A Penn State study finds today's middle-aged are experiencing much higher stress levels than 30 years ago.
- A study based at Penn State found the middle-aged are much more stressed than other age groups.
- While most generations average a 2 percent increase in stress levels from 1990, those aged 45-64 show a 19 percent uptick.
- The reasons include concern for their children, fears of unemployment, and a deluge of information.
Nirvana - In Bloom (Official Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b4c32ff484128fd1d739e9637c0e2cd4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PbgKEjNBHqM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While this research pulls from data that's a decade old, consider a <a href="https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/advancing-your-career/stress-at-work-report--who-is-feeling-it-the-most-and-how-to-com?mod=article_inline" target="_blank">2019 study</a> by LinkedIn that found Gen Xers are significantly more stressed than neighboring generations. In that study, the top five stressors were work-life balance, confidence in job future, sense of purpose, work politics, and access to tools that let you do your job. </p><p>The meme war between Millennials and Boomers has always relied on a strange dynamic, considering that the former <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/05/millennials-earn-20-percent-less-than-boomersdespite-being-better-educated.html" target="_blank">earn 20 percent less</a> than the latter despite being better educated. Gen X sits in the middle: <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-depressing-chart-shows-the-jaw-dropping-wealth-gap-between-millennials-and-boomers-2019-12-04" target="_blank">earning less</a> (relatively) than their parents while <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/19/how-much-millennials-earn-compared-to-their-parents.html" target="_blank">bringing in more</a> than their children. Life is not defined by money alone, yet it is an important factor when discussing <a href="https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/causes-of-stress#1" target="_blank">stress levels</a>: job satisfaction, being overworked and underpaid, and feeling insecure in your employment are some of the biggest stressors in modern life. </p><p>For this study, the team at Penn State collected data from 1,499 adults in 1995 and compared it with responses from 782 adults in 2012. Each participant had been interviewed every day for eight consecutive days, in which they were asked about life stressors: relationship and friendship issues, finances, work problems, prospects for the future. The interviewers assessed how much impact these stressors had on other aspects of their lives. </p><p>Almeida expected to see higher rates of dissatisfaction in young adults. He was surprised that the most affected demographic was middle-aged respondents. He doesn't believe it's all about them, however. He puts at least part of the burden on concern for their children, who, as mentioned above, face a tougher job market. </p><p>And it's not going to get easier. As Washington state congresswoman Pramila Jayapal <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/5/6/21243442/pramila-jayapal-stimulus-negotiations-coronavirus-covid-19-economy-ezra-klein-show" target="_blank">recently stated</a>, we keep discussing getting back to "normal" when many Americans haven't experienced normal for decades. We need to discuss what the economy looks like a year from now: the jobs that will be available, the industries we need to say goodbye to, and a plan for finally addressing income inequality. Instead, we're forcing low-wage workers to return to unsafe working conditions in hopes of a normality that never really worked for them anyway. </p>
It's not just an old superstition — it's your stressed-out brain.
- Your brain's fight-or-flight response system is behind the appearance of premature gray hairs.
- The sympathetic nervous system essentially burns out melanin-producing hair follicles.
- New research may lead to a greater understanding of the connection between stress and body changes.
An unusual chance to see stress at work<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4NTg1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDcxMTU4OX0.a3Jb1JwjeDkrMtbIjRm-otmWFwnee5DwVtirBrRvc9s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9e919" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="373ac5463bcd1876b0b3294228397d0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Who’s in charge here?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4NTg3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjU3NzY0N30.ygWIictSzxKf8ovbZOsyQTyMd9-vtW8ciFS3REn_pVA/img.jpg?width=980" id="69b84" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="292801749c8b9cfe2d5f979d4346e55c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Helga Lei/Shutterstock<p>Hsu and her colleagues first suspected an immune system reaction was at the root of graying hairs only to discover that mice without immune systems still turned gray in response to stressors. The next suspect was cortisol produced by the adrenal glands — however, this proved not to be so. "Stress always elevates levels of the hormone cortisol in the body," says Jsu, "so we thought that cortisol might play a role. But surprisingly, when we removed the adrenal gland from the mice so that they couldn't produce cortisol-like hormones, their hair still turned gray under stress."</p>
It’s the sympathetic nervous system<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4NTg3OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzQ2MzY2Mn0.E4A31NWYMULu0QV9jULzpocbYg3YlS28kezYHQYE-IE/img.jpg?width=980" id="de7cd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ce080835b93e03e37a54d97d19b05f6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Judy Blomquist/Harvard University<p>Finally, the researchers investigate the possibility that the system responding to stressors was the mice's sympathetic nervous systems, the part of the nervous system that kicks into action with the fight-or-flight impulse. The sympathetic nervous system is a vast network of nerves that connects, among other places, to hair follicles in the skin. In response to stress, the system sends a rush of the chemical <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine" target="_blank">norepinephrine</a> to the follicles' melanocyte stem cell, causing them to quickly burn through and deplete their stores of pigment.</p><p>Say Hsu, "After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost. Once they're gone, you can't regenerate pigments anymore. The damage is permanent." Great for survival, not so good for hair color.</p>
A big hint of a much greater insight<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4NTg4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjYyNjc1N30.Rw8O8FGEFx-yxBAFPoV26D9TFjVX0KnqbT-pB_4h1UE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b51b4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d0f24fc2fceacf704faacb4c59bc5ce8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Sympathetic system nerves are magenta above. Melanocyte stem cells are yellow.
