Stop Stressing And Save Your Telomeres

That “thing” you stress over really doesn’t deserve your life force or the amount of power that you give it. Stress. We all have it. It’s part of being human and sharing the planet, and sometimes it may even save your life. Mostly, however, you aren’t actually in the kind of danger that warrants the stress response that you’ve mounted for yourself. That’s right, an entirely unnecessary and unhelpful response, and one better saved for real danger!

Your stress response to getting on the LA freeway doesn’t have to be as intense as what you should experience in the face of a stampeding animal.

You see, our brains don’t care if it’s an emotional threat or a physical threat—if it feels powerful enough, we go into survival mode. Our most primal selves are activated in a nanosecond. Stimulation of the autonomic nervous system's sympathetic branch, known for triggering "fight or flight" responses when the body is under stress is what helps us stay alive. It also shows up when we feel activated or triggered in relationships or during a fight with a lover. It’s mission is to help you find safety; signaling to it that you are indeed safe, is something that you can learn and practice.

As a psychotherapist and coach, I’m interested in stress management and our relationship with the things that stress us out most. Many people enter therapy to get relief from anxiety and stress which can lead to depression, addictions and relationship problems. They also discover that much of their anxiety symptoms and stress-responses are indeed habitual—that is, they are easily hijacked by the ordinary or situations that they have become conditioned to respond to. Functioning on autopilot, this automatic response or stress-response may actually become the fuel that moves many through their day. But is it necessary, and does the level of stress change the situation? Automatic responses and the attending dilated pupils will likely not help you, or move the traffic on US 101 (cue really good stereo system!).

Do these three things for a day and notice some surprising things about yourself:

  • Pause and notice yourself doing ordinary things. Are you rushing unnecessarily or has your breathing changed?

  • Observe or even keep a journal about triggers or what may have stressed you out? Notice your thoughts and emotions in these situations? Are you feeling anger, frustration or something else? Are you on autopilot, responding in a habitual way to a relative non-threat?

  • Make an effort to slow yourself down and change any thoughts. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your body. Soften any areas that are holding tension.

This takes practice, and like any good habit-changing practice, it helps to notice any benefits that you may have experienced. Positive experiences rewire the brain and help you heal in ways that lead to lasting change and symptom relief. When you find new ways of relating to your experience of hitting LA traffic or sitting on the subway, you begin to stimulate the parasympathetic system, known for "rest and digest" functions, and this may save your telomeres and beauty. Learn more about stress, aging and telomeres HERE.