Although often unwelcome, ageing is a natural part of life. However, many individuals today experience premature ageing, which can negatively impact their physical and mental well-being. Nesma Luqman, a clinical psychologist at M42’s Healthpoint, explained how stress accelerates ageing and how to slow that process.
She noted that chronic stress is a ‘significant trigger’ for premature ageing.
“Chronic stress can expedite cellular ageing, increase inflammation, and contribute to age-related health conditions such as cardiovascular problems, compromised immune function, and pain. It can worsen mental health issues like depression and anxiety, impair cognitive function, and heighten the risk of age-related cognitive decline,” she told Khaleej Times.
Nesma said it is essential to encourage healthier lifestyles, foster social support systems, and learn stress management techniques to reduce chronic stress’s impact on ageing. These measures are crucial for older adults to maintain a better quality of life and well-being.
“Key signs or symptoms suggesting that stress may be accelerating the ageing process in an individual include the premature appearance of physical ageing markers like wrinkles and gray hair, the onset or worsening of chronic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes, heightened inflammation, cognitive decline or memory problems progressing more rapidly, persistent mood changes such as increased irritability or symptoms of depression, sleep disturbances like insomnia or poor-quality sleep, chronic physical fatigue, reduced resilience to life’s challenges, altered eating habits leading to weight fluctuations, and social withdrawal, potentially causing loneliness.”
While these indicators may not definitively confirm stress as the sole factor, they serve as warning signs for individuals to seek professional assistance from healthcare providers or clinical psychologists, Nesma underlined.
“Chronic stress, characterised by its persistent and long-term nature, has a more detrimental impact on ageing compared to short-lived acute stress. Acute stress, although uncomfortable in the short term, typically does not have the same long-term consequences. However, repeated episodes of acute stress or traumatic stress can contribute to accelerated ageing processes, both physically and psychologically.”
Ways to manage chronic stress
Nesma said that to effectively manage and reduce stress, individuals must prioritise regular exercise, maintain a balanced diet, ensure adequate sleep, practice mindfulness, engage in time management, seek social support, limit stimulants, and incorporate hobbies into their routines.
“Mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing exercises, as well as time management and social support, can further help alleviate stress. Limiting stimulants, engaging in hobbies, and setting boundaries on technology use can contribute to a more relaxed lifestyle. Seeking professional help when needed, incorporating stress-reduction techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy and positive self-talk, and adding humour and laughter to daily routines are additional means to foster resilience and well-being in the face of stressors.”
She pointed out that a balanced diet must include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
“Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, and probiotics can counteract chronic stress’s inflammatory and mood-disrupting effects. Certain supplements, such as vitamin D, magnesium, and B vitamins, may play a role in stress regulation and mood management. However, consultation with healthcare providers or registered dietitians is advisable before adding supplements to ensure that they align with individual needs and health status.”
Nesma highlighted that while there are no definitive medical interventions to completely reverse the effects of stress-induced ageing, understanding the multitude of factors influencing the ageing process, including genetics, lifestyle, and chronic stress, is crucial.
“Balance work and leisure, practice gratitude, remain open to learning, and approach ageing as a natural process,” Nesma added.