We all know about stress. Everyday something happens in your life that seems stressful. You can find an entire day, week or year consumed by stress. Are you driven mad by NUTS? Beyond being a huge glutton of our mental time, stress is really unhealthy.
Does stress impact how we age too? Science and studies seem to indicate it does.
“Chronic stress accelerates premature aging by shortening DNA telomeres. Telomere length is a marker of both biological and cellular aging. Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening.
Shortened telomeres have been associated with chronic diseases and premature death."(1)
Is All Stress Created Equal?
No, there are physical and emotional stressors and they impact you differently. There are also instances were we self impose stress on ourselves:
UNFINISHED TASKS DRIVE OUR MINDS NUTS.
The Zeigarnik Effect : The unconscious mind will nag the conscious mind to come up with a plan to finish unfinished tasks.
“The unconscious is asking the conscious mind to make a plan,” write Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. “The unconscious mind apparently can’t do this on its own, so it nags the conscious mind to make a plan with specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious can stop nagging the conscious mind with reminders.”
Sounds great, right? It’s like a built-in to-do-list, no iPhone note required.
But here’s the thing: That constant mental nagging can seriously drain you after a while.” (2)
Our Body & Mind Reacts Differently to Stressors As We Age
As people reach old age, wounds heal more slowly and colds become harder to shake. A 75-year-old heart can be slow to respond to the demands of exercise. And when an 80-year-old walks into a chilly room, it will take an extra-long time for her body temperature to adjust.
Emotional stress is more subtle, but if it’s chronic, the eventual consequences can be as harmful.
At any age, stressed-out brains sound an alarm that releases potentially harmful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Ideally, the brain turns down the alarm when stress hormones get too high. Stress hormones provide energy and focus in the short term, but too much stress over too many years can throw a person’s system off-balance.
Overloads of stress hormones have been linked to many health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immune function. For older people already at heightened risk for these illnesses, managing stress is particularly important.
Over time, the brain can slowly lose its skills at regulating hormone levels. As a result, older people who feel worried or anxious tend to produce larger amounts of stress hormones, and the alarm doesn’t shut down as quickly.
WOMEN AND STRESS
According to a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, women are especially susceptible to an overload of stress hormones as they age. The study found that the impact of age on cortisol levels is nearly three times stronger for women than for men.
The flow of stress hormones can be especially hard on older brains in general. According to a report from the University of California at San Francisco, extra cortisol over the years can damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s crucial for storing and retrieving memories. Several studies have found that high cortisol goes hand in hand with poor memory, so we might be able to chalk up certain “senior moments” to stress.”(3)
How Can We Combat Stress?
Some studies indicate that having multiple major life events in a year can create advanced aging. So in a case like mine where a parent passed, sick spouse and selling a home does that mean I will age faster?
I don’t think anyone can tell you for sure as aging is associated with many factors like genetics, environment and balanced lifestyle. You can offset some of the detrimental effects of stress with the help of friends, family, strong support networks, and strategies for coping with stress.
Reduce your NUTS!!
Yes, humor is great for reducing stress so, hopefully you're smiling now. Nagging Unfinished Tasks (NUT) are all the unfinished things we perceive or think about that just rent space on our brain and have an impact on our stress level.
Dr. Oz says they are “often very simple to fix but if you never get around to them, NUTs create a subtle underlying angst that can undermine your health.”
Author Jack Canfield calls them “messes and incomplete's” and says they “rob us of valuable attention units.”
This variety, these Nagging Unfinished Tasks, are most definitely NOT good for us. They cause not only mental stress, but eventual physical stress. Who needs ‘em?!
Well, unfortunately, I bet we all got ‘em. Those hanger-on projects, tasks, and to-do’s that just seem to never go away. They are those uninteresting, challenging, boring, tedious little things we simply don’t want to do.
So, how can you handle unfinished projects and move on to and make room for the things we DO want to do?
Here are some ideas:
Use a simple time management principle:
“Do it, Delegate it, Delay it, or Dump it”. The moment you’ve got a task in mind to add to your to-do’s, make a decision on what to do with it… right then and there. Maybe it doesn’t even need to go on the list.(4)
Have stress-reducing techniques on hand. Try meditation, humor or exercise. I love taking a drive and listening to music or going for a great foot massage. Find your comfort zone – a place, person or activity that brings you comfort.