A Healthy Toolbox For Managing Stress No Matter Your Age
The Healthy Aging Toolbox for Stress
Stephanie Raffelock and Max Cynader, PhD. talk about the reality of stress in older people, and how being in the moment can help you live longer.
As scary as it sounds, stress is increasingly regarded as the great precursor to disease. Long-term exposure to cortisol (the stress hormone) can have a really problematic impact on our immune systems. It makes sense then that Stephanie Raffelock is passionate about stress management for older people.
“We are living in stressful times right now, not only because of age but because of other things in this country. And still, there has to be a way to find that place of joy in your life. And I’m not saying to put your head in the sand and ignore what else is going on, but there has to be some creation of joy in your life. These golden years really can be the most creative, juiciest times of life. It’s a different application than when we were younger.”
Chronic stress is really bad, whether it’s a nasty job or problems with your family – everyone’s stressors are different but everyone has it to one degree or another. The response to these stressors all starts in the hypothalamus – the most important five grams in your body. It controls your sleep, your sexual behaviour, your eating and drinking, as well as your stress response. When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus triggers the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and then cortisol. These hormones can cause all sorts of inflammatory responses in the body and brain, and your internal housekeeping system tries to flush them all out. If you’re chronically stressed and not sleeping well, it’s much harder for this system to work effectively and the resulting damage can be severe. As Max and Stephanie discussed in other articles from their interview, exercise, hobbies and play can be effective ways of managing the fallout of stress. Prevention, as we know, is better than a cure. Remembering that is key to having the motivation to take steps today instead of waiting for tomorrow or never. Stephanie recommends developing a toolkit for managing stress as we age, as avoiding chronic stress becomes increasingly important for our wellbeing as is for all of the aspects of our health as we age.
Doing the Soul Work
Each of the individual pillars in the Synaptitude program can help. If you exercise, sleep and eat better, that’ll help your stress, and if you can deal with your stress, then you’ll be able to do things like eat healthily, exercise, and therefore sleep better. By entering into that positive virtuous circle, you start to transform the way you manage stress and thus, your overall well-being.
“A lot of this is soul work. And what I mean by that, soul work is that part of ourselves that taps into greater creation. Soul work, to me, is that part of us that is a combination of self-care and self-love. Demonstrating kindness to ourselves is important because kindness is a great stress alleviator too.”
There are a few other tools, aside from nutrition, exercise and sleep, that Stephanie has in her kit to help deal with stress.
- Conscious Breathing – breathing and conscious breathing throughout the day can be great stress alleviators. Mindfulness of breathing is a uniquely powerful way of relaxing the nervous system and allowing the body to rest.
- Meditation – “When they say, ‘Be in the moment,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘Stay focused’. As you get older, the data show that you’re less and less able to tune out external distractors.” Meditation is a very powerful tool for practicing being in the moment. The moment when you’re not paying attention, your brain’s default mode network becomes active and your mind wanders. You start thinking about the laundry or some past or future event. Meditation helps to reduce activity within the default network, enabling us to focus and switch off from anxiety and stress.
- Gratitude – practicing gratitude is a proven way of reducing anxiety and stress. By focusing on the parts of our life for which we are grateful, whether that’s something simple like a home-cooked meal or a call from a friend, we begin tolook for the positive around us. This helps us keep perspective on our lives and manage stress more effectively.
What would you put in your stress-busting toolkit?
The Synaptitude Lifestyle Assessment is a free tool for determining how your brain is being affected by stress right now. Quickly answer some questions and see how you can improve your health with evidence-backed techniques for managing stress.
Find more information on Stephanie Raffelock, and her upcoming book release by visiting her website. Thanks for the conversation Stephanie from Team Synaptitude.