Taking time off work and daily routines to gather with friends and family for the holidays is something we no longer take for granted. But preparing for feasts, shopping for gifts, cleaning, wrapping and decorating can all lead to holiday stress – and the high costs of food, fuel, and goods aren’t helping families already stretched thin. Chronic stress is linked with long-term health problems and may accelerate aging. Making space in your busy schedule for stress-busting activities like practicing yoga, meditation, or taking an “awe” walk in nature can help strengthen emotion regulation abilities and counteract the effects of stress on the body.
According to a recent study, published in the journal Nature, cumulative stress is associated with accelerated epigenetic aging – a marker linked with increased morbidity and mortality. Study participants with poor emotion regulation exhibited the strongest association between stress and age acceleration. The study suggests that regulating emotions and exerting self-control helps people become more resilient to stress and continue to participate in beneficial activities that support a long, healthy life.
Stress can cause a cascade of emotions that can spike cortisol levels and lead to inflammation, tax the immune system, and upset the gut microbiome. Stress can also cause elevated blood pressure, which can contribute to cardiovascular damage. How we respond and act as a result of strong emotions is determined by how well we are able to regulate and react. Being able to experience strong emotion, but still be capable of making good decisions is key to protecting long-term health and in turn, longevity.
The good news is that you are never too old to learn new tactics to manage stress. Ignoring emotions that surface is not an effective strategy for coping with intense feelings of fear, anger, sadness, disgust, or joy. Many people find that discussing feelings with a trusted friend is helpful. Other healthy outlets for managing strong emotions include exercise, journaling, and meditation. Cognitive behavioural therapy is also beneficial to help develop greater emotional control. Like most things worth doing, learning to cope with stress in healthy ways takes time and practice, and may not always be successful.
Not sure how to start practicing stress management? Follow this link to the Mayo Clinic for a guided meditation.