Most people will go through stressful periods in their lives. This is something that can be hard to avoid. When it is prolonged, however, it can be very harmful to the body. It can affect us physically and emotionally, especially if it is not managed appropriately. It will also cause us to experience headaches, lack of sleep, sadness, anger and irritability. All of these side effects can take a toll on our bodies and eventually lead to premature aging. And as we get older, our bodies are affected more.
How Stress and Aging Are Related
As our bodies age, our immune system naturally weakens, and it becomes more and more difficult to fight off infections and inflammation. Compared to younger individuals, the older people are a lot more prone to colds, viruses and infections. Memory and concentration usually also diminish during this natural process. These life events can be almost impossible to avoid completely, though, and experiencing long-term stressful events can jumpstart this process, and the body will begin the aging process much earlier than normal.
The Health Effects of Stress
Stress causes our body to go into fight or flight mode, which releases chemicals into the body. These chemicals are extremely powerful, and they will start to affect your DNA after long periods of time. Studies have shown that people who are stressed for long periods of time have abnormal DNA sections, called telomeres. These telomeres naturally wear down and become shorter as we age, but chronic stress can cause this to happen quicker. As the telomeres shorten, they also lose the ability to divide and replace other worn out telomeres. Abnormal telomeres have been associated with cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and more. It also contributes to a much shorter lifespan. Additionally, our brains will age quicker, potentially leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Our vision and hearing will suffer very early on as well due to the chemicals and hormones that are released.
Furthermore, the byproducts of the chemicals that are released when we are stressed can also have harmful effects. The body naturally responds to flight or fight mode by releasing byproducts that cause us to feel calm and fatigued. In excess, this can lead to depression and sadness. People experiencing these low moods generally tend to eat poorly, get less sleep (due to worrying) and turn to medication to help themselves feel better. In return, these habits generally speed up the aging process even more.
How to Deal With Stress
To prevent premature aging and a shortened lifespan, it is crucial to properly manage stress. If you feel like you are stressed for long periods of time, it is very important to add changes to your lifestyle that can counteract the negative effects. This may seem to be easier said than done, but there are many steps you can take to prevent premature aging. Making sure you get adequate amounts of exercise and physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to reduce these effects. Eating well and trying to get adequate amounts of sleep during the night will also be very helpful. Other effective ways to combat stress include autogenic training, meditation, and yoga, as they contribute to natural relaxation.