Can mental health issues such as stress and anxiety have an effect on the aging process? This is a common question that many people have. As it turns out, taking a deep breath to relieve stress and anxiety will not only help you to relax, it could also prevent you from aging faster than you should. A new study, published in PLoS ONE found that phobic anxiety, which is a chronic mental health condition, can trigger cell damage leading to premature aging. Phobic anxiety is a common psychological stress disorder that many people experience. Learning how to manage stress and anxiety could play a key role in preventing premature aging among many other health benefits.
Researchers studied blood samples of over 5,200 women aged 42-69 years and analyzed questionnaires that the participants had filled out regarding their phobias and anxiety. The results showed that individuals who had higher anxiety levels had significantly shorter telomere lengths. Telomeres are at the ends of chromosomes and they help to protect the genetic material carried in chromosomes from being damaged. Telomeres are considered markers for both biological and cellular aging. Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and death. The difference in telomere length that was seen in women who reported high anxiety levels was equivalent to an additional six years of aging! The researchers point out that this study does not show a cause and effect relationship; it does not show what came first – the anxiety and stress or the shorter telomere length. Future research should investigate the relationship between stress and anxiety and telomere length change to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship.
Learning how to manage your stress levels will help to protect your mental health and may even prevent premature aging. There are a number of effective strategies to help you cope with stress and anxiety, and improve your mental health, including:
1. Exercise – physical activity will help to promote overall health and well-being and will help you to manage emotional stress and anxiety. Physical activity will also help to promote good sleep habits which can also help to decrease stress levels.
2. Relaxation and meditation – there are many different techniques that can be utilized to help manage stress and improve your mental health. Some of the techniques that can be performed in a class setting or on your own include: yoga, thai chi, progressive muscle relaxation, transcendental meditation, imagery, and biofeedback among others.
3. Stay connected to the ones you love – people that have strong relationships with family, friends and neighbors tend to have lower physical and emotional stress than those without strong social connections.
If you find that you are not able to manage your stress levels on your own, speak to your doctor. They may recommend counseling to help improve your mental health. Maintaining good mental health will help you to enjoy life to the fullest and may even help prevent premature aging.