Stress strikes at any age – from a squalling baby to the crabbiest elder. Everyone knows that as we get older, we go through a lot of physical changes. But not everyone knows that aging can exacerbate stress. It somewhat explains the stereotype of a grumpy old guy or cranky old lady – but you don’t have to fit that mold.
How Does Aging Affect Stress Levels?
As we age, our bodies start to break down – that includes our natural defenses against stress and stressful situations. To put it simply, your body just can’t handle stress the way it used to in a very physical sense. Your body has a harder time coming back from stressful situations. Your lungs and heart already don’t have the capacity they used to, and stress doesn’t help either of them out.
We also have a harder time processing and coping with stress mentally. Of course, a good night’s sleep will help reduce and overcome stress, but aging typically means sleeping all through the night is a thing of the past. A lack of sleep can mean that you end up with a brain full of stress hormones.
What’s worse is that stress can lead to a misdiagnosis such as dementia or memory loss. It can also bring on trouble concentrating, irritability, anxiety, headaches, and even appetite changes. None of which are fun to deal with even in our younger years, but are especially troublesome later in life.
A Burst of Trouble
Your brain will send out chemicals that can be harmful long-term when you’re under stress. Usually, your brain will send out signals once the issue is resolved, or as we get used to them. As we get older, however, the combination of an overload of these chemicals coupled with our brain’s inability to regulate hormones as effectively can end up causing some really bad side effects.
“Stress can cause lower testosterone levels and then turn into a vicious cycle — the lower testosterone level can cause stress, which can cause testosterone numbers to drop even lower,” says S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologist and medical director of Urology Specialists in Los Angeles.
On the flip side, managing your stress levels can help improve the signs and symptoms of low testosterone. “Lowering stress can help improve sexual function, decrease moodiness, and help men sleep better,” says Gregory Lowe, MD, a urologist at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus.
A Ticking Time Bomb
Stress doesn’t just lead to mental and physical problems, it can make you look, feel, and even ‘be’ older. Studies have suggested that living a stressful lifestyle can age your body’s immune system cells by 10 years. This can not just cut down on the lifespan of your cells, it cuts down on the lifespan you have.
You Can Avoid the Stereotype
Whether you started a more healthy, happy lifestyle decades ago, or you want to start today, living a good life will help to reduce stress levels and keep your mind and body able to deal with stress better.
Plenty of research has shown that staying in touch and close with your friends and family can help you to both alleviate stress, as well as help your mind and body respond to stress more easily.
You’ll also want to stay active and get plenty of exercise. Activity doesn’t necessarily equate to exercise. Going out with friends to get tea or grab lunch, going to classes and hobby stores, even just going out grocery shopping are all great ways to stay active.
There are lots of senior-friendly yoga and exercise programs, classes, and clubs out there now, meaning that exercising has never been easier. If you’re worried about pain and joint problems, you can look into low-impact exercises like swimming or exercising in water.
You might want to talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise routine just to make sure there aren’t any clashes with medication or past procedures.
Find Healthy Ways to Handle Stress
Having hobbies, eustress activities like running and swimming, and even keeping a journal or writing out your problems and worries can all be great ways to handle stress. It gives your brain and body something better to focus on, and writing out your thoughts can help you find both why the issue is stressing you out, as well as what you might be able to do about it.
A lot of people and studies have suggested that proper stress management is the true “fountain of youth”, because it can help you look and feel better. It can also help you to retain your mind and be happier in general for longer.
And heck – if you’re skeptical, just keep in mind that even if it doesn’t work out for you, you might just end up a little happier and healthier anyway!