A  little stress is not a bad thing.  A looming deadline is guaranteed to get me writing, and a little stress, now and then, boosts energy as you rise to the occasion.  But having continual stress, even at minor levels, is so bad for you it can lead to chronic disease, according to researchers at Harvard University.  They explored the question ‘What impact does stress have on the brain in physiological and cognitive terms?’ and reported their answer in the journal Neurology. They found that being stressed raises levels of the hormone cortisol, which causes inflammation.  Several other leading research are investigating cortisol and inflammation and its effects on the brain’s immune system, which they suspect may be a cause of dementia. Harvard researchers found that consistently raised cortisol levels affects memory and causes the brain to shrink. Cortisol also affects the body’s sleep-wake cycles, blood pressure and the way carbohydrates, fats and proteins are metabolised.

Harvard’s Dr. Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui said ‘it’s important for people to find ways of reducing stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives, or asking their doctors about their cortisol levels or taking a cortisol reducing medication if needed.’

people-bible-study-groupStaying closely connected with friends and family could be the most important antidote of all.  A large Swedish study of people ages 75 and over concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives.   Churches with house groups, or life groups as they’re sometimes known, bring all good things together – cups of tea (and perhaps cake), a Bible study, (sometimes peppered with vigorous argument!) and fellowship and laughter.   Other studies have shown that people regularly attending a place of worship tend to live longer than others.

There’s also the power of the Word of God, which we tend to forget.  It’s not just words on a page (Hebrews 4: 12 – 13).  God knew that in a fallen world there would be stress. Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, ‘but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,’ (ESV).  And the following verse promises, ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’  Older people have usually lived through more experiences than younger, and and many will tell you how God took them through times of stress, and distress, with His peace.  If you have older people in your church why not ask them how God brought them through the bad times?




Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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