— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.
Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Center for Enriching Relationships in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.enrichingrelationships.org.
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” — Jesus
What if you could slow down the effects of stress and time on your body by taking a daily pill? There are no negative side effects. Would you take this pill? I bet you would.
Our fitness club offers a free body analysis to determine your health age compared to your chronological age. As it turns out, my wife is four years younger than her chronological age, while my health age is exactly the same as my chronological age.
Bummer! I thought I was doing better than that.
Although the trainer took into account things like body composition, amount of sleep, exercise, and diet, there is a very important component that seems to be missing in his analysis—thought life.
How important is your thought life in the aging process and the quality of your life? Research has shown that your mind and body are inexplicably intertwined and that your propensity to develop illnesses of aging and your ability to recover are directly tied to factors related to your mental state.
Stress accelerates biological aging, whether in the form of the “fight or flight response” or in the more subtle form of a negative attitude. It’s almost as if the cells in our bodies are listening when we experience suffering in the form of anxiety, trauma, depression, and the like.
In a nutshell, cellular reproduction is impacted while under psychological stress, including the chromosomal end caps (telomeres) that help keep the double helix chromosomes from unraveling. It is very clear now that telomere length reduction is directly related to aging.
This may sound like old news, but recent research continues to show that aging slows down when people take specific steps to change the focus of their thoughts.
Those of us who focus our thought life on anticipating danger are at risk for rapid cell degeneration. Perceived threats may come in the form of threats to our ego, our bank accounts, our jobs, or . . . the list is endless. We choose to focus on these potential threats, usually out of fear. Going from crisis to crisis is no way to live, and our cells seem to know this, too.
In addition to seeing danger and threats on a daily basis, ruminating about the past is linked to shorter telomeres. Do you carry around stressful thoughts long after the event has happened? If you live in the past by dwelling on previous stressful events, or if you anticipate bad things happening in the future, you are unknowingly doing damage to your health.
God’s Word is clear about how important it is to take a Sabbath rest from our work, but how often do you take a Sabbath rest from your worries? In Matthew 6:25, Jesus instructs us to set aside our worries and concerns about the future. Truth is, the vast majority of things we tend to worry about never really materialize.
The challenge is to be grounded in the present moment rather than time-traveling in our minds to the past or the future. Jesus points out that each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34), so adding all the past and potential future troubles only compounds our stress and our propensity to age and develop age-related illnesses.
OK, I’m not going to worry about my biological age and my chronological age being the same, but instead I’m going to focus on things I’m grateful for right now. In the big scheme of things, the battle is already over and God is the victor.
Everything else is small stuff.