Chronic Stress: can it shorten your life?

Stress: We’ve all felt it. Major presentation? Interview? Marital conflict? Hostile work environment? Stress can be brief, situational, and a positive force to help motivate you to perform well on exams or for a business presentation. However, if it is experienced over a long period of time it can turn into chronic stress, which will negatively impact your health and well-being.

Have you ever found yourself unable to speak when you’re suddenly nervous or felt your heart pound during a scary movie? Then you know you can feel stress in both your mind and body. Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the experience of stress – it is your body’s natural response to an external pressure. If you experience something new, unexpected, threatening, or confusing, your body responds with its internal fight or flight response.

This automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors was a way to protect them from threats and predators. Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which elevate your heart rate, increase your energy, spike your blood pressure, and prepare you to deal with the threat. Sometimes, this is useful and can keep you safe in a dangerous situation. However, it shouldn’t overtake your life.

These days, you’re not likely to face the threat of being eaten. But you probably do experience numerous challenges every day, such as juggling kids’ activities, caring for your elderly parents, paying bills, and marital conflicts, illness or injury, or traumatic event that make your body react the same way. As a result, your body’s natural alarm system—the “fight or flight” response—may be stuck in the on position. This chronic state of flight/flight can have serious consequences for your health. Chronic stress is linked to numerous health problems, including cardiovascular disease, weakened immune function, and mental health disorders.

Cumulative stress accelerates aging, but resilience slows it down

A stressful lifestyle can affect your health at the DNA level too, according to new research from Yale University. Many factors affect longevity, and the Yale research indicates that chronic stress can shorten one’s lifespan.

Among the findings, researchers determined that increased cumulative stress was associated with accelerated aging compared to chronological aging using GrimAge, and increased biological markers such as insulin resistance.

They also found, however, that emotional regulation reduced the effect of stress on accelerated aging, and self-control was also found to moderate the relationship between stress and insulin resistance.

Although our stress is oftentimes caused by external factors, our response is very much an internal experience. We can exacerbate the problem by focusing on it for longer than necessary, having unrealistic expectations, or struggling with a fear of the unknown. Everyone is susceptible to different stressors and should learn healthy coping mechanisms that work for their unique situation and personality.

According to Medical News Today some signs you might be suffering from chronic stress can include:

  • fatigue
  • irritability, which can be extreme
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating, or an inability to do so
  • rapid, disorganized thoughts
  • difficulty sleeping
  • digestive problems
  • changes in appetite
  • feeling helpless
  • a perceived loss of control
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of sexual desire
  • nervousness
  • frequent infections or illnesses.

Some effective coping techniques include guided imagery, meditation on scripture, prayer, progressive muscle relaxation, deep belly breathing, going for a walk, hugs, aromatherapy (scents of lavender, chamomile, and jasmine), art and creativity, yoga, writing daily gratitudes, journaling, laugh therapy, singing in your car or the shower, spending time in nature and participating in your favorite form of exercise.

You shouldn’t be ashamed of what your personal stressors include. Anyone struggling with the stressors in their life should reach out to Hope and Healing Nurse. Nurse Celia can help you learn more about yourself, your stressors, and how you can safely manage your responses on a daily basis.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

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