How Stress Affects Health and 7 Ways to Manage It

The many ways stress can affect our bodies and our health are well-documented. For seniors especially, who are more likely to be affected by stress, it’s important to know how to deal with it because it impacts many of the body’s physical processes, including brain function, blood pressure, cholesterol, digestion, glucose production, and more.

One of the health issues that can be caused by unchecked stress levels is a weakening of the immune system. In one study, people subjected to stressful situations experienced lower levels of immune response, including reduced production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells. Ongoing stress also increases inflammation in the body, leading to chronic disease and autoimmune disorders.

Plus, stress has been shown to cause weight gain and an increased likelihood of diabetes. High blood pressure or hypertension is also a health concern for people under high levels of stress, as well as decreased memory function.

What You Can Do to Manage Stress

It’s natural to go through stressful situations from time to time. That said, what causes health problems is the ongoing, prolonged state of anxiety or stress that many people deal with. Here are seven ways you can reduce your stress levels.

  1. Socialize
    Studies show that people with strong social bonds experience less stress and better health, as well as living longer. And it makes sense because being around family and friends is a great way to relax and enjoy your time with them. On the other hand, solitude often results in people reflecting on the past or worrying about the future.
  2. Laugh
    Laughter is known to decrease levels of stress hormones and increase endorphins, which are connected to contentment. Laughing is also a form of physical exercise and requires you to breathe deeply, which also reduces stress.
  3. Exercise your brain
    Spend at least 10 minutes a day playing games and solving puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are perfect, or you can solve crossword or sudoku puzzles with pencil and paper. You can also pick up a new hobby that uses your hands, like woodworking or knitting.
  4. Meditate
    Meditation has been shown to improve your immune system, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce your cholesterol. If you’re not sure how to start, simply spend two minutes in a quiet setting, breathing deeply, and focus on your breathing. Then, gradually increase the length of time until you’re meditating for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Go outside
    Go for a walk or just find a place to sit out in nature and enjoy the view. The fresh air and sunshine will help relax you, weather permitting. And focus on the sights and sounds around you, instead of thinking about the problems that may be stressing you out.
  6. Exercise your body
    Physical exercise releases endorphins, which work in your brain to improve your mood, as well as being a natural pain reliever. And you don’t have to join a health club, take tennis lessons, or start jogging. Just get outside and walk. Even a 10-minute walk is a great stress reducer, especially if you do it regularly. You can even get a group of friends together every morning for a 30-minute walk and enjoy the social benefits, too!
  7. Sleep
    When you don’t get enough sleep, you lack energy, which can make stress even worse. Sleep is how the body restores itself every night, both in body and mind. The National Institute on Aging offers several ways seniors can improve their sleep habits, such as having a relaxing routine right before bedtime and not watching TV or using a laptop, tablet or smartphone in bed before falling asleep.

Although it’s sometimes overlooked, managing stress is an important health issue, regardless of age. And overwhelming stress simply makes life less enjoyable by damaging relationships with loved ones, and decreasing productivity for people who are still working or active. So, make the effort to reduce your stress, and live a happier, healthier life.

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