As we age, fear of falling can become a serious concern. Some people worry about falling, and the consequences of a fall, even if they've not yet fallen. Learning to cope with these feelings can help improve your confidence and quality of life.
What can I do?
- identify why you're falling and take action to reduce risk
- make a plan for getting help if you should fall
- talk to someone about your fears and anxiety
- set small achievable goals to help you feel more confident again
- challenge any negative thoughts
- keep active
- practice relaxation techniques
After attempting these reward yourself for your achievements and remind yourself how well you've done.
Address any risks or hazards
A number of factors can contribute to a higher risk of falls. These can be personal, relating to your health and wellbeing, or factors in your environment such as flooring or lighting.
If you've had a fall, ask yourself:
- were you in a hurry?
- was the floor cluttered or slippery?
- were you using the correct walking aid, if you use one?
- were you feeling dizzy?
Asking questions like these will help you to establish the cause. If you haven't had a fall, or can't be sure what caused your fall, read about the risk factors to find out how to reduce the risk of falls happening in the future.
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded could be the side effects of medication. If you're on many different medications make sure you get these reviewed regularly. It's important that you don't stop taking your medication without speaking to your GP.
If you've been on sleeping tablets for some time, you might want to see your doctor about options for coming off these. Your GP can also give you advice on how to get a good night’s sleep naturally.
More about managing your medication
Having a plan ready in case you fall can help you to:
- feel more secure
- cope with some of the fear of being on the floor and unable to summon help
How to create a falls plan
Talk to someone
If you've had a fall, try not to dwell on it even though it's understandable that you may feel worried for a short time afterwards. Talking to someone about your anxiety can help to make problems seem more manageable. Recognising there's a problem can be the first step to getting the help you need and your life back.
Anxiety after a fall can make you more cautious, and stop you doing things you enjoy. Set yourself small achievable targets – such as walking for a short distance first (even if it is several steps in the safety of your own home) – and build on this.
If you feel you would benefit from a walking aid, discuss this with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. Achieving small goals will help you to start feeling more confident again.
Challenging your thoughts
Negative thoughts can prevent you from overcoming anxiety. Learning to challenge these with ones that are more balanced can help reduce worries. It just takes practice.
After a fall, you may feel more anxious or panicky when you begin walking. You may find yourself breathing faster than normal. If you do, take some regular breaths and tell yourself that these feelings will go away. You can reduce your anxiety by slowing down your breathing and using relaxation techniques
Reward yourself for your achievements. It's important to tell yourself how well you have done. This will help to build your confidence for next time.
If you've not exercised for a long time, you may be afraid for fear of falling or hurting yourself but, if possible, try not to let this put you off.
Regular physical activity can prevent falls and injuries from falls by helping you to maintain strong bones, strength and balance.
Being active also has a positive effect on how we feel. When we exercise, the brain releases feel good chemicals which are known to improve our mood and reduce anxiety and tension.
More about keeping active
Relaxation techniques can calm your mind, and reduce the muscle tension anxiety can cause. There are various techniques you can use, some involving breathing and visualisation and others help relax your muscles. To get the most benefit from relaxation it must become an everyday part of life.
We can’t always get rid of what causes us worry completely but we can learn some skills that can help us get it under some control.
Learn some relaxation techniques
Other ways to reduce anxiety
- cut down on tea, coffee and caffeinated drinks as caffeine can make anxiety worse and interfere with sleep
- eat a well balanced diet and eat regularly as going too long without eating can make us feel irritable and anxious
- get enough sleep as a good rest can make it much easier to think clearly and cope with worries
- avoid drinking too much alcohol, although it might make you feel better for a short time, it can make anxiety worse in the long term. It can also increase your risk of falling
- take your time when getting up from a chair. Don’t rush. Stand, turn and move off slowly
- concentrate on one thing at a time — getting to where you need to be safely
- keep active and do things you enjoy as this can help to take your mind off worrying thoughts. It can also improve your sleep and fitness
When should I ask for more help?
If you're struggling with anxiety issues, don't suffer in silence — talk to someone you trust about it.
You should ask for more help if:
- you've tried some of these suggestions and still feel anxious or fearful
- your anxiety has been going on for some time and not getting any better
- it's stopping you from doing things you usually do, or want to do
- it's strong and unpleasant. If you experience intense anxiety or panicky feelings frequently, this can be seriously distressing and disabling
- it's causing you emotional distress and making you feel fed up. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, if you have lost interest in things you once enjoyed or feel low all the time it could be a sign of depression
There are services available that can help you overcome these difficulties. Find out where to get support
NHS Health Scotland has produced a series of leaflets that can help if you're living with anxiety, or anxiety–related conditions.
Talking about depression (external link)
Talking about anxiety disorders (external link)
Talking about panic attacks (external link)