While a small amount of stress can be beneficial to your mental and physical health, too much can lead to anxiety, depression, and other health issues. It can also hasten the ageing process. If you don’t want to get old quickly, learning to be more stress-resilient is essential.
People who aren’t adept at controlling their stress have a 43 per cent increased risk of dying early, according to studies. The effect of stress on DNA could be part of the reason for the rise in mortality.
Genes that code for the building blocks (proteins) that make up your body are present in DNA, which is found in practically every cell (excluding red blood cells). The famed «double helix» of DNA is made up of two strands braided together. Your cells are continually replicating themselves, and when a cell splits, the two strands unravel and an exact copy of each is produced—at least most of the time.
During the replication process, mistakes can occur, especially at the ends of DNA strands. These errors can result in mutations in the replicated DNA, causing the cell to become malignant. Fortunately, at the ends of each DNA strand, cells have protective caps called telomeres that are meant to prevent these errors.
Telomere caps resemble bead sequences (telomeric repeats). Each time the cell divides, one bead of telomeric repeats is lost to the next generation. Unfortunately, each cell has a limited amount of these repeats, limiting the number of times it can replicate before the protective telomere caps dissolve. The Hayflick limit is the maximum number of cell divisions. When a cell hits the Hayflick limit (usually around 60 cell divisions), it self-destructs (safely). This is what ageing is all about.
Telomerase is a chemical found in several cells in the body, particularly immune cells that fight infection. Telomerase can restore the beads (telomeric repeats) in immune cells (as well as some other cells, such as malignant cells), reversing ageing in these cells. Telomerase can restore the beads, implying that ageing in the cells in question can be reversed.
This makes sense because immune cells must duplicate multiple times in order to combat viruses and germs. They would hit their Hayflick limit and disappear without telomerase, leaving organisms vulnerable. Unfortunately, when people reach their 80s and lose their immune cells due to age, even telomerase stops operating correctly.
It’s not altogether out of your hands.
Telomere loss is linked to smoking, excessive alcohol usage, being overweight, and stress. When a person is under a lot of stress, telomerase doesn’t perform as well, which leads to premature ageing.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a plant-based diet, can help to slow or even reverse the progression of the disease. In addition, physical activity, particularly intensive exercise, can boost telomerase activity. As a result, living a healthy lifestyle and managing stress can both slow down the ageing process.
As previously stated, not all stress is negative. We distinguish between «eustress» (good stress), which is required for us to excel at work, in sports, and in relationships, and «distress» (bad stress), which occurs when the pressure becomes too much for us to handle. Distress is what most of us mean when we say or feel stressed, and it’s also what could hasten cellular ageing.
So you don’t need to shield yourself against all types of stress; only the kind that lasts a long time is constant and hinders you from living your life to the fullest.
Stress resilience is linked to longer telomeres when people embrace stressful experiences and use coping methods like requesting aid from friends or becoming resourceful when faced with challenges. Reappraising an anxiety-provoking event, such as accepting a public speaking engagement, as exhilarating can also aid in stress management. These approaches can help you prevent eustress from turning into discomfort and improve your stress resilience.
The ability to bounce back from hardship and become resistant to daily challenges is referred to as resilience. Mindfulness can help you become more resistant to daily pressures, in addition to problem-solving, social support, and effective use of coping mechanisms.
Other strategies include activities like reading a book, listening to music, or playing a computer game that increases your happy emotions. Positive emotions enlarge your thinking, allowing you to recognize and draw on your psychological, intellectual, and social resources, which is especially useful while dealing with adversity.
We don’t know if these psychological techniques alter telomeres, and thus the ageing process. However, stress appears to have a detrimental impact on telomere length and telomerase activity in your cells, whereas stress management appears to have a good impact.
So, if there are any lifestyle modifications that will help you develop stress resistance, you should make them. They won’t make you live as long as an Arctic shark, but they might give you a few extra years.