it alone. Being with a group has many benefits – you encourage one another; you celebrate milestone achievements; you learn from each other – all contribute to achieving your goal of greater physical health.
Make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet that includes a good amount of protein. During stressful periods, aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to maintain hydration helps to prevent infection and improve digestion and organ function. Hydration is necessary to carry the nutrients throughout the body.
Even healthy seniors need more protein than when they were younger to help preserve muscle mass, experts suggest. Aging often comes with a tendency to become more sedentary, this puts older adults at risk of deteriorating muscles, compromised mobility, slower recovery from bouts of illness and the loss of independence.
“Having a structure to the day that involves social interactions, whether virtual or in person, and various activities, including some time outside when the weather is good, is important for older adults,” said Dr. Lauren Beth Gerlach, a geriatric psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. End-of-day routines are also useful in addressing sleep problems, which have become more common during the pandemic.
Social isolation and loneliness may be a contributing factor to the increase in sadness, depression, anxiety and worry that many older adults are experiencing, according to a University of Michigan poll administered in January 2021. “Shoring up social support” and seeking the company of others is a good idea, according to Gerlach. Families also play an important role. “You’ve had 15 months or so of only a few face-to-face interactions – make it up now by visiting more often. Make the effort.”
Laughter and an optimistic outlook are healing. Make a point of spending time with family and friends who are the most positive, who encourage you and offer support. Look for the funniest television programs or movies to watch. Concentrate on what makes you happiest and surround yourself with that.