Stress is a strange beast and its nature is often the problem with recognizing any problems from it. We all need stress to survive as human beings. This ‘fight and flight’ response of the body is there to prepare us for enhanced responses to any danger signals or situations.
In small amounts it does us no or little harm whatsoever. In fact for many of us it is essential to help us get motivated or to really push to meet those challenges life has a tendency to put in front of us at times.
How Stress Works
How ‘stress’ actually works, will give an indication of its importance, and also of its dangerous possibilities if not controlled.
The whole stress response is coordinated through the nervous system and the brain. Upon receiving a threat trigger, the brain authorizes the release of two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. The effect is to accelerate or ‘overclock’ a whole range of bodily and metabolic functions. This includes faster breathing, increased heart rate, increased perception through the senses, a significant rise in blood pressure and the readying of the muscles for action.
Of course the object is to prepare your body for sudden and decisive actions by increasing strength, speed and sensory skills, even if only temporarily. This is a benefit to our bodies on an infrequent basis much as it was to our ancestors who used this stress response to try to escape a predator or some dangerous situation.
However, these days modern man usually doesn’t have to escape some predator. Unfortunately there are many things in our everyday lives that still provide that trigger that gets our systems reacting. For many people that trigger gets tripped weekly or even daily which is not what was intended for this system.
Where we are constantly under stress, or where we are suffering heightened stress levels in later life, problems are sure to arise.
Stress and Aging
The challenge for older adults is two-fold. Avoiding the effects of too much stress on the older body and dealing with new areas of concern that may actually trigger stressful situations.
Thankfully more studies are now in place for us to examine more closely the stress effects in the relevant age groupings. Generally older members of the population find it easier to deal with the normal stresses and strains of life that they are familiar with, perhaps borne of the experience of years. But on the flip side, they now are having to cope with a new set of circumstances which may trigger excessive stress.
Stress triggers in older adults are often linked to major health problems, such as coronary disease, diabetes and arthritis, along with high blood pressure. Alongside these are emotional and cognitive situations like a dissatisfaction with life as a whole, including frustrations over any disability or mobility restrictions, other disabilities, facing up to retirement, caring for a partner or other family member, being forced to move to specialized accommodation or other major lifestyle changes. You can, of course, add in a whole new set of economic and financial worries.
Chronic stress in younger life can cause some lasting and major damage to health, welfare, emotional state, relationships and your whole life experience. It affects almost every bodily system. It can dangerously raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and strokes and can even re-program the brain and emotion responses and capabilities. This could lead to depression, anxiety, memory loss and generally speeds up aging itself.
It is these aspects that are of concern to older adults, especially if they already have pre-existing medical conditions. As we age, our bodies are less able to cope with the strains that stress can bring and some of the more serious consequences become statistically more likely to occur.
Alzheimer’s disease is a good case in point. It is thought that it is closely linked to the destruction of brains cells by an excess of the hormone cortisol, which is released by the body during stressful episodes. It is hypothesized that as we get older, we are less able to properly regulate bodily systems as efficiently as before. It is said that they become dysregulated.
We find it harder to shut them down as fast and so in this case the cortisol levels go too high, stay higher for a lot longer and then don’t reduce as fast, causing the brain cell destruction. The aggregate effect of this over-stressing of a body over a lifetime can increase Alzheimer’s risk.
So as we get older, it becomes more important to learn how to identify symptoms of stress as it occurs and to deal with them quickly. Stress relief for older adults is of prime importance for their continued well-being into old age.
There are a variety of stress relief treatments and techniques that are very adaptable to individual circumstances. Some rely on common sense and others on new ways of thinking. But, the general theme is either to lead a less stressful life generally as a preventative treatment or to know how to identify and deal with too much stress when it occurs.
A healthy diet is one way to reduce both stress and its effects. Alcohol has clearly been shown not to reduce stress, and in fact drinking it as a stress response may lead to further problems of dependency. Recent studies also suggest that alcohol can actually trigger stress by activating the brain to release the ‘stress’ hormones.
Having a healthy diet also ensures that your body and mind are in the best shape to deal with what life throws at us during any stressful periods. This has a knock on effect in that if you feel healthier and fitter there is less chance of being anxious over your health in the first place.
A second way to approach stress is by one of the raft of relaxation techniques available. There are a whole host of techniques and programs available which will be discussed in more details in follow on articles in this category.
The core techniques of these really are deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, mild rhythmic exercise, meditation and yoga. It really is the object, not only to relax the body, but to learn to relax your mind and thoughts as well, to bring them back under control.
Exercise is the third great stress relief area that is proven. Now this could be as simple as a vigorous stroll everyday, through Tai Chi, all the way up to cycling and even distance running. Obviously it will depend upon your own circumstances, but there is usually some type of exercise that can be done in one shape or form to help bring on stress relief.
Stress and its aging effect on the human body is more complicated than can be covered in one article. And we haven’t covered the damage done by oxidative stress yet. Suffice it to say, that stress ages you and does very little to help you live longer (except in the case where you face a predator). We need to learn more about stress and what we can do to fight its on-going effects with different anti-aging remedies.