How to De-Stress and Live Longer

Numerous studies have shown that your health is greatly affected by how you react to stressful events in life. By the same token, changing your reactions and committing to a positive attitude towards life can help you live a longer and improved quality of life.

More than half a century ago, Dr. Hans Selye recognized the mid-body connection involved with stress, as all of his patients had similar physiological and psychological characteristics, two of which were loss of appetite and increased blood pressure.

Further studies found that rats exhibited these same physiological responses when they were put under stress. Selye concluded that stress is “the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it.”

According to Selye, it’s not stress itself that harms us, but the distress it causes. In other words, where stress becomes negative is in our responses to it.

Chronic negative stress has now been shown to lead to a number of medical problems, including anxiety, depression, headaches, allergies, ulcers and heart disease. In the long-run, negative responses to stress can wear down the immune system and ultimately cause diseases, such as cancer, that are traditionally otherwise associated with aging.

In fact, elevated levels of cortisol, found in conditions of chronic stress, is found two to seven days before death. High cortisol levels are associated with many of the degenerative diseases of aging, including hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.  Elevated cortisol is also linked to some degree to obesity.

There are a number of ways in which we each can combat the destructive effects of a negative response to stress. Consider adopting  the following 25 long-term habits and practices that can generally lower the level of stress in your life.

1. Get a regular medical checkup. Not only can checkups be comforting if the doctor confirms that you’re in good health, but they are also an indispensable method of preventing any minor health problems from becoming worse. Your annual life-extension physical exam should be thorough and inclusive, paying particular attention to the very early detection of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and metabolic disorders.

2. Tie the knot! Studies show that married people are healthier than single people. In fact, married people have been reported to reduce their risk of illness, accidents and death by up to 50 percent.

3. Take a siesta – that is, a short nap. These 20- to 30-minute naps are best taken at midday, since it’s at this time that the body’s metabolism is at its lowest. Taking afternoon naps also fits in with your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

4. Don’t ever assume that your children’s success or failure is completely the result of your parental influence. By not accepting our children for who they are, a stressful burden is placed not only on you as a parent but also on the entire family unit.

5. Spend high-quality time with friends. Social relationships are not only fun; they’re necessary for good mental health as well. When our internal resources are depleted, the comfort of close friends can help lessen our worries and burdens.

6. Become more spiritual, either through an organized religion or through your own personal meditations. People who are affiliated with religious or spiritual groups are usually tapped into three powerful stress reducers: forgiveness, hope and understanding.

7. Adopt a pet. Various studies have shown that pet owners live not only longer lives, but happier, more fulfilled ones as well, and like human friends, a pet can show devotion and bring necessary companionship, closeness and comfort to anyone’s life.

8. Take up a hobby or develop a new interest. If you truly enjoy doing something, stress will evaporate on its own.

9. Use of time-management techniques. A daily planner or a daily list of “things to do” is not only productive but can relieve stress as well. By listing what we need to accomplish, we reduce our risk of trying to do too many things at once, thus burning ourselves out physically and mentally.

10. Examine your surroundings. If you feel the source of your stress is coming from where you live – for example, a major city or urban area – you might want to consider moving to a calmer, quieter place of residence. However, if moving is not an option, perhaps forming a closer sense of community with your neighbors may help ease some of the stresses related to your living situation.

11. Think outside the box. Sometimes something as simple as a mere change in the way we think about things can help reduce stress in our lives. For example, start looking at your commute to work – be it by train, plane or automobile – as an opportunity to relax, reflect, prepare or meditate, rather than an aggravation.

12. Keep a careful check on your finances. Money, whether we have too little or too much, can become a huge emotional strain. Be prudent and smart. Try to realize that you have value and quality as a human being. More important, the quality of your life is not determined by how much money you have. Ultimately, material items become a burden, and many wealthy people find they are slaves to their possessions.

13. Practice the art of meditation and relaxation. Studies have shown that people who take time out of the day to devote to these activities have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.

14. Smile! Scientists have actually discovered a connection between the facial muscles used when smiling and an area of the brain that releases “feel-good” neurochemicals.

15. Communicate clearly. By improving your communication skills, you not only reduce stress but also unneeded frustration, anger and resentment in your life. Mixed signals are never pleasant to give or to receive. It’s not only important to be a better communicator, but a better listener as well.

16. Get moving. Exercising more will not only lower your anxiety levels, but will also decrease any feelings of depression and low self-esteem. It’s probably one of the most essential elements of any stress-reducing program.

17. Change your diet. Perhaps the extra pounds you’re carrying around is adding to the extra internal or mental pounds you’ve been carrying as well. A healthy change of diet will help you feel more alive, more energized and happier overall.

18. Cut back on alcohol consumption. While many people view alcohol as a way to escape from stress, it never reduces it. In reality, drinking more than two ounces of alcohol daily has been shown to raise blood pressure, inflame tempers, damage brain cells and eventually increase stress levels.

19. Say no to that second cup. Caffeine is one of the most agitating substances your body can consume. By substituting a decaffeinated beverage for that usual cup of coffee, you’ll remain much calmer and reduce the jitters associated with caffeine.

20. Stop smoking! By quitting right now, you can significantly improve your current state of health and live a longer life. Quitters can expect to notice improved lung function within days, a decreased risk of coronary heart disease within a year and a diminished risk of cancer within three years.

21. Think positive. You may not want to be an eternal optimist, but do try to avoid being a perpetual pessimist. For maximum stress control, try being a little bit of both, so as neither to overextend yourself nor to become a total cynic. Negative thinking can cost you added years of a healthy life span.

22. Don’t second-guess past mistakes or failures. By dwelling in the past, we only end up harboring feelings of guilt and remorse that should be let go. If you’re going to remember past mistakes, try to evaluate them in a positive way. Life is an education. Sometimes negative events are our best learning experiences.

23. Learn to assert yourself positively. Speak from your own point of view and help others understand what you are trying to convey.

24. Learn to express your anger positively and respectfully. Don’t scream or act hostile. Positive anger can help us change stress into strength; destructive anger, on the other hand, when turned inward, can lead to stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease.

25. Feel good about yourself. Convert feelings of low self-esteem not into forms of stress but into strength. Everyone experiences personal defeats and losses, and a key element to stress reduction is not to allow these setbacks to control our lives.

By Drs. Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.

and Ronald Klatz, M.D., D.O.

Drs. Goldman and Klatz are the co-founders of the anti-aging medical movement and serve, respectively, as chairman and president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a non-profit medical organization dedicated to the advancement of technology to detect, prevent and treat aging-related disease and to promote research into methods to retard and optimize the human aging process.

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