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Managing Stress for Healthy Aging

Managing Stress for Healthy Aging

Al Waller: Managing stress is essential for maintaining good physical, mental, and emotional health. However, fewer than half (41%) of people reported that they are managing their stress on a consistent basis, according to a survey by Transamerica Institute1.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller, and today we’re joined by Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, and she’s here to discuss the impacts of stress on our health, ways to manage it, and where to turn for help.

Before we get started, I want to remind our listeners that we would love to hear from you and get to know what topics you’d like to hear about. Please drop us a line at [email protected].

Welcome back, Mihaela.

Mihaela Vincze: It’s good to be here, Al.

Al Waller: So, as we do with most episodes, let’s begin with the basics. What is stress?

Mihaela Vincze: Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat or challenge. It’s a complex reaction that prepares us to respond to a perceived danger. In today’s world, stress can be triggered by work pressure, financial worries, or relationship issues to give a few examples. However, not all stress is bad.

Al Waller: Yes—we typically associate stress with feeling overwhelmed. What do you mean that not all stress is “bad”?

Mihaela Vincze: There is a type of stress that is actually beneficial, helpful even, for us—it’s called eustress. Eustress can motivate us, and can arise from different situations—for instance, a fun challenge or a first date can cause this type of stress. However, any type of stress that becomes excessive and unmanageable can be unhealthy. When we are overly stressed, it can be especially difficult to think clearly, make good decisions, or perform well at work or school. It can also have an impact on our physical and mental health.

Al Waller: Although stress can feel challenging to escape at times, it is interesting to hear what can trigger these feelings day-to-day. How does this happen?

Mihaela Vincze: When our bodies are under stress, they release cortisol and adrenaline, according to the American Psychological Association, which can lead to a range of physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, weakened immune systems, and fatigue. Managing stress is a continuous process and it may take some time to find the strategies that work best for you. Stress management is also an essential factor for healthy aging.

Al Waller: How does stress management contribute to healthy aging?

Mihaela Vincze: According to a report published in Biomedicines, chronic stress can shorten lifespan by accelerating the aging process. Stress is a major risk factor for chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. By managing stress, you can reduce the negative impact of stress on your body and potentially increase your lifespan.

Al Waller: That is right, it is vital to try out different strategies for managing stress to find the right one for you. That said, what do you recommend for those who are looking for ways to manage stress?

Mihaela Vincze: Healthy coping mechanisms. Many of us get overwhelmed when life doesn’t go our way, and the to-do list feels unmanageable. When life gets difficult, it’s important to turn to healthy coping mechanisms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Despite the temporary relief, using drugs and alcohol can actually lead to more stress. Drugs and excessive alcohol can contribute to stress by causing withdrawal symptoms, financial burden, legal issues, and they can lead to health and relationship issues.

Al Waller: I have to say this is no surprise. I mean, I'm no doctor…introducing substances into the equation may provide some temporary relief, but all you're really doing is masking the issues, which ultimately can and will resurface and probably place you in an even more stressful situation. So then, what would you recommend as some healthier alternatives or coping mechanisms to turn to?

Mihaela Vincze: When we’re stressed, it might be difficult to have the motivation to turn to coping mechanisms that are good for us in the long-term. We may feel like turning to the types of activities that give “instant gratification”. While instant gratification may provide temporary pleasure, it can be detrimental to one’s long-term happiness and overall well-being. Some activities that can help us in the long run include journaling and exercise. Journaling, for instance, can help us process and cope with stressful situations. Exercise is another good option as regular physical activity can help reduce stress by releasing endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Al Waller: Yes, I love to go running when I feel stressed. So, what are some other ways one can reduce the negative effects of stress?

Mihaela Vincze: Some efforts might include practicing relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.

Al Waller: Those are excellent tips to dive into, could you maybe provide a little overview of each?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure thing. For meditation, find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. When thoughts come up, acknowledge them, and then send your attention back to your breath.

Al Waller: I like the idea of simply acknowledging our thoughts, rather than judging them, and then returning our focus back to our breath. What about deep breathing?

Mihaela Vincze: For deep breathing, take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale out. Repeat this several times, focusing on your breath and allowing your body to relax with each exhale.

Al Waller: You’d be surprised by how well that works… And now, yoga. Can you briefly touch on that?

Mihaela Vincze: Yoga includes poses and breathing techniques that can help reduce stress and improve flexibility and strength, as well.

Al Waller: Some people assert that yoga is the “natural antidepressant”. Thank you, Mihaela, for briefly walking us through those different relaxation techniques. Now, what else do you have for us in terms of reducing stress?

Mihaela Vincze: Spend time outdoors. Being outdoors, especially in nature, can help reduce stress, according to the American Heart Association. This is because spending time outside can provide a change of scenery and a sense of calm. Spending time in nature can also reduce cortisol, the stress hormone we touched on earlier. It can improve your mood, as well as increase feelings of happiness and well-being.

Al Waller: So, we’ve gone over some activities that can help us reduce stress—exercise, journaling, relaxation techniques, and spending time in nature. Now, what if someone feels that they’re unable to cope with their stress—what should they do?

Mihaela Vincze: If you feel that your stress in unmanageable, you may need to seek professional help. There are a few options of where to turn.

Al Waller: Ok—let’s go over them. Where can people go if they feel that their stress is getting in the way of their day-to-day life?

Mihaela Vincze: Mental health professionals such as therapists and psychologists are great options to explore. These professionals can provide therapy and support for stress-related mental health issues, which is especially important if you feel that stress is getting in the way of your life. Many employers also offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide counseling services and other resources for employees experiencing stress and other mental health concerns.

Al Waller: Yes, employee assistance programs are especially important for employees who are looking for support—whether issues are work-related or personal. Now, outside of EAPs, are there any other resources folks can turn to if they’re having a hard time manage their stress?

Mihaela Vincze: Community organizations such as religious organizations, non-profits, and support groups can provide resources and support for stress and related issues. Also, there are many online resources available for stress management and mental health support, including apps, websites, and online therapy services.

Al Waller: That’s great to know. Can you give our listeners some examples of apps or online therapy services that they can turn to?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure. I think it’s important to highlight some, so here are a few:

  • 7 cups is a free emotional support service that offers counseling through trained volunteers and licensed therapists.
  • Calm provides guided meditations, and relaxation exercises to help reduce stress and improve sleep.
  • And lastly, there is Happify—which offers science-based games designed to improve mood, reduce stress, and increase resilience.

Al Waller: Those sound interesting. I’m particularly fascinated in Happify – I’m intrigued to learn what kind of games they offer.

Now, I have another question. Earlier, you mentioned that stress can lead to physical symptoms. What if you’re getting physically sick—and you think it might be related to stress? What then?

Mihaela Vincze: If you're experiencing physical symptoms of stress or if you're unsure if your stress is related to a medical condition, it's important to talk to your doctor. They can provide an assessment and help you determine the next course of action.

Al Waller: Thank you, Mihaela.

Remember, seeking help for stress is a sign of strength, and there are many resources available to help you manage and overcome stress.

If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

1 “23rd Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey,” nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS), 2022. TCRS is an operating division of Transamerica Institute.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.