Aging, Depression and Anxiety: How your mental health affects the aging process

We all know that chronic stress can leave the body feeling exhausted and worn out.  But what if the truth went one step further:  chronic stress, depression and anxiety can all cause major havoc with our physical wellness and actually speed up the aging process!

Research shows that depression and phobic anxiety accelerate the aging process at the molecular level. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects cellular aging at the chromosomal level telomeres- the caps at the ends of chromosomes which get smaller every time a cell divides, are a marker of aging and those with depression have significantly shorter telomeres than unaffected individuls.  Also, depression can cause inflammation and dysregulation in the body’s stress and immune response, leading to more frequent illness and premature aging.  The good news is that that the damage that’s been done may be reversible once the depression is treated.

Depression can also affect your heart health.  New studies from Intermountain Healthcare found that for those with moderate to severe depression, taking antidepressants reduces the risk of heart disease more than taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.  By treating depression, individuals can reduce their risk of a heart attack as well as improve their overall health.

Chronic stress and the resultant inflammation in the brain can contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Some scientists believe that greater stress may be the reason that some women’s brains age more prematurely than men’s. Additionally, the production of the stress hormone adrenaline can lead to temporary vision and hearing loss.

Aside from these changes, when people are depressed or anxious they don’t take care of themselves the way they should; individuals struggling with their mental health tend to eat poorly, exercise less and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.  These behaviors only accelerate the aging process.

Individuals who believe that their chronic stress may actually be depression or anxiety should seek a diagnosis from a qualified psychiatrist who can determine if a physical, chemical brain imbalance is affecting their overall health and provide the appropriate treatment.  By taking care of your brain health you can be your best physical self!