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Four Major Causes of Stress - #3 Toxic Relationships

In the series I've been writing on the stressors that cause aging (via oxidative damage to cells), the next one on the list is #3: our emotional response to life's events.  Remember from a previous article that it is our response to perceived events that stress us or don't.  (now, don't stress out, I've got a nice little stress-reducer exercise at the end :-)
If we are involved in a toxic emotional world, be it from a job, a boss, a neighbor, a spouse or a child, we will age more rapidly.
Perceived stress raises blood pressure.
Toxic relations with "loved ones" can literally break hearts and cause heart disease.  (People actually do die from "broken hearts.")
Perceived stress at work or at home often causes sleep disturbances.  We already know that loss of sleep causes more rapid aging through this process of oxidative stress to the system.
I don't pretend to be a psychologist, but I think many of these statements appear to be self-evident.  But there is actual research, lots of it, on our emotional status and it's effect on our health.
One such study was just published in Age-Ageing in Jan 2011 showing the relationship between stable, satisfying relationships and it's anti-aging effect.  It involves our telomeres.  Telomeres are the little caps on the ends of our chromosomes.  These little caps keep the chromosome from unraveling and causing damage to our DNA.  Each time a cell divides, the telomere gets shorter. Eventually, the telomeres are too short to protect the chromosomes, then the cell dies.  As this happens over and over throughout life, the signs of aging begin to show up.  Here's the result of this amazing study:  People in happy, satisfying relationships have  longer telomeres! 
Read the study yourself!  "Leukocyte telomere length and marital status among middle-aged adults"  in  Age-Aging, 2011 Jan; 40 (1) 73-8.
Sometimes we can't change things but we can change our perception of events and our response to them.  "Don't worry, be happy" as the song goes  :-)
And here's a nice little exercise recommended by Mark Hyman, MD, in "Ultra-Mind Solution".  It's a quick and easy way to reduce stress any time of day:
It's called:   Soft Belly Breathing
Take a deep breath into your belly to the count of five, pause for one second, then breathe out slowly to the count of five.  Keep your belly soft. (except when the air is coming into it, then deflate to soft-belly as you exhale)
You have just activated the vagus nerve, which flows from your brain through your neck, right into your chest, and through your diaphragm.  So when you take a deep breath and relax and expand your diaphragm, your vagus nerve is stimulated, you instantly turn on the parasympathetic nervous sysstem, your cortisol levels are reduced and your brain heals.
This whole experience is called the relaxation response, so named by Harvard researcher Herbert Benson, MD, in the early 1980s.  If you want to enhance the relaxation response, lie on the floor and sling your lower legs over the seat of a folding chair and do this exercise.  This position, even without the breathing, reduces cortisol.  Your body will look like this:
                        lower legs   (this line is the chair seat)

                                      l back, head   (this line represents the floor)


  If you have a van, you can even do this during lunch-break at work, with no strange glances or questions....
Enjoy!  Share! Start a belly-breathing club at work!  (Bring a beach towel :-)