Longevity: the impact of stress and social relations

Longevity is determined by factors endogenous as well as exogenous to the individual, such as stress and social relationships. Stress may develop into serious illnesses and make us have unhealthy habits. Social relationships affect our lifestyles and the ageing process. In which other ways can stress and social relations interfere with longevity?

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The ageing process influenced by stress

Scientific evidence shows that stress affects the ageing process. As Harvard Health Publishing explains, short-term stress response can help us deal with difficult situations. However, chronic stress can lead to physical damage, increasing blood sugar and worse diabetes. It also may promote high pressure and cause insomnia.

Plus, long-term stress can make us feel anxious, worried, depressed, and frustrated. It also can increase the risk of heart disease and heartburn, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, among other health problems.

Because of the many impacts of stress, we should learn how to control and avoid its worse symptoms including blood pressure, headaches, back pain, indigestion, or heart palpitations. People who suffer from frequent or chronic stress tend to have a poor concentration, be indecisive and experience emotional symptoms like crying, irritability, or edginess. Also, stress can influence our health by making us adopt unhealthy habits like eating poorly, exercising less, drinking more, and even relying on medication.

Job stress decreasing our health

Job stress is a factor also known for disproportionately affecting the ageing process. Individuals with that endure high job stress levels have the shortest telomeres, which have a crucial role in the decay of human cells. Telomere shortening has also been linked to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

On the other hand, job stress may cause job burnout too, which in turn may entail, according to Mayo Clinic, fatigue, insomnia, sadness, anger, irritability, alcohol or substance misuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and vulnerability to illnesses.

Longevity and social relations

Apart from stress, there are other determinants of longevity. One of the most important tools to a longer ageing are social relationships, including social networks, social support and social participation.

Maintaining smaller social networks, and contacting them less frequently can impair longevity. Conversely, according to Harvard Health Publishing, those who enjoy closer links with family and friends are more likely to live longer than people who are isolated and lonely. In an attempt to better understand how much social relationships affect longevity, researchers mentioned by the magazine conducted a meta-analysis showing that people who have regular contact with friends, family, and neighbors have a survival advantage comparable in magnitude with quitting smoking habits and about twice as large as exercising regularly or maintaining a normal weight.

In short, Harvard research suggests that meaningful relationships are a prescription for better emotional, mental, and physical health. Good relationships appear to protect our brains when in our 80s, sharpening memory for a longer time.

 

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The blues in the spring

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Spring is the well-known season for the reappearance of sunnier days, happier moments and a better mood. So it is the time when flowers start to bloom and nature welcomes new species. A scenario of this character is delightful for many individuals but there’s a significant number of people who dramatically suffer from this climate change.

Anxiety and depression have sprung

In fact, at this time of year, the rates of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and suicide are greater.

Interestingly, there’s a phenomenon called summertime depression, which means people start to get sad when spring arrives. There are also people suffering from seasonal affective disorder who see their symptoms go downhill with warmer temperatures and brighter days – even if this disorder is typically associated with winter.

Social events in this season may not help: “seeing cheery people all around you is a constant reminder that others are having a good time when you aren’t”, says Michelle Riba, MD, professor and associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center. She alerts as well for the fact that social influences and channels like Facebook and Instagram – where people like to show their vacations and that they having a wonderful time – can aggravate the symptoms related with depression.

Nature mixing with our feelings

Spring and depression could be allied due to one component: ragweed pollen. As stated in a study published by the National Institutes of Health, the symptoms before described, happen especially in people who suffer from allergic rhinitis. The rate of allergy is also greater in patients with depression.

In accordance with this research, “it is possible that sensitization and exposure to aeroallergens, which peak in spring, may be conducive to seasonal exacerbation of suicide risk factors such as anxiety, depression, hostility/aggression, and sleep disturbance.”

It is not all about sadness

Depression is wrongly understood as the synonym of sadness. In truth, sadness is an adaptive emotion in response to a significant loss and alert us for something that it’s not right and need attention. It is an essential emotion to experience the painful moments in our lives, nevertheless, depressed people tend to run away from sad feelings and try to hide them.

Depression is a more complex condition, it is characterized by an extended sadness and disinterest for life. Normally, depressed people abandon activities that previously were pleasant, and find difficult to carry out even very simple occurrences. Depression can cause a huge and persistent tiredness, lack of energy, insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) and loss or increased appetite. These symptoms act like a snowball making people feel useless and with low self-esteem.

So, what can we do?

Mindfulness, meditation, hypnosis and self-hypnosis are techniques that have been used by some professionals to deal with their patients’ depression. Studies keep demonstrating that exercise can be compared with an anti-depressive and permits to boost energy, diminish fatigue, enhance cell growth and neurotransmitters linked to humour and endorphins, reduce stress and relieve muscle tension – which is very helpful to combat depression.

However, it is important to look for professional treatment especially if you realize that you are experiencing these symptoms for at least two weeks.

Medical Port works with Portuguese and English speaking specialists in depression, burnout and sleep problems. Don’t hesitate in calling us if you are feeling blue this spring.

 

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