The Zone - Volume 136
How does stress affect my body, mind and spirit as I age?
As we have previously mentioned, stress is a continuum that runs between positive stress, known as eustress, and negative stress, known as distress. It’s also well known that our bodies only have one response to stress regardless of if it’s positive or negative. A chronic state of stress, be a positive or negative occurrence, can certainly have a negative affect on us, physically, mentally and spiritually. Let’s look at some of the effects of chronic stress on our overall health and aging.
Following are the 5 stages of aging with a brief explanation.
Self-sufficiency – we are able to care for ourselves totally.
Interdependence – eventually we need some support and assistance.
Dependence – we are no longer able to live on our own. We can not care for ourselves and/or are a safety risk.
Crisis Management – we are in need of immediate medical support.
End of Life – we are entering our final days.
No two individuals will experience these stages in the same way. Personality, genetic predisposition, support systems, health behaviors and stress levels, among other elements, will determine how quickly we progress through the stages. While these stages seem linear, there is flexibility in the progression. For example, if someone were to have a stroke, they may initially go from self-sufficiency to crisis management. With proper medical care and various supports, they may return to self-sufficiency.
Knowing that we will all, barring any unforeseen events, transition through the 5 stages of aging, let’s look closer at how chronic stress can impact this transition.
Physiological impact of chronic stress on aging
All organ systems, but especially the cardiovascular system, must work harder and consequently age more quickly.
Telomeres are like the tail of a kite that are on our cells. With age, the telomere shortens and impacts the ability of the cell to replicate. Chronic stress causes the telomeres to shorten at a more rapid rate and increase the aging process of our cells.
Inflammation within the body has been identified as a key influencer in the diseases of our body.
Increased Insulin Resistance is seen in people with chronic stress. This can lead to diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and others.
Psychological impact of chronic stress on aging
Partial identity disruption.
Experience post-retirement void.
Lack of meaningful engagement in society.
Absence of a retirement /life structure.
Withdrawal from social relationships.
. Spiritual impact of chronic stress on aging
Unresolve issues of anger and fear choke the human spirit.
A disruption in the state of coherence between the layer of consciousness and the human energy field.
Feelings of anger or hopelessness.
Feelings of depression and anxiety.
Feeling abandoned by God.
Sudden doubt in spiritual or religious beliefs.
Questioning the meaning of life or suffering.
Asking why this occurred.
A final point to keep in mind is how we determine how old we are. Chronological and functional age are two main determinates. Our chronological age is how many years we have been alive. This measurement is generally for book-keeping purposes by society. We start school, we finish school, we start to work, we retire at specific ages that have less to do with who are and more about what box we fit into. Functional age is a much more accurate determinate of who we are individually. Functional age is much more aligned to the stages of aging, and they are not predetermined. As studies have demonstrated, two individuals can be the same chronological age and function very differently. Today we find communities of individuals who live into their 100’s and still work and care for themselves. Functional age is greatly impacted on how we manage our stress throughout our lives.
Stress is a major factor in how we age.
We can not change our chronological age, however, we can impact our functional age.
How we handle stress throughout our lives is a major determinate on how we are functionally.
Practice mindfulness daily.
Remember, you are what you eat.
Learn stress management skills that fit your lifestyle.
Things to Limit
Forgetting to downshift.
Allowing yourself to get out of balance.
Quote of the Week
“When your body is filled with stress and anxiety, it’s trying to tell you that you need to make some changes.”
Our aging is impacted, to a great extent, by how we live each day of our lives. By being conscious of our stressors, both positive and negative, and keeping them in balance, we can create a more fulfilling and healthy life experience as we age.
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The paraDocs are Dr. Francis L. Battisti, PhD, Psychotherapist, Distinguished Psychology Professor and former Executive V.P and Chief Academic Officer and Dr. Helen E. Battisti PhD, RDN, CDN, Chief Nutrition Officer, at SpNOD, Health Promotion Specialist, Research and Clinical Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and former Assistant Professor.
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