All of us are stressed daily. It is something nearly impossible to avoid. Divorce, marriage, children, work, and money are the most common stressors people face. Juggling job requirements, family priorities, money crises, career advancement, educational concerns, elderly care worries are not far behind.
It is not the stress, but our reaction to it. Some of us let the stress fall away, like water off a duck’s back. Others hold on to it, cherish it, and never forget. Letting go is good. Holding on is not. Stress is attributed to 85-95% of all doctors’ visits.
What Is Stress?
How might you know if you are stressed? You might have low energy, headaches, chest pain, insomnia, dry mouth, muscle pain, more procrastination than normal, wanting to avoid those who stress you, constant worry, more pessimistic than usual, nail-biting, overeating or not eating, feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and many more.
Prolonged, chronic, untreated stress can lead to mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, obesity, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction, skin and hair problems, and gastrointestinal problems. Some stress is good for us. Long-term stress is not. Some peoples’ stress is other peoples’ motivators.
Psychology stress is the feeling or perception of strain and pressure from things that threaten the individual. People feel unable to cope with the circumstances. Physical stress is tangible and measurable. Physical stress might be an injury, infection, seasonal change, temperature extremes, travel and more.
How Stress Affects Our Longevity!
The two primary causes of aging are the normal decline in the body’s production of human growth hormone and the total loss of telomere length each time a cell replicates. Telomeres are positioned at the end of each chromosome to protect your DNA. A small portion or large portion of the telomere can be released when the cell divides based on many lifestyle factors.
Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, managing stress, and nutritional balance are common ways to minimize the loss of telomeres resulting in longer cell life and a longer overall lifespan. On the other hand, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet can increase the pace of telomere shortening.
Telomere length is a biomarker for aging. Accelerated telomere shortening is associated with early onset of many age-related diseases, increases cancer risk, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Which Stress Is Worse?
Psychological stress causes cells to divide more quickly. Those with psychological stress typically have shorter telomeres. This group includes those with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), those suffering early childhood emotional trauma, battered women, female caregivers, and post-menopausal women.
Physical stress slows down the cellular replication process. Physical stress includes exercising, meditating, and other actions to control our mental and emotional states. Vigorous exercise (minimum three times a week) has a beneficial effect on telomere length. Exercise is a well-known method of psychological stress relief. It reduces the total number of base pairs lost with each cell division.
It was not known, until after studying those subjected to long-term emotional stress, that early damage to telomeres could be somewhat negated. Two groups with similar emotional stress were studied. One group was composed of early childhood trauma. The second group was composed of post-menopausal women. With carefully monitored stress management programs, both groups showed significant improvement in the rate of subsequent telomere loss.
We can’t fix what we have previously lost, but we can address what we could possibly lose in the future. Stress management is key to improving our health in so many aspects (emotional, physical and psychological) of our lives. It’s not the stressor that causes us harm, but the acceptance of that stress in our bodies. If you can’t remove yourself from the stressor, use other methods to combat it. For longevity and better health, it is wise to relieve stress several times daily.
There are several methods to manage stress. I always recommend an immediate smile when stressed. A positive attitude helps to combat stress. Learn and perform effective relaxation techniques (meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc.). Quality sleep is critical to minimize stress. Do not rely on alcohol and drugs to address stressful situations. All forms of exercise are effective. Seek support from those you love or from medical professionals.
Live Long and Enjoy Life! Red O’Laughlin