Experts say that stress, anxiety, and depression can accelerate aging due to the changes they cause in the body. The number of tasks we are involved in increases every day, so it can be common for many people to not take proper care of their mental health.
Stress is the second cause of sick leave in the world and is one of the major causes of premature aging, therefore it is worth knowing the characteristics of this disease, as well as the strategies to prevent it.
What is stress?
It is a set of symptoms characterized by the presence of marked mental fatigue. It is generally caused by the demand for higher than usual performance. The stress situation can be acute or chronic, that is, a specific situation or sustained over time.
In the workplace, the factors that most influence its appearance are the following:
- Disproportionate relationship between job demands and time to complete them
- Low ability to control decision-making by the worker
- Inadequate correlation between worker effort and reward
Consequences of stress
The consequences of stress vary depending on a multitude of factors that influence the worker’s ability to cope: lifestyle, coping ability, tolerance for frustration, etc. In general, the consequences can be summarized as follows:
- Physical: deterioration in the functioning of the organism caused by aging, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, dermatological, muscular disorders, and in the immune system.
- Psychological: excessive worry, inability to make decisions, feeling confused, difficulty concentrating, frequent forgetfulness, low mood, irritability, anxiety disorders, decreased creativity, etc.
In short, stress directly affects the quality of life and mental health, in addition to providing the necessary conditions for our body to be affected by the acceleration of aging.
Is it true that stress accelerates aging?
In the last decade, the relationship between stress and aging has been the object of study of numerous investigations in the field of medicine and psychology, since nowadays much importance is attached to the prevention of certain aspects of aging. Many investigations have linked stress to serious diseases, especially heart diseases, which are, in turn, one of the main causes of mortality.
Stress produces hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that are beneficial in emergencies but, continuously or chronically, can cause or aggravate other diseases such as those mentioned above (gastrointestinal, respiratory, cardiac diseases …). Elevated cortisol levels for a long time can cause damage to cells in the hippocampus due to the acceleration of cellular aging processes, which can affect memory.
Stress can also weaken the immune system. Also, cortisol counteracts insulin, thus increasing the chances of diabetes.
Therefore, given that stress has a negative influence on health, weakening a large part of the systems and apparatus of the human body, it can be said that it is closely related to premature aging.
How can stress accelerate aging?
The impression is not misleading: stress ages you. A study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered a cellular mechanism that appears to be responsible.
They compared the immune cells in the blood of mothers of children with chronic diseases with those of mothers of healthy children. The focus was on the telomeres. Telomeres are sections of DNA interwoven with proteins found at the ends of our chromosomes and are markers of aging. The shorter the telomeres, the more advanced the aging process. Studies have shown that stress can speed up the telomere shortening process, which means it can speed up the aging process.
Can depression age you?
People with depression smoke and drink more alcohol than others, exercise less and are therefore often overweight (which some antidepressants promote even more). These risk characteristics were also found in many patients with major depression, whose blood was tested by Josine Verhoeven of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.
Smoking, alcohol, and a sedentary lifestyle may not be the only areas in which people with depression neglect their health. Stress and suicidal behavior are other factors that are not so easily measured, and that can also affect people’s quality of life by accelerating the processes of cellular aging.
Depression is an accelerator of the aging processes. A new study conducted at the universities of Amsterdam and California shows us that major depression can accelerate the aging process. How?
It all starts at the telomeres
To analyze how major depressive disorder affects aging at the cellular level, the researchers took blood samples from more than 2,400 people, a third of whom suffered from depression, the team looked for signs of aging of cells by measuring the size of telomeres of the participants.
Telomeres are like a kind of protective cap found at the ends of chromosomes. These combinations of proteins and DNA keep the chromosomes stable but the problem is that they get shorter as the cell divides.
The shorter the telomeres, the more the structural integrity of the chromosomes is affected and the cells age faster until they die.
What was interesting was that depressed people had much shorter telomeres than people who had never suffered from depression. The analyzes showed that the more severe and long the depressive picture was, the shorter the telomeres were.
At this point, the question is: why does depression make cells age faster?
Researchers think that depression affects the regulation of the immune response of our body, which causes an increase in inflammation, which would be responsible for the damage to cells and the shortening of telomeres.
How to improve our mental health and delay aging?
These are some of the habits that we should include in our lifestyle to prevent stress:
Diet is one of the main factors that must be respected and taken care of to lead a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet helps maintain proper health, both physical and psychological.
Performing physical exercise, in addition to helping to prevent physical aging, helps to release tension, reduce stress and anxiety.
Getting enough sleep is essential for proper mental health. A good rest helps to better cope with day-to-day problems and, therefore, prevents symptoms of stress.
It is convenient to assess the progress and execution of the tasks that are developed so that when something has been completed, we should be able to congratulate ourselves on it. On the other hand, we must also accept the mistakes made and rectify them without thoughts of guilt.