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Key Takeaways

  • General stress and socio-economic issues increase one’s risk for many diseases and mortality. Scientists don’t know the exact mechanism yet
  • One possible explanation could be cellular aging due to stress, with resulting impairment in cell and tissue function
  • In this animal study, mice subjected to lifelong chronic psychosocial stress developed several health issues associated with cell aging. This association suggests that stress may, indeed, increase the risk of disease and reduce life expectancy

Actions to Consider

  • Practice different stress management techniques and find the ones that work best for you. Prayer, meditation, art therapy, reading, listening to music, and even just going for a walk are known and effective strategies
  • Assume a proactive position and be the architect of your own life. If something is becoming a source of chronic stress (work, relationships, finances, etc), investigate its cause. Accepting or ignoring stress leads to festering and ultimately long term health problems.  Meditation, visualization, dream examination and therapy are effective ways to uncover underlying stress–the first step to reducing it or changing your perception towards it. 
  • Useful books: The Happiness Advantage, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, Radical Acceptance, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Can social stress kill you?

We all know that stress is detrimental. 

Moreover, we feel how bad it is for us—for our health, productivity, emotions.

Doctors, psychologists, and philosophers have been stating for centuries that stress, isolation, socio-economic instability, and chronic subjugation are deadly, but scientists failed to find an exact biological explanation as to why. 

With the latest data, it seems that cellular aging triggered by stress could be the primary culprit.

What is this study about?

Published in 2018 in the Aging Cell journal, this study evaluated if lifelong stress could have a tangible, physical impact on mice health and lifespan.

The authors analyzed a population of C57BL/6J laboratory mice and identified those animals that had a natural tendency to show low levels of aggression but were chronic victims to the aggression from other mice. These mice were labeled as subordinate. Mice with the contrary behavior pattern (showing high aggression and not experiencing aggression from other mice) were labeled as dominant.

The health risks of being a subordinate 

In this study, the mice that were labeled as subordinate suffered from spontaneous health issues that severely impaired their lifespan. Specifically, they developed atherosclerosis in the aorta, meaning fatty plaques in the main artery of the body. These plaques showed signs of significant immune cell infiltration, inflammation, and were prone to rupturing and hardening.

None of the dominant mice experienced such changes, suggesting that social stress was one of the primary causes. Another interesting thing is that all the unhealthy changes seen in subordinate mice were accompanied by signs of cell aging.

In other words, chronic psychosocial stress is a major risk factor for premature aging and life-threatening age-related changes, particularly in the cardiovascular system.

Conclusion

Although we don’t know all the details yet, social stress definitely leads to a drastic decrease in healthspan and lifespan.

Avoiding all stress is impossible, but keeping it at reasonable levels seems to be essential for general health and aging.

Link to the study:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/29806171

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