It was also linked to an increase in the risk of the following factors:
- Poor sleep
- Excess alcohol and alcohol dependence
And to the following medical conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type-2 diabetes
- Premature menopause
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic migraine
- Breast cancer and an increased risk of metastatic cancer
- Periodontal disease
- Psychological distress, unexplained symptoms and abnormal health seeking behaviour
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia
Dr Lee notes that, “Overall, the researchers concluded that higher levels of allostatic stress are related to poor health outcomes. Assessing allostatic load could be beneficial, as it would mean people who are unaware of their allostatic stress levels, and the negative health consequences associated, could now take steps to reduce it.
“For example, health workers suffering from work overload and burnout could measure their allostatic using these markers. They could use this information to support reorganising their work schedule, redefining their work-life balance, and initiating stress reduction techniques, to lower their allostatic load.”
How is allostatic load treated?
Dr Lee explains that “treating a high allostatic load is not a simple matter of taking a pill. It means taking time to understand the stressors and reducing them.
“This will involve making lifestyle changes, and psychological input in the form of counselling, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A multidisciplinary approach is needed, and there is no clear consensus on how to measure improvement.
Dr Lee recommends considering the following factors:
Your physical health
Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, high in antioxidants, along with lean protein, healthy unsaturated fats, whole grains and fibre. Don’t smoke, reduce your alcohol intake. Take regular physical exercise – this is imperative, as it helps boost endorphins and promotes positive thoughts and well-being. Work on improving your sleep – with a proper bedtime routine and excellent sleep hygiene.
Care for yourself as you would if you were looking after a small child.
Your own psychological well being
Learn how to relax, learn breathing exercises, take up meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi. These help to ‘switch off’ the SNS and ‘switch’ on the opposite pathway – the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) making us feel relaxed and happy.
See a psychologist
Find a therapist – a counsellor, or psychologist – who can help you understand your stressors and support you with learning how to deal with them. This could be a relationship or couple therapist, or a bereavement counsellor, for example.
Strengthen your social connections
Reach out to those around you and spend time with friends and family. Feeling connected reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation and helps you to feel you belong, giving you a sense of purpose and self-esteem. This helps build resilience.
Take up new hobbies and interests
Lifelong learning is key to a healthy old age. There are so many ways to do this. Look at the U3A which offers a huge range of learning opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to do something kind and worthwhile for others, and this has been shown to lower stress and improve wellbeing.
Deal with work stress
Discuss your work stress with your manager. What can you do to reduce this stress?
Work more flexible hours, work from home, consider your time management, learn to delegate, and be kind to yourself. Stay optimistic. This will all lead to less procrastination, better productivity, and hopefully, a lower allostatic load.