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The hidden side effects of stress

Centr x Lifespan.io

Centr has partnered with Lifespan.io, a nonprofit leader in longevity science journalism and advocacy, to bring you the latest research on aging and rejuvenation. Learn more about our partnership below.

If you’re asking yourself “Can stress make you sick?”, you’ve probably already got a hunch that your stress levels are affecting your health.

While brief bouts of stress can be shaken off, longer periods can really knock your physical and mental health around. And if you start to think about how stress affects your health in the long term, you might be asking yourself if there’s a connection between stress and aging.

What we are beginning to understand is that not all stress is equal, and some of it can even be beneficial. If you want to live healthier and for longer, it’s time to take all stress seriously.

Chris Hemsworth sits on the front porch in sunny Byron Bay.

Positive self-talk could improve your ability to cope with stress. Join Chris for a meditation to harness the power of positivity.

Does stress age you?

The connection between stress and aging is complex.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘biological age’. Rather than counting the candles on your birthday cake, your biological age adds up how healthy (or not) your body is. For example, a 42-year-old who smokes may have a higher biological age than a 42-year-old non-smoker.

While we know a lot about the ways poor health and lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity can impact biological aging, some experts believe that mental stressors should be factored into longevity research, too.

How could stress impact longevity?

  • One study found that high-effort, low-reward jobs are associated with high blood pressure, irregular heart rate and metabolic issues. (We can hear you nodding furiously in agreement.)
  • Another study showed that heart disease patients with depression are more likely to experience slow recovery and early death. On the flip side, more optimistic heart disease patients have fewer cardiac events and lower mortality.
  • There’s evidence that chronic stress can accelerate aging by shaping poor habits. Think overeating due to stress, or finding it difficult to quit smoking.
  • Then there are the physical consequences of the stress hormone, cortisol. When too much cortisol is racing around your body, it can break down muscle mass and mess with your sleep. There go those gains.

Centr Trainer Luke Zocchi screams in frustration.

Does your job make you look like this? Take our quiz to find out how work stress is affecting your health.

Good stress vs bad stress

All stress doesn’t have to be bad. While chronic stress can negatively affect your body and mind, short bursts of controlled stress can actually build up your tolerance.

Exercise is the most obvious example of good stress: spiking your heart rate and putting your muscles under tension to build strength and endurance. But there’s also evidence that the heat shock of saunas causes your cells to go into defensive mode, cleaning out harmful waste and building up resilience for any future stress.

Stress expert Professor Elissa Epel, director of the Aging, Metabolism and Emotion Center at the University of California, believes that the mind can benefit from acute stress, too – learning and adapting through “novel challenging experiences”. In other words: getting outside of your comfort zone.

How to build your stress resilience

Stress resilience is the ability to adapt, respond and recover quickly after a stressful experience. Here are 5 ways to build your stress resilience for a potentially longer, healthier life.

1. Harness your stress response
What if you switched your mindset and embraced stress to use it to your advantage?

For instance, you might reframe stress sensations like sweaty palms or your heart racing as anticipation for a big challenge. Or you could acknowledge your stress, rather than trying to avoid it, helping you to be less reactive.

Research from Stanford University shows that “viewing stress more positively” helps people to cope and thrive. Stress has physiological impacts, as hormones send out distress signals alerting your body to prepare for danger. Like an athlete, you can learn to funnel that rush of energy into your performance.

2. Use exercise as a stress vaccine
Exercise is one of the most well-known ways of building stress resilience – professor Epel has compared it to a stress vaccine.

Exercise appears to change the chemistry of the brain itself over time, helping you to stay calm and unbothered, and also trains your body to adapt and respond to stressful situations.

3. Social support and strong networks
Strong social connections are key to bolstering your health and longevity. If this is something you struggle with, think about ways you can give back in your local community.

For instance, people who volunteer are less likely to develop high blood pressure, have lower levels of depression and enjoy higher self-worth.

4. Time travel for perspective
The things that stress us can feel huge in the moment. But in her book The Stress Prescription, Professor Epel recommends zooming into the future and asking yourself: “How much will it affect me in a week? A month? A year? A decade?”

When viewed in the bigger picture, everyday stressors can begin to seem a lot less overwhelming.

5. Breathe in for your baseline
Guided meditation and controlled breathing can each help build up your baseline resistance to stress, as well as giving you the mental space you need to respond rationally.

Disclaimer: This Centr content is adapted with permission from an article written by Lifespan.io. The content herein represents Centr’s interpretation of the original source material.

Centr x Lifespan.io

Centr has partnered with Lifespan.io to bring you the latest in longevity research. Lifespan.io is the leading source of industry news and a nonprofit advocacy foundation whose mission is to accelerate progress toward overcoming age-related diseases. Since 2014, the organization has focused on responsible journalism, high-impact advocacy, and media initiatives that make longevity research and education more accessible to all.

Centr x Lifespan.io

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