How does stress affect the body and its overall longevity? Stress creates cascade effects in the human body, affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) systems, the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system. These biochemical responses are designed to help us cope with stress, but chronic, ongoing stress leads to unhealthy changes in the body.
One of these many changes involves telomere cells, which tell chromosomes how to properly reproduce. Stress causes telomeres to prematurely shorten or wear out, meaning they are not available for important functions in the body, and the pace of aging accelerates. This is one example of the term “cellular aging;” in fact, these shortened telomeres are considered an age marker, and the shortened length is linked to disease and old age illnesses. Researchers found that chronic stress makes our cells age by 10 years or more.
Stress: How You Define It
Another major finding from the research reports show that absolute levels of stress are much less relevant than the individual’s perception of stress. So, if you feel you’re under tremendous stress, your body reacts to your self-assessment. When you’re under stress, try to have perspective and rationally appraise the situation. Is your stress short lived and temporary or is it ongoing? Is your life under threat or the life of a loved one? Ongoing stress is particularly damaging, so those who experience grinding stress need to make stress reduction a high priority.
The Caregiver Role
Caring for a loved one can be burdensome and stressful, especially if it continues for the long term. In various studies, researchers found caregivers had higher rates of depression and anxiety than other similar individuals of the same age and gender. The stress of caregiving disrupts and impairs one’s natural immunity. Elderly caregivers did not respond to vaccines very well, had less immunity to existing virus outbreaks such as herpes, and had more inflammation and accelerated cellular aging compared to other older adults.
Caregivers are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and infectious diseases and have a 63 percent higher risk of death compared to a matched control group. Under stress, wound repair is slower. In one study, women caregivers of dementia patients needed roughly nine more days, or 24 percent longer, to heal from a small biopsy compared to a control group.
Clearly, there are very strong links to stress, health, and ultimate longevity. So what can you do to keep stress at bay and strengthen your immune system?
Figure out stress relievers that work for you. These could include taking a walk, calling a friend, or reading spiritual texts. You might find it relaxing to take a bath or pet your dog. If you find that you don’t have healthy stress relievers, then write down ideas you’d like to try. Keep the list handy so it’s available when you need it. Furthermore, staying healthy in both body and mind can also help relieve stress. Include a fish oil supplement in your diet to reverse the effects of aging. Additionally, there are benefits to working out, eating mindfully to maintain a healthy weight, and finally, managing personal negativity.
If you still are feeling constantly overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure and are not able to adequately manage stress on your own, seek professional treatment. A therapist can offer advice, tips, and insight into why you are feeling like you are as well as some effective ways to manage it.