Stress Can Age You

If stress does not kill you, it will at least age you.

Here’s a quick question. If you were to ask your friends (who obviously do not know your real age) how old you are, what do you think would their guess be. Would they think you are older or younger than your chronological age?

I just concluded a project with a company that had very high levels of stress. Although I promised myself that by going back to corporate work I would not let go of my yoga classes, I found myself missing first one class, then two, and before I knew it, I was going months without a yoga practice to speak of. Without my knowing it, I became too absorbed in work and its toxic effects. When I settled back into home life in January of this year, I got sick – TWICE. I think my body, running on adrenalin for the longest time, suddenly felt the letdown of all those months and broke down.

A few months into a home-based life again, I find myself able to resume yoga, be with my kids more (esp. now that it’s summer) and attend blogging events which are far, far from stress. Ever since I ventured into yoga, I have gotten comments from people I bump into and who knew me from decades ago when I was an upcoming corporate executive well-entrenched in the rat race, that I look younger now than I did then. I call yoga my age-regressing stress management treatment.

A finding that was presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that “age may be more related to reactions to stress and the absence of disease rather than to a person’s chronological age…“ Chronic stress, the kind that drags on rather than being just a momentary crisis, can drastically affect hormonal levels and shift the body’s hormonal balance.

Researcher Elissa Epel of the University of California, San Francisco, says it is likely that the imbalance in the hormones is responsible for many of the psychiatric and medical diseases associated with aging. Epel also said that chronically elevated cortisol reduces lean mass, bone density and shifts fat distributions that can precede the onset of many age-related diseases like osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.

An article “Chronic Stress May Make You Age Faster” states that older adults often face chronic stress in the form of social isolation, bereavement, financial stress and caregiving. However, not all adults handle chronic stress the same way. Those able to take such stressors in stride often look younger than more stressed adults their age.

But there is good news: a healthy lifestyle and exercise can modify some of the hormonal effects that seem to accelerate aging. The article gave out some stress management techniques which I used as a benchmark against how I was doing in these areas:

* moderate exercise (reason why I am into yoga!)

* adequate sleep (this is still an area I need a lot of work on)

* being able to manage one’s goals and expectations (a trial and error situation till now but I am continuing to learn)

* accepting that one cannot always control things (yes, I used to be a control freak; I am learning to let go more often…)

* finding meaning in life (the raison d’etre for this blog)

* strengthening social ties (one of the major reasons why I am into blogging. I draw life from being around young bloggers)

* having spiritual or religious beliefs (being part of a prayer community for many years has given me a link to the Divine that I call on under stressful situations)

Are the effects of aging stress reversible?

If I go by my own personal experience, the answer is a resounding and reassuring YES!!!

Go ahead. Take the age test. Go ask a friend how old he/she thinks you are. Do not be upset by the answer if it was not what you expected. Take their answer as a chance to honestly look at yourself in the mirror and see how the stress you are subject to is affecting how you look. Identify those stressors and see what stress management techniques you can apply to start you off on the road to reversing its aging effects.

Do something NOW, while your body has not yet fallen into the disease traps set by stress. This is your gift not only to your loved ones, but most especially, a gift to YOURSELF!