If sleep is the Great Restorer, stress is the Great Destroyer. Or, at least, it is in high quantities. Some stress is good for you. Did you know that? Strenuous workouts, surprise parties, intense projects at work – these can all be sources of beneficial stress.
The Human Optimization Project (HOP) understands the importance of stress management in aging gratefully, and that’s why it’s included in our longevity supporting “BEAMSSSS”.
But, when that intense work project goes on far too long and begins to result in prolonged feelings of anxiety, sleeplessness, or a constantly-racing mind, THAT kind of stress isn’t good long term and can actually cause you to age faster.
Health effects of negative stress:
Stress has been shown to significantly impact various organ systems in the body, leading to faster aging and an increased risk of chronic diseases (Epel et al., 2004; McEwen, 2006).
One of the ways that stress impacts longevity and healthspan is through the release of the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re under stress, your body releases cortisol, which can lead to inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a host of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and is considered a significant contributor to aging. Studies have found that individuals with high levels of cortisol have an increased risk of developing these conditions (Deuschle et al., 1997; Bremmer et al., 2008).
Stress also has a significant impact on the immune system. Research has found that stress can suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Studies have found that individuals with chronic stress have a higher risk of developing infections and illnesses and also have a more challenging time recovering from them (Glaser and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2005; Segerstrom and Miller, 2004).
Stress has also been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Research has found that stress can lead to a decline in cognitive function, including memory and learning, and is a risk factor for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s (McEwen and Lasley, 2002; Wilson et al., 2002).
How to manage stress:
Now that you know how stress can negatively impact your longevity and healthspan, let’s talk about how to deal with negative stressors. One effective way to manage stress is through regular exercise. Exercise has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels and improve overall well-being. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can also help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
It’s also essential to identify and avoid negative stressors whenever possible. This includes avoiding people and situations that stress you and learning to set boundaries. It’s also important to take time and engage in activities like reading, listening to music, or spending time in nature.
Below you’ll find three Action Steps to implement today to keep negative stress at bay. And, if you’re up for it, jump on those “Lightning Strikes” as well to become even better at dealing with The Great Destroyer!
- Start your day with 10 minutes of Me-Time. Sit quietly and reflect on how you’re feeling, what you want out of the day, and how you’ll feel when you’ve accomplished your goals.
- Start a Gratitude Journal – write down three things you’re grateful for daily.
- Plan a “stress-free day” where you commit to not checking your phone or email and spend the day doing activities that make you feel relaxed and happy
- Go for a walk in nature, even if it’s just to the park down the street. Getting outside and walking is so good for reducing cortisol levels.
- Add some hot or cold therapy to your day… cold plunges and hot saunas can be fantastic for improving how you deal with stressors.
- Look into adding some “tech” to your less-stress stack. Devices like Apollo, Muse, Hapbee, and BrainTap as well as apps like Headspace, Calm and Breathe, can be excellent tools.
Remember that your life choices stick to you, and aging gratefully starts with caring for yourself today. By taking steps to manage stress, you can not only improve your overall well-being but also promote longevity and healthspan.
Start building your better tomorrow today, and visit Hopbox.life for more tips and inspiration on how to age gratefully.
By Amy Killen, MD
Bremmer, M.A., Deeg, D.J., Beekman, A.T., Penninx, B.W., Lips, P.T., Hoogendijk, W.J. (2008). Major depression in late life is associated with both hypo- and hypercortisolemia. Biological Psychiatry, 62(5), 479-486.
Deuschle, M., Gotthardt, U., Schweiger, U., Weber, B., Körner, A., Schmider, J., Standhardt, H., Lammers, C.H., Heuser, I. (1997). With aging in humans the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system increases and its diurnal amplitude flattens. Life Sciences, 61(21), 1971-1980.
Epel, E.S., McEwen, B., Seeman, T., Matthews, K., Castellazzo, G., Brownell, K.D., Bell, J., Ickovics, J.R. (2004). Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(3), 405-413.
Glaser, R., Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. (2005). Stress-induced immune dysfunction: implications for health. Nature Reviews Immunology, 5(3), 243-251.
McEwen, B.S. (2006). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. New England Journal of Medicine, 338(3), 171-179.
McEwen, B.S., Lasley, E.N. (2002). The end of stress as we know it. Washington Quarterly, 25(1), 7-25.
Segerstrom, S.C., Miller, G.E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601-630.