Stress has proven to have a huge impact on the body and how it impacts the aging process. Yet, people can practice strategies to reduce the impact of stress, and even repair the damage previously done by prior stressful situations. Dr Elisa Epel has done quite a bit of research on the topic and she shares her knowledge through speaking engagements and books she has written.
Dr. Epel mentions retreats as a way to get drawn into an attitude that can help you break through to new behaviors and attitudes, and that result in dramatic transformations. After one of these retreat experiences we seem to be drawn into a way of being more stable that helps the new attitude become a way of life. This can impact the way we respond in our daily lives: how we respond when stuck in traffic, how we communicate with a teenager, or how we work through a difficulty with a partner. Eventually, this new way of communicating and interacting becomes a more consistent part of our daily experience.
Kindness, Consideration, and Gratitude
Dr Epel started by researching how thoughts and feelings impact our bodies and our health, the mind-body connection at its core. She mentions, specifically, kindness, consideration for others, and gratitude. She refers to kindness as an inner strength. On a daily basis she works to catch herself when she has become less aware of the words and actions she is using with others, and, then, improves upon those interactions. She also makes it a priority to be grateful for those things that are in her daily life. She says gratitude is a game-changer, and changes our perspective on entire life experiences. Waking up and realizing something we’re grateful for, or something we have to look forward to during the upcoming day, has more impact on us than previously realized.
The Impact of Chronic Stress
One of our body’s number one jobs is to protect the chromosomes and genes inside. While they are robust, we still need to take care of them; we want our DNA and genes to express health and youth, rather than aging before their time. The protection and communication systems at the end of each of our genes are called telomeres (think the plastic covers that protect the end of shoelaces). As seasons pass, telomeres shorten and become more frayed, and that’s when they become more susceptible to diseases associated with old age. Just being grumpy doesn’t do it, but trauma or constantly feeling negative toward another person can lead to shorter telomeres.
The body-stress response, or even just the anticipation of an upcoming stressful event, results in changes in blood pressure, nervous system, and hormones. These changes provide us with extra energy so we can cope with this new stressful situation. After the situation, this response will shut down; this is resilience. This is good! However, when the stress becomes chronic, none of this shuts off. When we stay in a stressed situation, when acute stress becomes chronic, that’s when we end up with a problem.
Even when a mild level of stress becomes constant, the damage begins; we need to learn how to bring that habit-level-of-tension down. Without a change the body can be damaged to the same degree as if one had a habit of smoking. The body is equipped to manage the acute-stress response when stress is experienced and then turns off, but having stress on a constant basis can lead to disease and earlier mortality.
What can you do to reduce daily pressures and help relieve chronic stress?
- Take walks in nature.
- Practice mindful breathing or mindful listening.
- Schedule time with friends for nothing other than good a time.
- Write down one or two things for which you are grateful each day, and have that list to reflect upon if you’re feeling sad or down.
- See how many random acts of kindness you can complete today.
- Smile and say a kind word to people you pass during the day today.
They’re really such small things to do, and nothing need cost one cent. But the benefits will be huge for you, and for others, too.