Something to Stress About

Ho Chi Minh is 11 hours ahead—an entire ocean and two plane rides from New York City.

Yet, occasionally, in Vietnam for work/fun (I can’t tell these days), my older brother gets up earlier than he normally would to call me after I get home from work.

Maybe he calls just to keep a pulse on the drama here in the States. 

“Did that Canadian smoke ever say “soarry?” he asked me. 

Or maybe he calls just to hear a familiar voice every now and then. As adventurous as he is, even he gets homesick. But for whatever reason — this time, I snapped. I forgot exactly what I said, but I can assure you it was undeserved. 

Why? What was the real issue?

I guess it was a combination of a lot of things—writer’s block; my lease is up in a few months, and the search for housing in this market isn’t easy. It feels like the renter’s market is just bad as the housing market. 

Unsurprisingly, the top four stressors in people’s lives are money, work, the economy, and family responsibilities. And lately, I‘ve seen reports of anywhere from 38-70% of Americans claiming their finances and affording their same lifestyle are the source of their stress.

And biologically speaking, all this stress ages us. 

It is known that chronic, chemistry-altering stress opens the door for bad habits to swoop in.

But before I go on, some of you may already know there is a difference between your chronological and biological ages. You can read more about that here, but I only want to focus on the latter for today. 

Your biological age measures how old your cells are, which is much harder to see and track. The easiest identifiers the eye can see are wrinkles and grey hair.

In Victoria Stokes’ write-up for, she states, “[stress] triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can cause inflammation and damage to DNA and cells if produced excessively for a prolonged period of time.”

To keep this simple, we’ll call it bad stress. Bad stress wears us down, down to the cellular level. And those damages can be destructive and/or highly irreversible.

Obviously, I’m not the person you should be talking to if you are experiencing chronic stress. But after further digging into this topic, I looked at a few ways to fend off this slow assassin.

Here are two small and easy tips to keep yourself young

  1. Incorporate more antioxidants into your diet.
  2. Do things that make you happy: sing, dance, walk for miles while listening to an audiobook, take a vacation, get a really good sweat in

Despite all that, stress is a funny thing. 

Sometimes it’s exactly what we need. Making us better as individuals. 

You may be becoming a new parent, seeing increased responsibilities at work, or the elevator is out, so you have to take the stairs. Sure, they’ll have their first-balling moments, but nine times out of ten, they make us stronger people. 

The other day I was listening to Matthew McConaughey’s conversation on Ryan Holiday’s podcast, the Daily Stoic, and they, too, transitioned to talking about stress. 

McConaughey laughs as he reminds Holiday that not all stress is created equal. 

Stress means you give a damn,” he said.

And simply knowing that some level of stress is beneficial is actually good for you. It changes your perception, which may be all it takes to turn the tide around. 

The APA published in April that stress affects almost every part of the body, not just your mental space. They also wrote, “long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.” Not something you didn’t already know, but still, these risks are especially elevated during what is supposed to be our Golden Years. 

And my brother and I have seen it firsthand. 

Summer, 2009. Life was pure bliss. Of course, times were hard, but I was too young even to understand it all. It was just me, my brother, and our grandma. Life was good. 

That was until November. And it must have been November because I distinctly remember the crunchy brown leaves in our backyard when we were told that my uncle had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. The doctors regrettably suggested acting soon. Telling us that he likely had less than a year to come to peace with what was inevitable. And the bad news didn’t end there. My grandmother, instantly thinking of what this news meant to her daughter, their seven-year-old twin girls, hospital bills and other money issues, and us missing school, was in shock. At her age—70 at the time—she couldn’t handle it. 

She had a stroke. Temporarily paralyzing her right side and hospitalizing her for months. Fortunately, she survived. 

And it wasn’t all bad, though. There was some good to this story, too. 

My uncle went on to live for a year after the prognosis. My brother and I grew up fast. We learned to be pretty self-sufficient. And when my grandmother finally arrived home from her stint in the hospital, she didn’t come alone. This entire event was the jumpstart the dementia needed to gradually take over her memory. The twisted beauty in that anecdote was because she often forgot who or how old I was, I learned to drive pretty well at the age of eleven—taking our burgundy Suburban back and forth on grocery trips to Winn-Dixie.  

Another way to get through stressful times is to think about the hard times you have gotten through.

After all, if you’re reading this, that means your track record is flawless. 

My brother and I later laughed about my minor implosion. He understood where I was coming from and even thought it was well-deserved after that “soary” Canadian dad joke! 

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