Stressed? Take It In Stride
We’re all subject to stress. It’s an inevitable part of modern life. Traffic jams, tight schedules, too many demands, too little time…it’s almost impossible to avoid daily stressors. What we call “minor hassles” these days are actually stressful events that can add up to daily stress. And in some instances, that’s okay. Stress serves a purpose, after all. The stress response primes the body for action, and helps ensure survival. But what happens when minor stressors pile up and little is done to resolve mounting tension?
Fear is an example of a stress response. Think of the “caveman” who had to run for his life at the first sign of a saber-toothed tiger. His adrenaline surged, priming his muscles for explosive action. His heart beat faster and his blood pressure rose. It helped him cope with a clear and present danger.
But what happens when you can’t run away? Say someone nearly clips your car in fast-moving traffic. Or cuts you off. You’ll probably continue doing what you were already doing—sitting—while gritting your teeth. And not blowing off that excess adrenaline through physical activity. Your heart’s still racing, though. And your blood pressure’s still spiking. All primed for action, with nowhere to go…
Most of us are aware that stress is damaging. Long-term stress erodes immune system function, for example. People with chronically higher levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, for instance, are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s also linked to sleep problems, weight gain, anxiety, and depression, among other things.
It can also send you to an early grave. Especially if you’re an older man.
Older men who live stressful lives die earlier than their less-stressed peers. Researchers looked at the issue recently, and identified two major types of stress. The first was classified as “everyday hassles,” and included things such as commuting, having arguments with friends or family, or dealing with job demands. The second form was labeled “significant life events,” which includes things like the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job.
Men were especially at risk for carrying unresolved stress. But the effect of stress seems to have more to do with how you react to a given event, than the event itself. “We're looking at long-term patterns of stress—if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality, or if you have a series of stressful life events, that could affect your mortality,” said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. “It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems,” Aldwin said. “Taking things in stride may protect you.”
Carolyn M. Aldwin, Yu-Jin Jeong, Heidi Igarashi, Soyoung Choun, Avron Spiro. Do hassles mediate between life events and mortality in older men? Experimental Gerontology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2014.06.019