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27 Jul
2012
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Does Anxiety Make You Older?

At least that’s what recent research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests. They have found evidence for a mechanism that connects physiological signs of aging, like skin condition, with chromosome characteristics.

Apparently the molecules (telomeres) that protect chromosomes from damage and deterioration are less well-developed in women who worry and they match the condition of telomeres in much older women.

Now the fact that chronic worrying accelerates aging is not news, but what this research does is to provide a mechanism, a reason why that might be the case. However, as is often the case with scientific breakthroughs, all that has been shown is a correlation – a connection. What has not been demonstrated is cause and effect.

It could equally well be that worrying is genetically predetermined and that shortened telomeres are simply an indicator that you are predisposed to worry and there’s nothing you can do about it. Though I have to say from my own experience that if anyone was genetically predetermined to be a chronic worrier it’s me, and that’s something I changed quite dramatically, so although I have to accept genetic predisposition as a possibility, I don’t actually believe it to be the truth. Unless, of course, we accept the possibility that genes can be changed, or maybe switched on or off. This is something that I am quite happy to accept because it would certainly go a long way to explain how the mind can have such a powerful impact in the body.

Interestingly this same characteristic is associated with heart disease, cancer, dementia and low income. Now that last one is really interesting. Are some people genetically predisposed to be poor, age quickly and die of some horrible disease? I have to say that I am more inclined to believe that poverty makes it much more difficult for an individual to lead a healthy lifestyle, or create a vibrant environment around them in which to thrive.

So we have at least two possibilities here. Worrying wears away the ends of your chromosomes and this ages your skin and reduces general health and vitality, making you more likely to suffer from diseases. Or, you arrive in this world with short chromosome ends and are, therefore, condemned to a short life filled with worry.

My personal view is that worry is a learned skill. This stress takes its toll on immune system function, which then leaves you open to cardio-vascular problems and diseases like cancer. I was able to change my ‘worry’ style of thinking, so that makes me think that it was something learned rather than something that was a part of me.

That’s good news. You see, if it’s part of your biological make-up then the chances are that nothing you do will work, and then the tendency will be to just accept it and carry on suffering unnecessarily. But if it’s just a habit, just a style of thinking that you learned, then you can learn something new. The sooner you learn a new style of thinking and dealing with life’s challenges, the sooner you can have an impact on your body’s physiological, rather than chronological, age.

Who knows, if you learn to stop worrying and cultivate a sense of peace and contentment within your mind, you may even be able to reverse any skin damage that’s already been done.

 

Michael

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