Stress Solutions

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by Susan Andrews, PhD

Living Long and Stress Free

Longevity is living a long life. Longevity is often considered in relationship to the current life expectancy, which has markedly increased in the past 100 years. More and more comments and articles are now focusing on ways to live longer (and hopefully happier). Surely, there are many critical factors that contribute to the length of one’s life; however, many factors are beyond our control. A major factor over which we have little or no control is genetics. On the other hand, one of the factors that repeatedly earn mention in such lists is avoiding stress in your life. And, that is something that we can take control of. 

Recently I saw this article (healthline.com) on 13 Habits to a long life. Other lists of “ways to increase your longevity” are shorter, maybe listing 6 or 7 factors or habits, and some list are longer. A common element besides reducing stress that always figures prominently has to do with food, what you choose to eat, how much you eat, and whether or not you are overweight. This particular article put much emphasis on food choices. For example, almost one-half of the “13 Habits” were about food and drink, including eating nuts, turmeric, vegetables and leafy greens, avoiding too much alcohol but recommending caffeine, and avoiding overeating. 

Of course, exercise and physical activity are on everyone’s list as a means of maintaining good health and reducing cardiovascular problems. Moderation is always mentioned for alcohol but Avoiding is the usual term used for smoking and recreational drugs. Not mentioned on this particular “13 Habits” list was that people who avoid taking too many medications tend to be healthier and live longer. A good night’s sleep is also listed as important in longevity. 

Often bringing up the rear there will be the suggestion that “avoiding stress” leads to greater longevity. Truly, it is a lot easier to add turmeric to your diet than it is to avoid stress. Stress is not a large rock or boulder in the road. In truth, it is probably not possible to avoid stress in today’s life. In fact, it is not even desirable to live a stress-free life if you could figure out how to do it. 

A much more helpful habit is to learn how to reduce the stress that you accumulate by living. The best method is to become aware of accumulated stress and how you and your body have responded to the challenges of the day. Then you can plan what you need to do and how much you need to do to reduce the day’s accumulation. I rarely see this point made and even if it is made, it is not elaborated so that the average person will walk away knowing how to manage stress. Different methods of stress reduction work best for each of us. Some favor types of meditation. Others do much better in the gym with exercise to help let go of or use up the builtup cortisol and other stress-related hormones with increased activity. Music – either listening or playing an instrument – is an excellent method. Walks in nature and visits with friends and family are also good ways to reduce built-up stress. 

But, all of these suggestions miss an important point which is how important a positive frame of mind is to longevity. The key to understanding whether a potentially stressful event will have a negative versus neutral versus a positive outcome is what the person thinks about the event. People who have the wonderful ability to see the silver lining or to recognize a positive outcome instead of a negative one might be called “Polyanna” by some, but they are also more likely to live a less stressful life. 

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