Stress Management for Living Younger
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
This past year has been stressful on so many levels due to the pandemic. Being cooped up with kids and partners, not having the usual friend gatherings, and working from home. This type of stress has been ongoing and unrelenting. Add to that the other unexpected crises and situations that may have impacted your life, and stress can seem to be coming at you from all directions. Stress can be managed, but it takes focus and effort. That effort will reward you with a healthier life and a longer one as well.
The Physical and Mental Impacts of Stress
You know what stress is and how it feels. The human stress response is a primitive reaction to danger and threat that causes the “fight or flight” response. Obviously, in more primitive times, this response was necessary for survival in that a human was required to run or fight to live another day. The physiological processes that make this possible are adrenaline rush (which can give extraordinary strength and energy), cortisol, and an increase in epinephrine, increasing heart rate, and respiration. You need the energy and focus to escape an attack.
Fast forward to our modern life, and stress takes on lots of different forms than a tiger attacking us. For example, think about how it feels to lose your phone. You have a rush of panic, your heart rate quickens, and you have high anxiety. The “fight or flight” is no longer an option, but the physiological response is the same. Or, let’s say you have a deadline that is getting closer and closer. Or your computer crashes.
There are thousands of examples of stress, and the vast majority will not entail a literal fight or flight (unless you are in the jungle). So, if the stress response is long-lasting, without adequate relief, it can be damaging. Here are some of the problems that can happen as a result of stress:
High blood pressure
Chest pain with inflammation of the circulatory system
Compromised immune system
Can lead to depression and anxiety (the lifetime prevalence of a mental health disorder is more than 50% due to chronic untreated stress).
Estrogen appears to help blood vessels respond better during stress. When a woman is post-menopausal and estrogen levels decrease, they are at greater heart disease risk.
Chronic stress shortens the lifespan
Chronic stress can affect testosterone production resulting in a decline in sex drive or libido, and can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Tips for Managing Stress to Extend the Lifespan
If you want to be healthier and live longer, managing stress is critical. Awareness is the first step, and then taking the actions necessary to curb your stress is next. We recommend a structured and scheduled approach so that stress management becomes an integral part of your daily life.
Breathing, Yoga, and Meditation
Regular practice of any or all three of these disciplines will help control your heart rate, improve your focus, and provide a tool to help during a crisis. Please keep it simple. People are intimidated by the practice of meditation and yoga, but there are hundreds of suggestions on how to start. Acceptance of where you are is crucial to continuing without getting discouraged. Also, simple deep breathing exercises have an enormous impact on stress relief. Deep breathing can be practiced throughout the day or before bedtime.
If we look at one activity that comes close to the primitive fight or flight response, it is exercise. The research showing the benefits of exercise on the body, mind, and spirit is overwhelming. On a practical level, regular exercise improves a person’s ability to withstand stress. During times of stress, exercise, whether it is walking, running, or hiking, relieves stress. Exercise is a very individual practice. Find what works for you, and don’t ever give it up!
Treat your body with respect, and it will be better able to withstand life’s stresses. A good
foundation of health is like a well-made house that can stand up to nature’s assaults. A plant-
based diet that avoids processed foods is a good place to start. When we are stressed, we tend to gravitate towards junk food and too much alcohol or other substances.
Connect to Your Support System
Staying connected, especially during this last year has been a challenge both personally and
professionally. Re-evaluating how we connect to our friends, families, and clients has been
necessary and, in many ways, positive. But it is easy to fall into complacency, which can lead to loneliness and social isolation, increasing stress levels. Despite the current constraints, it is possible to reach out to people, and it just takes more effort and creativity.
Without adequate sleep, it is challenging to manage stress effectively, or anything for that matter. Good sleep hygiene is a good place to start.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening
If you must look at your computer or phone before going to bed, use blue light blocking glasses
Keep away from bright lights before sleep time
Use relaxation methods before bedtime (like deep breathing)
Schedule the same time at night to go to bed and at the same time to get up
Consider hormone replacement therapy if you are in menopause to help with sleep.
Stress Management for Living Younger
So much of what happens to us is out of our control, but how we react is mostly in our control.
Healthy habits are the foundation of managing stress, living younger, and improving health and