In recent decades, scientists have extensively explored the negative effects of stress on human health and well-being. Prolonged stress increases the risk of heart disease, mood disorders, diabetes, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, it disrupts our ability to think clearly and regulate our emotions.
Now, a study led by Yale University has found that stress can also influence the aging process by interacting with our “epigenetic clock,” or the changes in DNA that occur at different times in different people as they grow older.
In order to investigate the relationship between chronic stress and aging, the scientists enrolled 444 people between the ages of 19 and 50. The individuals provided blood samples that were used to evaluate the age-related chemical changes captured by a tool called “GrimAge” (which was built to assess the state of particular individuals’ life’s clocks). The participants also answered questions regarding their stress levels and psychological resilience.
The researchers found that, even after accounting for behavioral and demographic factors such as body mass index, diets, smoking, race, or income levels, participants who scored higher on measures related to prolonged stress showed accelerated aging markers and physiological changes such as increased insulin resistance.
However, subjects who scored high on two psychological resilience measures (emotion regulation and self-control) appeared to be more resilient to the effects of stress on aging and insulin resistance.
“These results support the popular notion that stress makes us age faster, but they also suggest a promising way to possibly minimize these adverse consequences of stress through strengthening emotion regulation and self-control,” said study lead author Zachary Harvanek, a resident in the Yale Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.
Thus, the more psychologically resilient a person is, the more chances they have to live a longer and healthier life. “We all like to feel like we have some agency over our fate,” said study senior author Rajita Sinha, a professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Yale. “So it is a cool thing to reinforce in people’s minds that we should make an investment in our psychological health.”
The study is published in the journal Transactional Psychiatry.