7 tips to reverse the effects of pandemic stress on aging

Excerpt: Chronic stress experienced by many people during the pandemic can accelerate biological aging and interfere with the body’s natural healing processes. The good news is healthy habits such as regular exercise, spending time in nature and practicing mindfulness can ease stress and help slow or reverse its effects on aging. Good nutrition, being in touch with your emotions, connecting socially and laughing can also help lower pandemic-induced stress.

The chronic stress that many people have experienced during the prolonged pandemic can accelerate biological aging,* according to the University of California, San Francisco. Stress wears on the body, interfering with the body’s ability to repair itself. Studies have shown that chronic and traumatic stress promote inflammation and can shorten telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that protect DNA from damage, causing cells to die prematurely.*

The good news is that you can slow or reverse some of the damage from chronic stress through healthy habits like eating and sleeping well, and especially physical activity.* There is no better time to be proactive in taking effective steps to ease stress and reverse its toxic effects on your mind, body and emotions than through healthy adaptations in your daily life.

Here are some simple, proven ways to lower stress and its impacts on aging:

  1. Exercise to slow cell aging.
    Family caregivers who had been physically inactive reduced their stress levels substantially after exercising three times a week for six months,* reported a University of British Columbia study. At the cellular level, the researchers observed that regular physical activity lengthened the telomeres in the caregivers’ white blood cells, suggesting that exercise can slow or reverse telomeric aging in highly stressed people.*

  2. Spend time in nature.
    Tokyo residents who spent time in green spaces during the pandemic reported less anxiety, depression. and loneliness than those who had less access to nature,* according to an Ecological Applications study. About 95% of Canadians surveyed attributed time spent outdoors in nature as a way of coping to relieve the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic,* reported the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

  3. Practice mindfulness.
    Calming your mind by practicing mindful meditation can be an effective way to combat stress.* Mindfulness helps you to focus on things in the present moment and avoid rumination, where you dwell on stressful events, both past and future, and get caught in toxic, circular thought patterns.*

  4. Be in touch with your emotions.
    People who showed psychological flexibility, took stock of their emotions and addressed those emotions with mindful action in response to COVID-19 adversity reported less stress than those who avoided identifying their emotions,* according to a Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science study.

  5. Fuel your body with healthy food.
    In stressful times, nutrition and healthy eating are often ignored,* says Harvard Medical School. Fueling your body with healthy food in a mindful way is especially important when people are under duress to support the immune system in staving off illness and recuperating faster if a person falls ill.*

  6. Connect socially.
    Social connections can reduce stress and have very positive effects on mental and physical health,* according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Supportive social ties can lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones.* Reach out to family, friends or a healthcare professional who is able to listen, understand your problems and can give sound advice in a crisis.

  7. Remember to laugh.
    Studies show that a good laugh eases anxiety by stimulating circulation, promoting muscle relaxation, increasing the release of endorphins by the brain, and activating and relieving the body’s stress response,* advises Psychology Today.


*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. The Globe and Mail. “Stiff joints, grey hair: Pandemic-induced isolation, grief and anxiety aged you – but it’s not too late to reverse the effects.” (2021), online: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-the-pandemic-aged-you-but-you-can-still-reverse-the-effects/
2. Science Daily. “Exercise reduces stress, improves cellular health in family caregivers.” (2018), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181003090339.htm
3. Very Well Mind. “Nature can improve mental health, during pandemic, study finds.” (2020), online: https://www.verywellmind.com/nature-can-boost-mental-health-during-the-pandemic-study-finds-5088601
4. The Weather Network. “Canadians explore nature more to relieve COVID-19 stress.” (2020), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-self-care-steps-for-a-pandemic-always-important-now-essential-2020041619563
5. University of British Columbia. “Stress: What it really is and how to handle it.” (2020), online: https://students.ubc.ca/ubclife/stress-what-it-really-handle-it
6. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. “Study shows how people can reduce stress during coronavirus pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20201014/Study-shows-how-people-could-reduce-pandemic-induced-stress.aspx
7. Harvard Health Publishing. “6 self-care steps for a pandemic – always important, now essential.” (2020), online:https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-self-care-steps-for-a-pandemic-always-important-now-essential-2020041619563
8. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Social connection is the cure.” (2020), online: https://cmha.ca/social-connection-is-the-cure/
9. Psychology Today. “Five ways to deal with pandemic-induced stress.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-matters-menninger/202003/5-ways-deal-pandemic-induced-stress/