Stress is an inevitable aspect of life. A wide range of internal or external factors may trigger stress affecting mood, self-esteem, sense of well-being, behavior and physical health. A certain amount of stress is part of a normal life. However, if it persists it is a matter of concern.
If left unchecked, what might start as a short-term frustration could eventually progress to a long-term agony. Some life-threatening effects of long-term stress are hypertension, obesity, cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
Life span is linked to DNA
Recent studies have shown that prolonged exposure to interminable stress in life can result in severe damage to crucial parts of the DNA, which in turn may lower an individual’s average life expectancy. Those experiencing chronic levels of stress run the risk of shortened telomeres, which are cap-like structures at the end of each strand of DNA to protect the chromosomes. The resulting damage inflicted on these telomeres causes errors in the way DNA instructs cells to behave. Hence, their length is directly linked to life expectancy.
One of the major outcomes of eroded and shortened telomeres is a higher risk for genetic mutations in otherwise healthy cells and genes. Such an unusual rupture of the genetic code increases an individual’s susceptibility to cancer and many other life-shortening diseases along with an overall poor physical and mental health. In addition, repeated stress also interferes with the body’s immune system. With a compromised immune system, the vulnerability to a variety of infections increases, making it difficult for the body to combat diseases, including cancer.
Depending on individual coping strategies, genetic predispositions and overall health conditions, there is sufficient research-based evidence to prove that accumulated stress coupled with fluctuating mood swings can actually reduce the life span by as much as four to eight years.
Handling stress effectively is the key
According to the findings of a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), the nationwide average stress levels are on the rise since 2014. Here are some ways to reduce stress in both the short- as well as long-term:
- Participating in physical activity: Doing exercises, such as brisk walking, running, dancing or yoga, on a regular basis can metabolize the excessive stress hormones in the body.
- Seeking social support: Talking is an outlet to release the piled-up emotions and tensions. Sharing one’s feelings with others can help reduce stress to a certain extent.
- Finding time to laugh: As the saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine,” it certainly helps alleviate some of the stress as the brain is linked to emotions and facial expressions.
- Taking control of situations: Learning newer strategies to find solutions to the problems that may seem unsolvable on the surface can lower a lot of stress.
- Practicing meditation: Practicing some form of mindfulness can help the body release many stress-related negative emotions and relax.
Any kind of stress can make life hell. But there is hope, provided the symptoms are not ignored and acted upon at the right time. Medication and support can go a long way in changing negative thought patterns that develop as a result of stress for anybody suffering from any sort of mental health problem. But when it comes to patients with a prolonged stressful condition, recovery may take a little longer time than usual.