Image source: Hsu Laboratory, Harvard University<p>"Acute stress," says lead author of the study Bing Zhang, "particularly the fight-or-flight response, has been traditionally viewed to be beneficial for an animal's survival. But in this case, acute stress causes permanent depletion of stem cells."</p><p>The research, done in collaboration with other Harvard researchers, presents a new appreciation of the effect the sympathetic system can have on the body's cells during stress.</p><p>One of these collaborators, Harvard immunologist Isaac Chu, notes, "We know that peripheral neurons powerfully regulate organ function, blood vessels, and immunity, but less is known about how they regulate stem cells. With this study, we now know that neurons can control stem cells and their function, and can explain how they interact at the cellular and molecular levels to link stress with hair graying."</p><p>Given this finding regarding the direct impact of stress on follicular stem cells, the question of what it else it may affect becomes an obvious one. As Hsu sums it up, "By understanding precisely how stress affects stem cells that regenerate pigment, we've laid the groundwork for understanding how stress affects other tissues and organs in the body."</p><p>This importance of the study therefore goes way beyond graying heads. "Understanding how our tissues change under stress is the first critical step," says Hsu, "toward eventual treatment that can halt or revert the detrimental impact of stress. We still have a lot to learn in this area."</p>
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
University of Colorado Boulder
Stress affects everyone, but there's something you can do about it.
- Stress can physically impact your brain, your ability to learn, your immune system, your cardiovascular system, and your gastrointestinal tract.
- Spending 90 minutes in nature can reduce brain activity associated with depression, lower blood pressure, anxiety, and boost your immune system
- There are ways to manage stress, but, if you feel like you can't manage your stress, you should reach out to a health professional.
Stress can do a lot to the body, so if you're stressed it's important to find a healthy way to mediate the impact of that feeling you're feeling.
Why? Though there are instances in which stress can indeed temporarily improve and sharpen memory, stress is generally seen to be a detriment to memory. The area of the brain in which your short-term memories are converted into long-term memories is highly susceptible to stress. Chronic stress also weakens the muscle of the brain and sees it decrease in weight.
Stress can also impact your ability to learn, cause mood disorders, and impact your spatial memory — i.e., the part of the brain that records information about one's environment. Furthermore, it can lead to the suppression of your immune system and there is a positive link in research between stress and cardiovascular disease. There's a gender difference worth noting with the latter, too, as women — as the authors of an EXCLI Journal article note — "begin to exhibit heart disease ten years later than men, which has been attributed to the protective effects of the estrogen hormone." Stress also can impact the gastrointestinal tract in a variety of ways.But just because stress can do all these things doesn't mean that stress will do all these things, especially if you take the following steps.
It's worth noting that these examples are generalized examples. The reason for this is that if you look at the scientific literature concerning coping with stress, you'll come across one exceedingly specific examples after the other, i.e., Chinese students studying, African-Americans with Type 2 diabetes, mothers with children who have type 1 diabetes, being a consultant physician in Saudi Arabia, and many more. It certainly doesn't invalidate the advice that follows, but it's a dynamic worth noting.
1. Take a stroll in nature.
We've written about it before, but it's worth emphasizing again: Spending 90 minutes in nature can reduce the activity in your brain associated with depression, lower blood pressure, anxiety, boost your immune system, and so much more. Even 5 minutes makes a difference.
2. Do regular exercise.
Even if you're only spending 30 minutes a day on exercise, it will have an impact. A string of Doctors from Spain noted in a paper published in 2015 that "Regular exercise has multi-system anti-aging effects." One reason could be that exercise — as noted in another paper published in 2015 — "enhances protein stability, creating a cellular environment capable of resistance to exercise-induced stress".
So practice your jump shot. Conquer the treadmill while listening to 'Beautiful Anonymous'. Do push-ups when you wake up. You might just take the necessary physical steps to ease your sense of stress in the process.
3. Talk to your physician.
Not in the mood to exercise? Not in the mood to go outside? If so, you might find what William Shanahan, a consultant psychiatrist, told The Financial Times to be worth your attention: "[People] have to get past the view that because they have shown some vulnerability and a sense that they're bleeding in public that somehow the sharks are going to come and swallow them alive … Probably the first person to talk to is your general practitioner, actually. Keep it simple."
People are capable of managing their stress, but they don't have to carry the burden alone. Keep it simple.
The secret to a calmer trip to work could be hidden in plain sight.
With an unfortunate abundance of traffic jams and train delays, getting to and from work can sometimes be a job in itself — and a stressful one at that. But your surroundings might just hold the solution you've been looking for.