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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

The Unseen Toll of Anxiety

June 15, 2020

Back in March, after a couple of weeks of watching the news every night, I could feel the effects of being bombarded with all those jarring and distressing images. Listening to the death toll rise in the generally high-strung tone reporters adopted while discussing Covid-19 was hurting me. I began experiencing my telltale signs of stress, and I had to stop. I switched to calmly reading my trusted sources and newspapers to find out what was happening.  I also rededicated myself to making sure I put quiet contemplation time into my day. I advised my clients, and friends who asked, to do the same. Lowering anxiety helps stave off Covid and many other diseases in both postmenopausal women, and older men.

Hormones Help Protect Against the Effects of Anxiety

Until we reach menopause, we have what I call “a protective armor of hormones” which pretty much shields us from most of life’s bullets, hence, when we are young, we think we are bullet-proof.  😉 To a great extent, that’s true, as our hormones, most prominently estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, keep our organs (especially our brains and hearts) protected and our metabolism humming. This is why we can work like crazy, go out at night and be ready for the workday after only twenty minutes of sleep. Then menopause hits, and all that changes. We start to feel the sins of youth.

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Actually, all those excesses, including the effects of stress, accumulate in our health bank and create a deficit, which kicks in once our protective armor is lost. We are now metaphorically naked and exposed to the elements. Stress and anxiety can have their way with us, and they do. Remember cortisol? It’s that good/bad chemical flowing throughout our bodies. In balanced amounts it gives us the energy we need to take on the world. When cortisol is out of balance and unable to shut off due to over-stimulation, it starts to break down our insides.

Have a look at my past articles on stress and cortisol for more:

Physical Impact of Anxiety

New research into the damage that cortisol-creating stress wreaks on our bodies at mid-life is compelling. Without our protective armor, women suffering from anxiety, and depression, are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis. Heart disease can take hold and literally break our hearts, which is why that disease is the NUMBER ONE killer of women in this country. (500,000 every year) Our other organs suffer as well– liver, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs, to name some top hot spots for damage. One of the biggest organs to suffer? The brain. Scientists found that anxiety accelerates the decline in our cognitive function, most notably our memory and our ability to retain new information. Women suffering from anxiety are often biologically older than their chronological age. Ouch, that’s bad news!

The Good News

As always, I like to end with the good news. In these times of high anxiety for all of us, help is readily available. First, if you are a TV news junkie, turn off the TV and reacquaint yourself with the written word.

Next, add a contemplation or meditation practice into your day. Let me share my ritual: I wake up, hop out of bed and go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, then sit in my designated chair in my bedroom. I set a timer app on my iPad for fifteen minutes. I close my eyes and with each inhale I repeat a short phrase: lately, it is “I am at peace.”  Pick a phrase that resonates with you. After the timer dings, and for another couple of minutes I do my Gratitude Meditation℠, expanding the list from five things I am grateful for, to as many as I can think of at that moment. Then I open my eyes and begin my day feeling calmer, more centered, and definitely more grateful for all that is going right in my life right now.

Extensive research on the benefits of meditation tells us it’s a powerful way to lower cortisol and take the edge off our stress in anxious times. Have a look at what I wrote: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/meditation-101/ and https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-7-30-the-goods-on-meditation/.

Sometimes, we don’t even know what is causing those anxious feelings, or as I often call it, feeling “really squirrelly,” but you just know it when you feel it. Right now, many of us are feeling it. Meditation will lower that anxiety and help reset your cortisol production. An added bonus: you will have more patience than you ever thought possible. Really. Give it a try.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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