None of us like to be reminded about the physical and mental decline that comes with aging, but it’s not all bad news.
One very damaging health issue that can have dangerous results actually gets better as you age instead of worse. I’m talking about your response to stress.
Let’s take a closer look…
You frequently hear news reports about how daily stress can negatively impact people’s lives, from physical health to mental and emotional well-being, but few people are aware of just how serious stress can be.
Daily pressures that come from work, paying the bills, taking care of family and more, overwhelm most people. Feeling under constant attack disrupts nervous and hormonal systems, increasing the risk of multiple health problems such as anxiety, depression, digestive disturbances, sleep problems, memory loss, heart disease and stroke.
But the good news is new findings show that the older you get, the better you’ll be able to take stress in stride.
Young Adults Hit Hardest By Stress
Psychologists at Pennsylvania State University collected comprehensive data from over 40,000 days in the lives of more than 3,000 adults aged 25 to 74 when the study began in 1995.
The volunteers participated in telephone interviews to assess daily levels of stress for eight consecutive days. This was repeated every nine years or so, covering a period of 20 years.
The researchers noted a decrease in the effects of daily stress in older adults both in the number of daily stressors people reported, as well as their emotional response to them when they happen. For example, 25-year-olds reported stressors on nearly 50 percent of days, while 70-year-olds reported stressors on only 30 percent of days.
In summary, the study found adults report fewer stressors as they age, and the burdens they do encounter are less onerous. Professor David Almeida, who led the Penn State team, explained, saying, “There’s something about growing old that leads to fewer stressors.
“A 25-year-old is much grumpier on the days when they experience a stressor. As younger people, we may be juggling more, including jobs, families, and homes, all of which create instances of daily stress.
“But as we age, our social roles and motivations change; we really figure out how to decrease those [stressful] exposures. Older people talk about wanting to maximize and enjoy the time they have.”
People are Least Stressed in their Mid-50s
“A lot of my prior work,” Professor Almeida continued, “looked at these small, daily stressors — being late to a meeting, having an argument with a partner, caring for a sick child — and found that our emotional responses to these events are predictive of later health and well-being, including chronic conditions, mental health and even mortality.
“With this new research, it’s encouraging to see that as we age, we begin to deal with these stressors better. On average, the experience of daily stress won’t get worse, but in fact get better.”
The study found that people were least affected by stress in their mid-fifties. Early indicators suggest this increases slightly into the late sixties and early seventies when more challenges may emerge.
We’ll learn more with the next round of interviews which will take place in a few years. Professor Almeida is looking forward to these first interviews since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
“Growing older from 35 to 65 is very different than growing older from 65 to 95. We’ve started to see that in the data already, but this next round of data collection and analysis will give us an even greater understanding of what that looks like.”
Regardless of your age, do what you can to reduce your stress levels and better manage stress when it occurs. This will not only help you feel better day to day but will also help you age better. Poorly managed stress is linked to numerous chronic diseases of aging that can rob you of your energy level and your independence. I’m talking about everything from heart disease to cancer.
To combat stress, eat healthfully and exercise regularly. Maintain a regular bedtime and aim for eight hours of sleep every night. Make sure you have outlets to help you manage daily stress, whether it’s conversations with friends, exercise, a spiritual practice, or speaking to a counselor.