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Stress and Aging: What Millennials Should Know

Our modern culture prioritizes productivity above all else – especially with the ease that smart phones and other devices have freed work from the confines of an office cubicle and allowed it to spill into our homes and personal spaces.  

It’s become normal to push aside work stress as “normal” and a part of the daily grind – especially in the early stages of a career when you’re eager to impress. Job stress is just one form of psychological stress for millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996 and are between ages 41 and 26. If you’re in this generation, you might be looking to buy your first home or start a family. Concerns about money and work have consistently ranked among the top drivers of stress for millennials.  

Recent events have added weight as well: a recent American Psychological Association study of the pandemic found millennials reported the highest levels of impacts from stress out of all the generations. Impacts included headaches, feeling overwhelmed, fatigue or changes in sleeping habits.     

Stress can be good in small doses: it’s the body’s natural reaction to a threat that comes with psychological and physical responses. It can help motivate you to perform well.  

But not managing stress can have negative health effects beyond a bad night’s sleep or a headache. Carrying chronic, psychological stress with you can cause early aging.  

When stress becomes persistent, the body’s response can become destructive.  

Wrinkles 

While wrinkles develop naturally as you age – and rely in part on your genetics – stress can affect your skin. Cortisol is the main hormone released during the stress response.  

Over time, high amounts of cortisol can break down collagen and elastin in the skin – leading to more wrinkles earlier in life.  

Cell damage and inflammation 

As a response to chronic stress, the body’s cells are under oxidative stress – which is when there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. This can create conditions ripe for accelerated aging and damage to the body’s cells and DNA.  

Chronic stress is also associated with increased inflammation – which can contribute to the future development of atherosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension and more.  

High blood pressure  

Both short-term and long-term stress can cause your blood pressure to go up. Typically, after short-term stress – like working on a deadline – the body’s blood pressure will go back to a normal level once the stress from the task is complete.  

But high blood pressure over a long term is the bigger cause for concern for health care providers. The exact relationship between chronic stress and blood pressure isn’t as well known. But the behaviors often associated with chronic stress – like unhealthy lifestyle choices – are contributing factors to higher blood pressure.  

For example, some individuals may turn to substances like alcohol to help relieve chronic stress; others may indulge with emotional eating as a coping mechanism. Individuals under chronic stress may not keep to an exercise routine or have difficulty sleeping. All of these behaviors in combination can negatively impact blood pressure.  

Stress Management  

Stress is a part of life. Learning to manage stress, especially over a long-term, is important to avoid future complications.  

Here are some techniques to try:  

  • Take a walk: Exercise in any form – especially walking – can help you have clarity of thought and decreases anxiety, while maintaining your overall health. 
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eat a healthy diet and stay away from excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption. Excessive alcohol, caffeine or nicotine use are unhealthy coping mechanisms. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and lean proteins contributes to overall good health. 
  • Clear your head: Meditation, spiritual routines and deep breathing are great strategies in calming the mind and body. These practices can activate the body’s relaxation response, which aids in starting the day feeling alert and stress-free.   
  • Get plenty of sleep: Sleeping well helps your body regulate itself so your systems can function properly. To create a better sleep schedule, limit caffeine intake, avoid late-night screen time and create a sleep routine. 
  • Manage time: Managing commitments, avoiding procrastination and categorizing tasks effectively reduces stress.  
  • Limit triggers: Set boundaries to ensure you have time to disconnect from your stress triggers. For example, watching the news, scrolling social media and constantly responding to emails can be draining.  
  • Empower yourself to stay healthy: Connect with a health care provider that you can go to when you’re sick and when you’re healthy.   

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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