About 3 years ago I was able to interview Elissa Eppel, the colleague of Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn on the topic of stress, mental outlook and telomere length.
While we had some differences of opinion- Elissa did not feel that we could extend life- we did agree on the quality of life issues surrounding telomere length.
Since that time, we have seen several studies that show that you can SHORTEN life by shortening your telomeres and that is the gist of today’s installment.
Here are some of the mindsets that lead to telomere shortening:
- Cynicism with hostility: The person who always assumes the worst and walks around angry is in a high stress fight or flight mentality all the time. This activates stress hormones which in turn activate inflammatory response. I’ve mentioned many times the role of inflammation in aging. Coupled to this is the natural epigenetic tendency to express more inflammatory genes as we age. Did you take your fish oil today?!
- Rumi nation- I couldn’t resist including the name of the oft quoted Sufi mystic who ironically would be a champion of non-rumination. Its estimated that 90% of our thoughts are repeated. While not often admitted we do this to maintain a sense of control. We try to think of all possibilities and plan for them especially the worst ones! Not only does this underline out inability to predict the future (unless you are clairvoyant!) but once again it activates a stress mindset.
- Stray and Pay- I love this aphorism to describe the wandering mindset. People who cannot focus often lose “presence” e.g. they are not in the moment. While the ramifications of this are obvious while you are driving, they may not be so obvious when it comes to telomere length. This is the world of should have could have would have-expressing regrets over what was instead of focusing on what is. Can you see the relationship to #1 and 2 above not to mention having an accident while not paying attention!
- Pessimism- Abraham Hicks encourages us to say “Everything is Always Working out for ME!” The pessimist says “Nothing is EVER working out for me!” again perhaps inviting bad things where they might not find you if you believe in the Law of Attraction. If not then look once again to our friends the stress hormones and see exactly the scientific mechanism for shortening telomere. If you turn up the heat (fight or flight) you are quite simply burning the candle faster at both ends. Remember each chromosome has 2 telomere segments one at each end!
- And now my personal favorite and one that may seem counter intuitive. I call it “The Sweeping it Under the Rug Syndrome!” Some modern day thought leaders teach us to avoid negative thinking because it is bad for us. See any of the above 4 and you might agree. But here is the thing: for lack of a better term your Soul and your Psyche know when you are BSing yourself. Failure to look at what is “wrong” in your life equates to you steering yourself in the wrong direction without any attempt to fix your course. This most often used strategy leads to a sense of safety and comfort in the non-confrontation of ourselves. If we don’t acknowledge it, IT cannot hurt us. Acceptance and surrendering is one thing if you can do it without hostility. But if you are trying to change the unchangeable or not trying to change the changeable your deepest mind will know and you cannot fool yourself. When your Soul and Psyche “know” and you BS yourself you are going to shorten your telomeres and potentially your life and health span. And there will always be some vague oft undefined tension. Those crying spells that seem to come out of no where or the momentary fear of the mistake we are making before we can quickly sweep it under the rug and feed the monster that lives there. Growth and evolution are rarely painless but they are massively rewarding. And when you stand on the rug you will not feel the monster roiling and boiling underneath you!!!
Be honest with yourself.
Now fixing these common thought habits is one way of modifying your lifestyle or your “thought style” to improve telomere length and function.
But as they often said to me when I was a full-bore Internist “Doc, ain’t you got a pill for that?!”
As a matter of fact, I do and keep your eyes open because there is even more I will have for your shortly.
But the IEP is always the place to start.
There is more than one way to skin a cat and there is more than one way to take care of your telomeres.