There is considerable discourse these days about longevity and its correlation to how we manage stress. Stress seems like a conditional part of day-to-day living. It is natural to have intermittent tension in life, yet incessant stress seems the new norm and ultimately creates risks for health decline.
When chronic stress elevates, we find ourselves in a rumination loop where cortisol levels remain high. When this happens, the body is never allowed time to recover, and the damage that ensues starts at our chromosomes. There is an enzyme at the end of our chromosomes preserving our telomeres, the caps protecting DNA. When telomeres no longer protect chromosomes, they become too short. This poses a threat for cells which stop dividing and disease can creep in.
When our adrenaline is constantly pumping, it manifests in a weakened immune system and various health issues. Heart disease, memory loss, vision loss and an aftermath of unhealthy choices unfold. How do we stop this cycle? We can learn from the behavior of our elders. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”
Upon speaking to my 90-year-old mother about this topic, she reflected on a self-preservation hypothesis as to why our elders might sometimes exhibit intolerance. Often there is a stigma about older people showing restriction and short response in communication. We may refer to such a person as a curmudgeon. However, the behavior might not be just grumpiness. Older people do not want to be bothered with stress and have learned a preservation mechanism for filtering stress by being somewhat curt. Studies show our happiness and experience of stress lessens as we age. One study found that centenarians reported using three coping strategies to deal with adversity: acceptance, not worrying and taking things one day at a time.
As we navigate adulthood, we spend time trying to fix others or change situations, putting the brain under undue stress. There is both self-inflicted and externally imposed stress and knowing our role to navigate stress reduction is imperative. If it requires cultivating some curmudgeon approaches towards allowing stress in, then perhaps we should adopt this lesson from our elders.
For a large segment of the population, personal finances are a leading cause of stress. Approximately 4 in 5 Americans are stressed about the cost of living. This stress can cascade to affect mental health, physical health and even our relationships. These are weighty issues and there is no perfect solution, yet what we choose to do on a moment-by-moment basis either helps or hinders our stress reduction.
Choose purpose driven intention, connect with others and take self-care. Working in a charity role may provide an immediate surge of well-being and these small wins produce positive modifications in our brain.
As we enter the third act of life, we can cause others less stress, take in less stress for ourselves and know that our health and life span depend on this self-preservation.