Discover How to Combat Stress Now to Allow for Better Aging and Health
The effects of stress on health and aging have been studied extensively over the past few decades, with evidence suggesting that excessive amounts of stress can lead to a wide range of physical and mental health issues and premature aging.
Maybe you feel overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, and have difficulty sleeping. Perhaps you suffer from headaches, chest pain, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. You have muscle tension, breathing quickly, and your heart rate is increasing.
Is this a health problem? It could be stress. Stress is a growing problem in today's society. According to the American Psychological Association, 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% of people experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. Additionally, an estimated 33% of people report feeling extreme levels of stress on a regular basis.
Stress can come from a variety of sources. It can be triggered by an external event, such as a job change, retirement, or a death in the family. It can also be caused by an internal struggle, such as worrying about paying bills or how you will afford to retire.
Susan Albers, PsyD, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, says stress can be caused by everyday issues and is something we can all relate to. It can impact people in different ways each day.
These ongoing issues can have lasting and profound impacts on your mental and physical health.
Stress can come from seemingly positive life changes, such as one of your children getting married or becoming a grandparent for the first time. Positive emotions, like excitement or anxiety about an upcoming event, can trigger stress. Stress is subjective and varies from person to person, so what might be stressful for one person might not be stressful for another.
Human interaction can cause stress, including the lack of it (loneliness.) No one wants to live a life in which they never form a close relationship with another human being. However, when a close relationship ends, it can also be very stressful. People suffer when they lose a loved one, either through death or simply the end of the relationship.
Stress Can Have a Significant Impact on Your Body
Stress has a profound and often underestimated impact on the body, particularly as one ages. Stress increases levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that affect physical health, including the immune system and metabolism. Over time, chronic stress can lead to the development of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
According to Dr. Albers, long-term stress can accelerate aging and cause inflammation in our bodies, making us more vulnerable to chronic diseases.
Unchecked stress can also lead to anxiety and depression and cause people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol.
Chronic Illness and Memory Problems Can Come from Stress
As individuals age, their risk of developing these chronic illnesses increases due to the cumulative effects of stress on the body. Studies have also shown that stress can lead to cognitive decline as individuals age.
Psychological stress can interfere with memory formation and retrieval, leading to a higher risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Stress also affects behavior; it is associated with a higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide among older adults.
As people age, their immune system naturally begins a dramatic downgrade, a condition called immunosenescence. Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Colorado Boulder, says as we age, so does our risk of cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, and other chronic illnesses. But sometimes older adults of the same age have drastically different health outcomes.
One part of the stress response is linked to how our immune system responds. Excessive amounts of inflammation in response to stress can have negative outcomes.
Stress is not only damaging to physical health but can also lead to an increased risk of needing long-term health care services as we get older such as home health aides or even nursing homes. Therefore, adults over 40 need to take steps to reduce their stress levels to maintain good physical and mental health as they age.
Ways to Better Manage Stress
Dr. Albers suggests starting by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to manage stress. Sticking to a daily routine or taking a few minutes to clean are other simple ways to keep your stress at bay.
Trying to practice meditation, which can be as simple as taking some deep breaths, is something Dr. Albers also recommends. If stress prevents you from doing everyday tasks, reach out for help. Yoga or meditation can also be effective in reducing stress levels.
It's important to consult a therapist or your primary care physician if you are experiencing high levels of stress and that stress is impacting your day-to-day routine.
Albers says if you notice changes in your sleep patterns or appetite, your stress level may be out of control.
There are also things you can do that help to decrease your stress levels in general. Some of these will vary from person to person, where someone might feel calmer playing their guitar, and another individual might work off anxious energy by going for a run or playing a video game. You do have to be motivated to work to reduce your stress.
Meds for Stress
Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants are used to treat anxiety and can also effectively reduce stress. Beta-blockers, commonly used to treat high blood pressure, can also help reduce physical symptoms of stress, such as increased heart rate and sweating.
While medications can help reduce the symptoms of stress, they should be used if other options have failed. Often counseling or therapy can be used first and can be beneficial in understanding the underlying causes of stress and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
Regular exercise is one way to reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins which can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Additionally, engaging in activities that bring joy, such as socializing with friends or pursuing hobbies, can help reduce overall stress levels in daily life. For older adults, socialization and activity are crucial to maintaining a good quality of life and overall health and well-being.
Stress Can Be More Intense with Aging
Stress is a natural part of life, but it can become even more intense as we age. While it is essential to manage stress in order to stay healthy, ignoring stress as we get older can have serious consequences.
Remember, ignoring stress can lead to chronic health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Stress can also exacerbate existing health conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Furthermore, ignoring stress can have a negative impact on our mental health, leading to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Finally, ignoring stress as we age can lead to social isolation and loneliness and lead to needing long-term health care.
Many older adults may feel overwhelmed by the changes that come with aging, and coping with feelings of loneliness or isolation can be difficult without the support of family or friends. Older adults need to take care of their mental and physical health by addressing any stressful situations in their lives. Identifying and finding ways to manage stress will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve your overall well-being.
Helping Older Family Members
Adult children can help their older parents avoid the problems of stress by taking proactive steps to ensure their physical and mental well-being. They should ensure that their parents eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
Additionally, adult children should encourage their parents to remain socially active by introducing them to new people and activities. They can also help reduce stress by helping with chores around the house, such as grocery shopping or yard work.
If possible, adult children should accompany their parents to doctor's appointments and assist with the necessary paperwork. Be sure that parents get regular breaks from the stressors of daily life and have time for relaxation.
One of the ongoing sources of chronic stress for many is simply dealing with everyday matters, whether that's staying on top of tax filing, cleaning, paying bills, or other necessary tasks. It can be hard to stay caught up on these, and they quickly become overwhelming. It's easier said than done to state that the best way to address this is by not falling behind in the first place, but it's also true.
Another strategy is to identify helpful tools. If you have family, you need to purchase life insurance to make sure they have some financial security if anything happens to you, but it can be easy to keep putting this off if you feel overwhelmed by the thought of the cost and finding the right policy. You can visit Navient Marketplace, which saves you money by comparing rates on life insurance and many other services.
Being Prepared for Aging
Being prepared will reduce stress. If you have been putting off estate planning, look online for a service that offers DIY wills. While this might not be as thorough as sitting down with an attorney, it's better than having a plan in place at all.
Being fully prepared for retirement ahead of time will also reduce stress as you get older. This includes funding your 401(k) and Long-Term Care Insurance. Delaying will make planning harder and, yes, more stressful. If you are in your 40s and 50s, you should take action to reduce the stress in your life. Be sure you have your retirement plan in place, pay attention to your health and get regular check-ups, and include Long-Term Care Insurance to your retirement plan.
Your LTC policy will not only ensure you have access to quality care, but it will also reduce the stress placed on your children in the decades ahead. Plus, planning eases your stress now.
About the Author
Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.
Contributor since December 11th, 2017
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