“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” — George F. Burns
Every two seconds someone dies from a stress-related condition. According to the World Health Organization, stress is the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century.” But how can it be that so many people are walking stress bombs and don’t even seem to notice it? Researchers say that this is due to habituation — we are so used to being stressed, anything less than a constant level of stress feels, well… somewhat foreign.
Ask yourself these five questions?
Do you wake up in the morning with a racing heart and worry over your day?
Do you have a difficult time focusing?
Do you feel that there is never enough time in your day?
Do you have a hard time winding down at night or falling asleep?
Do you feel guilty if there is even the slightest lull in your day?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, and this is a common occurrence in any given week, you are stressed, whether you know it or not.
Sometimes stress is a good thing — our body needs it, and experiencing occasions of good stress is actually healthy. However, chronic stress over long periods of time can really take its toll on both your physical and mental health.
Physical symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, low energy, aches and pains, chest pain, loss of libido, gastrointestinal discomfort or frequent colds or flu, are often the result of chronic stress.
You may suffer from bouts of depression, irritability, forgetfulness or moodiness also as a result of stress. The reality is, your whole being suffers, often including your interpersonal relationships when you are stressed for a long period of time.
The rise of cortisol
Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal gland that partners with epinephrine to create what is known as the fight-or-flight response. While necessary for everyday activities and the odd stressful event, our hectic lifestyles of today create an environment where cortisol is being produced in excessive amounts around the clock.
Elevated levels of cortisol in the body over long periods of time result in the ideal environment for a number of dangerous conditions to flourish.
Here are just five of the many reasons why less stress could help you live longer:
1. Excessive cortisol over long periods of time causes an elevation in blood sugar (glucose), which increases the risk of diabetes.
2. In the short term, cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect, but long-term exposure to stress causes immune system suppression, which opens you up to illness.
3. Elevated cortisol can lead to weight gain (especially around the abdomen), which is a precursor for a number of dangerous conditions.
4. Cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure. This can set the stage for the development of heart disease.
5. Too much cortisol compromises the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to the development of serious, uncomfortable, and embarrassing gastrointestinal symptoms.
Reduce stress today
There are many ways to tame the chaos; the most important thing is to learn to pay attention to the signals of excessive stress and to find ways to manage both the stress itself as well as your reactions to it. It is important to slow down often enough and for long enough to give yourself a real break.
Some people turn to tools such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or time in nature as a daily dose of stress relief. Others might need to take more dramatic steps, like changing jobs or setting better boundaries in relationships in order to relieve the pressure. Winding down the day with a short walk, listening to music, a warm bath, or reading can go a long way to helping ease into a good night’s sleep.
The key is to be plugged into your body well enough that you can recognize when things are getting too stressful. The best way to do this is to practice prevention. Be kind to yourself, go on frequent dates with yourself where you have the time you need to relax before it is too late!
— Dr. Joshua Levitt