Stress and Aging
Stress is a typical component of our daily lives that can have either a negative or a positive impact on one’s well-being. It is the body’s response to a stimulus that disturbs its mental or physical equilibrium or balance. When our body reacts to a stressful situation, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released that can either be useful or detrimental to our health. Acute stress does not usually pose serious health complications - it makes life exciting. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can be damaging to the immune system and to overall health. In chronic stress, immune function is altered where cortisol is over produced, triggering an inflammatory process that results in a multitude of physical, psychological and mental manifestations and the acceleration of the aging process.
While there are several unavoidable factors that cause aging, chronic stress abnormally hastens its process. As a result, our skin is deprived of necessary nutrients and this wreaks havoc on our appearance. Our skin may prematurely show fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, loss of elasticity, and excessive dryness. Acne may even develop as a result of an inflammatory response. There are ways we can halt the aging process by learning how to handle stress effectively. We may never be able to eliminate life’s stressors but we can learn to manage them or alter the way we react to them.
- Smile, or better yet, laugh - The saying ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ never gets old. Incorporating a good sense of humor into our daily lives makes us feel better whether we’re going through stress or just dealing with our normal routines. We can’t control a lot of things that happen in our life so instead of stressing excessively over them, why not spend time, talk and laugh with a loved one, watch a funny movie, or browse through some jokes. Shared laughter unites people during tough times. Go out and smile at others. It is infectious, lightening your burdens. Humor and laughter help improve immune function, promote the release of endorphins - our body’s natural painkillers, relax our muscles, and protect the heart.
- Put pen to paper - Expressing yourself by documenting a stressful event or situation is an effective outlet for stress relief. Journaling has a positive impact on physical, mental and psychological well-being. It helps reduce anxiety and worry; gives you a chance to sort out your thoughts and feelings; allows you to release negative emotions like sadness, anger, resentment, guilt and disgust without hurting a loved one; and leads the way to reflect upon your life. Find a quiet, private place where you find peace the most and start writing anything that comes to mind. In this process, you may be able to find some clarity on the situation and a sensible solution to the problem at hand. Try to write daily for about 20 minutes for journaling to become effective.
- Listen to music - Listening to music, particularly slow, quiet music, has a soothing power that can evoke positive emotions, slow the pulse and heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and minimize your levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, preventing acute stress from becoming chronic. Music has been used as an effective therapy for hundreds of years to treat symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety and mood disorders. When we listen to music, it helps the mind slow down, distracts us from what is bothering us, and relaxes our very core. You can listen to music anywhere you are and you can either use a radio, a CD player, or a portable media player. Relaxation music with the sounds of nature, e.g. sounds of water, is particularly helpful especially at night when trying to go to sleep.
- Enjoy green tea - This very pleasant beverage that has been enjoyed by many cultures for thousands of years is packed with antioxidant polyphenols and catechins and amino acid theanine that help boost immune function and relieve stress. Theanine, which is found in green tea leaves, has a positive effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain which help produce a sense of relaxation without inducing drowsiness. This compound also increases the brain’s alpha waves that are responsible for keeping us naturally alert but relaxed. Since green tea does not make you drowsy, you can enjoy a cup any time of day.
- Keep gadgets away - In this day and age, almost everyone has a cell phone or any other mobile communication device that keeps buzzing with notifications and text messages. When you’re stressed, there is a lot going on in your mind and it’s harder to calm it down. It may be a good idea to turn your devices off for several hours and leave them out of your bedroom at night to give yourself a break.
- Take a walk - When you are stressed, the last thing you’d probably want to do is exercise. Making an effort to step out of the house and walk either a short or a long distance seems like a daunting task but it is surely going to make you feel better after you’re done with it. Exercise helps the brain release endorphins, which, again, are the body’s natural narcotic that helps us achieve a sense of euphoria. If you have a portable media player like an iPod, take it with you and listen to any type of music you like.
- Breathe - Taking deep breaths when it feels like nothing is going right is another proven and effective way of relieving stress. Deep breathing has a profound impact on the body’s physiological functioning by decreasing heart rate, respirations and blood pressure. Deep breathing exercises are not difficult to learn nor do they take a lot of your time. All you have to do is sit comfortably, close your eyes, focus on your breaths, and breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this process for about 5 minutes several times a day or whenever you like.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits