Healthy Body

Stress Management Is About More Than Relaxation—It Changes Your Body on a Cellular Level

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Getty Images / Vicens Prats / EyeEm
People who manage stress sleep better, get sick less often, and maintain a healthier gut. Stress management is far from superficial, says Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, it changes the activity of your genes. Of thousands of genes, some are beneficial to your health and some aren't. One of the benefits of stress management is that it can turn off genes that lead to inflammation, which can contribute to everything from arthritis to heart disease.

"Which of your genes are 'on' or 'off' is under your control," said Dr. Roizen during a virtual event with the Global Wellness Institute on Wednesday. "We have about 22,500 genes, but only 1,500 of them are on at any one time."

For example, Dr. Roizen points to research that examined genes for 50 people 16-weeks apart, before and after engaging with regular stress management.

"Over 16 weeks, these people did a stress management program and they turned off the majority of inflammatory protein genes and turned on anti-inflammatory protein genes and kept them off," said Dr. Roizen. "Which genes are on or off are under your control. Which means how long you live and how well you live up to the current era is under your control."

Increasing your healthspan, the number of healthy years you live, can be done through healthy lifestyle choices like getting regular exercise, not smoking tobacco, and managing stress. "It's not that you're living with disability longer, you're living younger, longer," he said. While Dr. Roizen says his go-to stress management technique is deep breathing, the best stress management technique to do is whichever one you enjoy.

If you're trying to wrap your mind around figuring out stress management during a pandemic, same. We've all experienced levels of unprecedented uncertainty, anxiety, grief, and stress. Making time for self care can feel impossible. Clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD says the first step is being compassionate with yourself and understanding that you are deserving of rest.

“Whether due to sheltering in place, job loss, or interpersonal shifts, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching,” says Dr. Manly. “All of this creates constant uncertainty and anxiety that can easily translate into chronic stress and fear. This pernicious negative energy can have devastating consequences for mental health, physical health, and daily life. Although so much is out of our control at this point, one of the major self-care tools each individual has is the ability to mindfully engage in ongoing self-compassion.”

Finding balance in your life allows you to enjoy yourself and feel good can keep your stress levels low. When you figure out that balance for yourself, you'll reap the health benefits and feel younger for longer. Dr. Roizen predicts that with all the tools we have to care for ourselves, 90 will one day be new 40.

Looking to wind down? Try this calming yoga flow for stress relief: 

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