A resident that lives at one my facilities just celebrated her 110th birthday this month. Yes, you read that correctly, one hundred and ten years! She is hard of hearing, and uses a wheelchair, but is mobile and fairly independent. When asked the key to her longevity, she will say (in a very loud voice) “Don’t worry!” She has certainly found the key to her longevity.
Longevity studies point to many factors that affect life span: genetics, environment, weight, smoking status, diet, fitness, lifestyle factors and behavioral factors to name a few. Are you curious how your family history, health status and lifestyle affect your projected longevity? Visit here for a Life Expectancy Calculator
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
− The late comedian George Burns, who lived to 100
Stress and worry affect both quantity and quality of life. Stress, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. Stress is simply a part of life; job, finances, family, friends, home, neighborhood, busy-ness, change, transition, and the list goes on. We are confronted with stress every hour of every day. The question is how we deal with the stress. If we internalize stress and constantly worry about the things that we cannot control, our bodies pay the price. The constant trigger of the fight or flight response causes an increase in the hormones epinephrine and cortisol that can lead to high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, weight gain, and eventually, increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Chronic feelings of stress can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia and personality changes.
If worry is so bad for us, why do we do it? We worry about family, jobs, finances, health, the economy, politics, the state of the world, and on and on. Worrying feels like we are doing something in situations where we have no control.
Worry can become a substitute for action. In most cases, when there is a larger situation that concerns us (the economy, for example), we have some control over it with our personal responses. We can choose to simply worry (how will we ever retire?) or we can choose to explore ways that we have control (cut unnecessary expenses, review retirement investments and goals, reevaluate expectations). Either way, we have no control over the bigger issue, the economy recovering, but we do have control over how we deal with this real concern for our future.
Three short words can change your life, and maybe even add happy productive years. What are these three magical words?
Let it go. If you have some control over the situation, do what you can. Look for creative ways to respond. If you have absolutely no control over the situation, then there is nothing to do but worry, which we know will only harm us. So, let…it…go. This is, of course, much easier said than done. One way is to practice mindfulness. This meditation is a practice of letting go of stray thoughts and worries. It is called a practice because this does not come easily to most of us. However, mindfulness has so many applications to our lives, not just to relieve worry. It can become a way of being, of noticing each event along the way, of embracing each moment.