Stress contributes enormously to the ageing process, but human behavioural specialist, Dr. John Demartini, says we can harness the power of stress to help us look and feel younger than we are.
Have you felt stressed today? Or in the last week? Month? Chances are - whether it was for a brief moment or an agonising day - you have.
Stress not only gives you a horrid knot in your stomach or makes it difficult to sleep at night, it can also age your brain and body. It's been linked to external signs of ageing including hair loss, wrinkles, bags and dark circles under eyes, along with serious brain diseases like Alzheimer's.
"Stress is the inability to adapt to an ever-changing environment," Dr. John, founder of the Demartini Institute, says. "There are two primary forms of stress: The seeking of prey and avoiding of predators."
When we're stressed, we activate our sympathetic nervous system - the fight or flight response - and our bodies release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones, according to Dr. John, will age us, but if we address the imbalances causing the initial stress, he believes we can be happier and slow down the ageing process.
Live by your values
Dr. John says the ageing process slows when we have balanced chemistry, and to achieve this, we need to live according to what we value most.
"When we live congruently with our highest priorities, our executive centre comes online - this is involved with inspired and strategic vision, executing plans and self-governance," he says. "Self-governance reduces our volatility, which is what ages us. By living according to our priorities, we raise our self-worth, achieve more, feel more in governance and fulfilled."
If we design our lives around what we value, we can expand our awareness, are less likely to judge and are definitely less likely to be stressed, Dr. John believes.
Transform distress into eustress
Eustress is caused by inspiring challenges we seek out, like running a marathon, which induces a change in chemistry, a boost to our immune system and elicits a stress-lowering response.
"But when you feel like you’re not doing what you love and have responsibilities you’re trying to avoid, that’s distress and it's a highly-stressful ageing process," Dr. John says. "Eustress is actually useful and keeps you youthful."
Learning to extract meaning from stressful situations can turn distress into eustress and help you get back into governance. When you're feeling overwhelmed, stop and ask yourself: 'How is this situation helping to fulfil what's meaningful to me?'
"Stress is perception, if you have a balanced perception then you don’t experience stress," Dr. John says. "Something causing you stress is occupying space in your brain and ages you as brain noise."
Learning to be objective helps attain even-mindedness and asking questions that change your perspective from subjective to objective can reduce the ageing process.
Asking questions to balance your perceptions reduces stress levels and keeps the ageing process at bay. Within every challenge is an opportunity, we just have to take the time to ask the question: What are the benefits?
"Your facial expression relaxes when you reframe a stressful situation," Dr. John tells us. "I’ve seen this help people look five to ten years younger."
Keep a gratitude list
Before you go to sleep each night, Dr. John recommends making an inventory of everything you’ve experienced in life and don’t go to bed until you can be grateful for it.
"Anything you’re not grateful for is baggage that ages you and anything you are grateful for is youthful fuel," he says.
Fill your day with high-priority actions
If you don’t fill your day with high-priority actions that are inspiring, meaningful and fulfilling to you, your day will fill up with low-priority distractions that aren't.
"This'll make you look for immediate gratification and spend money to compensate for the lack of fulfilment," Dr. John argues. "And then you have the pressure of paying off a debt."
Find meaning in your life
"There are people in almost every field who love what they do and are engaged and inspired by their work, and consequently, don’t have as much stress," Dr. John says. "The people who have meaning in their lives are the ones who survive."
Take care of yourself
"If you drink a lot of water, breathe deeply, are inspired by your mission, do a gratitude list every day, eat food to live and don't live to eat, you’re definitely not going to age as much," Dr. John finishes. "Think of challenges as things on the way rather than in the way."