Unfortunately, stress happens to everyone at some point in their lives. Stress and aging are both normal aspects of life. Stressful conditions may not have as much of an impact on our bodies and minds when we’re young and robust. However, as we age, the body’s natural defenses progressively start to deteriorate, making it harder to handle stress and worry.
One may argue that growing older itself can be stressful: dealing with a loved one’s passing, preparing for possible reductions in health and independence, and long-term unemployment can all be especially confusing.
Fortunately, there are a number of methods you (or an elderly loved one) can manage stress and make the most of senior living. Continue reading to find out more about how stress affects aging and how to control stress to age gracefully.
What Takes Place in the Body During Stress?
The neurological system tells our bodies to release stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol when we feel under strain. To help us deal with the threat or danger we perceive to be approaching us, these cause physiological changes. The phrase “fight-or-flight” or the “stress reaction” are both used to describe this.
Since the stress response keeps us attentive, engaged, and focused on the task at hand, stress can really be beneficial. Usually, as soon as the pressure eases, the body finds its proper equilibrium and we begin to feel calm once more. However, issues will arise when stress occurs too frequently, lasts too long, or when the unpleasant emotions outweigh our capacity for coping. The body ages faster when the nervous system is constantly activated due to the “stress reaction.”
The capacity of the brain to control the amounts of stress hormones declines with time. This causes both hormonal imbalances and higher stress levels in older persons in addition to contributing to hormonal abnormalities. Chronic stress increases a person’s propensity to lead an unhealthy lifestyle, which leads to more health issues. Putting it another way, stress speeds up aging and aging speeds up stress.
There are heart-related consequences. Heart rate and blood pressure rise during acute stress (in the moment), but when the acute stress has passed, they return to normal. Acute stress can harm blood vessels and arteries if it is repeatedly encountered or if it develops into chronic stress (over time). Heart attack, stroke, and hypertension risk are all increased by this.
Our immune systems are severely damaged by stress. We become more vulnerable to infections and long-term inflammatory diseases as a result of cortisol’s suppression of the immune system and inflammatory pathways in our bodies. We have less capacity to fend off disease.
Endocrine system issues are also present. This system is crucial in controlling functions like mood, metabolism, tissue function, growth and development, and reproduction. It has an impact on our metabolism. The brain region known as the hypothalamus is important for bridging the endocrine and neurological systems. The liver produces blood sugar (glucose) to provide you energy to deal with the stressful circumstances when the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released in response to signals from the brain. When the stress subsides, the majority of people reabsorb the additional blood sugar, but for some people, the risk of developing diabetes is higher.
Furthermore impacted is the musculoskeletal system. Our muscles stiffen up as a natural defense mechanism against harm and discomfort. Body aches and pains can be brought on by persistent muscle stress, and tension headaches and migraines may develop when it affects the shoulders, neck, and head.
Stress has a biological impact on the body as well. Over time, telomeres, which serve as protective “caps” on the ends of DNA chromosomes, will inevitably wear down. However, scientists have discovered that when the body is under stress, the process might quicken. Telomeres that are too short no longer provide sufficient protection for the cells.
Stress And The Mind
Stress significantly impacts our emotional health. In our daily lives, it is common to experience highs and lows in mood, but when we are stressed, we may feel more exhausted, experience mood swings, or become angrier than usual.
Hyperarousal, which is brought on by stress, can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep and cause restless nights. This affects memory, learning, concentration, and attention—all of which are crucial during exam season. Poor sleep has been linked by researchers to long-term health issues, depression, and even obesity.
Our health is furthermore and indirectly affected by how we handle stress. When under stress, people may develop more dangerous habits, such as smoking, binge drinking, or using medications to relax. However, these actions are inappropriate adaptations that simply exacerbate existing health issues and put our personal safety and wellbeing at danger.