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Chronic stress can reduce lifespan, says recent Yale study

A stressful lifestyle can affect your health at the DNA level, according to new research from Yale University.

All humans have a “biological clock” -- the patterns of chemical change our DNA goes through as we age. People whose bodies age faster will likely live shorter lives. Many factors affect longevity, and the Yale research indicates that chronic stress can shorten one’s lifespan.

Stress was already known to exacerbate physical health problems, such as increased risk for heart attack or diabetes. But the Yale study is the first concrete evidence that stress can have negative health consequences beyond any other mental or physical health conditions.

“A lot of people have felt on a gut level that stress makes us age faster, and our study shows that that is true,” said Zach Harvanek, a resident psychiatrist at Yale and one of the researchers involved in the study.

The study found, however, that some lifestyle choices mitigated the negative effects. Subjects who showed strong emotional regulation and self-control skills had younger “biological ages” than their counterparts who did not.

“The most surprising aspect of the study is that resilience factors, like emotion regulation, can protect us not just from the mental effects of stress, but also from the effects of stress on our physical health.”

Harvanek suggested mindfulness as a strategy to cope with stress. This can be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to pause and reflect on how you’re feeling -- by journaling, for example. Harvanek also said that, if possible, anyone feeling overwhelming levels of stress should talk to a licensed mental health professional.

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