How Anxiety Affects Health and your LifeSpan
I was doing a bit of research on anxiety and how anxiety affects your lifespan. Did not like what I found. I knew stress was bad for you but didnt realize how much it much it can reduce how long you live. I guess my advice would be to do whatever you can now to reduce your stress and anxiety level now. Because it really is literally killing us!
How Anxiety Affects Health and Longevity
Life's curveballs can have a significant effect on long-term health and well-being, depending on how we deal with them. How you handle stress today can predict your chronic health conditions for the rest of your life. Research concluded in 2018 by Columbia University shows early life childhood stress such as growing up in a home with domestic violence or bullying can literally shave years off the end of your life. Research also shows that overreacting, constantly worrying, and living in a state of perpetual anxiety can reduce life expectancy. If this describes your typical response to everyday setbacks and snafus, it may pay in the very, very long run to learn ways to lighten up and lower stress.
Can You Worry Yourself to Death?
Many studies have found a link between anxiety-prone personality and shortened lifespan. The tendency to always react to frustration, loss, or threat with negative emotions is referred to as neuroticism by researchers who have found this trait to be widespread and worrisome.
A 2019 article published in American Psychology stated that "there is growing evidence that neuroticism is a psychological trait of profound public health significance. Neuroticism is a robust correlate and predictor of many different mental and physical disorders, comorbidity among them.
For instance, for a study published in 2018, researchers at Purdue University followed 1,600 men, ages 43 to 91, for 12 years to examine how those with neurotic personalities fared over time.
At the end of the study, only 50 percent of the men with high or increasing neuroticism were alive compared to 75 percent to 85 percent of the other group.
The Effects of Stress on Lifespan
So far, there are no clear-cut explanations for why people with neurotic personalities tend to have lower life expectancies than those who are better able to deal with life's knocks.
There's some evidence that neuroticism is related to high levels of cortisol, a hormone that's secreted when someone is feeling threatened or stressed and experiences the flight-or-fight response. Too much cortisol has been shown to lower the immune system and affect heart health.
When we are in the fight or flight response (our bodies way of preparing us to survive), we have fast heart beat, high blood pressure, slower digestion. When our body remains in that state, in a state of chronic stress, it can cause health conditions like high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and cardiovascular diseases.
Another factor in the relationship between neuroticism and lower lifespan may be that people who are constantly anxious, stressed, and depressed tend to engage in unhealthy habits. They're more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol and other drugs, and have unprotected sex, any and all of which can lead to life-shortening conditions or accidents, such as an overdose or car wreck. These are all examples of unhealthy or maladaptive coping mechanisms.
How chronic stress is harming our DNA
A number of recent studies have linked stress with shorter telomeres, a chromosome component that's been associated with cellular aging and risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Telomeres are a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA. Each time a cell divides, it loses a bit of its telomeres. An enzyme called telomerase can replenish it, but chronic stress and cortisol exposure decrease your supply. When the telomere is too diminished, the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory. This sets the aging process in motion, along with associated health risks. There is currently no treatment or cure for anxiety induced shorter telomeres damage to DNA.
The two biggest factors are chronological aging and genetics, but stress is now on the map as one of the most consistent predictors of shorter telomere length. The type of stress determines how big its effect is. It seems exposures to multiple early life adversities, such as child neglect, have the largest effects, since they track through to late adulthood, or they set in place persistent mechanisms that maintain short telomeres throughout life, such as exaggerated stress reactivity and poor health behaviors. So we can see this relationship between stress and cell aging across a lifespan, and it's fundamental to how we're built. Our brains are constantly looking for threats to our survival. When we expose our bodies to years of chronic stress arousal, we see effects that override normal aging, making our telomeres look like they are from a significantly older person. When we look at groups of people with psychiatric disorders related to dysregulated emotional responses, especially depression and anxiety disorders, and compare them to controls who dont have these disorders, they consistently have shorter telomeres.
Another consistent pattern turning up in both clinical and epidemiological samples is that early life adversity is associated with shorter telomeres. This relationship was first observed in adults when early adversity was assessed retrospectively, but now it has been observed in young children prospectively. Maltreatment, abuse, severe neglect and exposure to violence all seem to take a swath from the telomeres.
Your thoughts about this research? I found the info about how stress damages your DNA most disturbing. And its permanent damage that cant be reversed.