Chronic stress has been shown to be linked to higher risks of such diseases as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental illness. However, in addition to these diseases, there is growing evidence that chronic stress in fact shortens one’s lifespan irrespective of any disease risk.
Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, have a discovered a link between constant anxiety and lower levels of a hormone that regulates aging and lifespan termed klotho. Klotho is demonstrated to help strengthen arteries, protect against cognitive decline and improve bone density — all factors needed for aging well.
Anxiety and chronic stress result in physical and emotional responses that increase heart rate, precipitate heart attack, produce poor concentration, bring about sleeping problems and mood issues. Although moderate levels of stress result in us moving forward in our goals and result in positive activities, chronic anxiety is negative and life- limiting.
There are many activities that you can undertake to ensure that you don’t let stress get the upper hand. Inconsistent sleep patterns not only affect one’s physical health but also can turn into a vicious cycle of stress, causing poor sleep and poor sleep exacerbating the stress levels. I’ve written a number of times on the value of sleep hygiene and the importance of getting a good solid 7-9 hours of sleep a night. There is no substitute for sound rest, so make it a priority.
Smiling, laughing and expressing gratitude may seem like “airy fairy” ways of combating stress, but significant research has demonstrated that those with positive attitudes, those who appreciate the good in their lives and who have good senses of humor combat stress better. Find something funny on the internet and laugh out loud. It is a great anxiety breaker. Surround yourself with positive sayings, positive people and positive affirmations. Get some play time into your life.
Go for a nice long relaxing walk, play with a dog or a child, and just be in the moment. Don’t fret about the future or the negative things in your life. You can think yourself less stressed.
Eating right can make a huge difference in your anxiety level as well. In fact, eating junk can increase your anxiety because your body becomes more acidic from junk food and that raises your level of irritability. Although it is tempting to reach for the sugar, it is the worst choice possible. Vitamin B (the gamut) and Omega 3 fatty acids are known to combat stress and depression. Fatty fish have Omega 3 s and Vitamin B abounds in plant sources. Whole grains help your body produce serotonin that helps induce a feeling of calm.
Breathing deeply and meditation are proven relaxation methods that people have been using for thousands of years.
Short shallow breaths signify stress, and actually induce more stress as one doesn’t clear the carbon dioxide from the blood well with short shallow breaths. This leads again to a build-up of acid in the blood, whereas long slow deep breaths as used in meditation or yoga fill the body with oxygen and normalize the blood pH level.
By opening up the ribcage and breathing deeply, you also let your organs and posture normalize into a healthy position. In yoga or meditation, frequently part of the goal is to appreciate silence. Disconnect from the TV, the phone, the internet, the nasty news, and just be silent and in the moment.
Being with like-minded people who are also interested in positive and stress reducing interaction is in itself a benefit. Socializing in a positive way produces an anxiety reducing hormone called oxytocin.
Creating a vision board with happy and carefree goals on it as a reminder to enjoy life and not be overwhelmed with anxiety is a very effective way of dealing with stress.
Putting up a vision of a trip that you would like to take, or a new car or home that you would like, and then dreaming about how nice that will be is a better way of achieving goals than stressing about how you are going to achieve them. Goals are great — achieving them should be fun, not stressful.
Sometimes we get stressed out because we are unorganized. Clutter and dirt in our surroundings can add to the messiness of our thoughts. Clean up your surroundings and develop habits that help you maintain a stress-less environment. Instead of frantically searching around for your keys when you are already late, always puts your keys in the same handy place so you know where to find them. Plan your good nutritious meals ahead so you are always fed well. Plan your activities so that you get the sleep you need and schedule in some “you” time to exercise, meditate and dream. It just takes some organization and your life can be long and much less stressful.
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD, is a certified personal trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com, (808) 212-8119, www.janerileyfitness.com.