Managing a home and demanding career smoothly in today’s economy and fast-paced living is by no means an ordinary feat. Yet it's one that we expect ourselves to keep up with.
Many of us have experienced waking up to the alarm in the morning feeling rushed to send our children to school and get ourselves to work on time.
Unfortunately, the consistent stress of modern day living slowly builds inroads into our psychology. It leaves many of us feeling anxious through most of the workday though there is no real perceived threat to our physical security.
New research now says that those of us who are prone to anxiety, especially in the forties and fifties, tend to age faster.
The study that was conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital shows that a common type of anxiety known as phobic anxiety causes our telomeres to shorten, subsequently accelerating the aging process.
This is especially true for middle-aged and older women. (1)
Phobic anxiety is a disproportionate dread of an anticipated situation or thing. Such situations or things that cause dread are thus avoided by those who suffer from phobic anxiety.
Common types of phobic anxieties are social phobia and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). However, this avoidance causes the afflicted person to live a sub-optimal life. (2)
Telomeres are essentially a repetitive sequence of DNA material called nucleotides. Telomeres are present at both the ends of every chromosome and protect them from fusing into the next chromosome or deteriorating.
They also allow the chromosome to divide without losing genes or getting shorter after each division. However, the telomeres themselves shorten after every chromosome division, continuing to change with age until they die. (3)
Telomeres are considered markers of biological or cellular aging. Shortened telomeres are believed to be risk factors for cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital study took a large-sized population of 5243 women between the ages 42 and 69 years and made a cross-sectional study of the participants’ blood samples.
The blood samples were used to determine telomere length of the participants. They were also administered a validated questionnaire which required self-declaration of phobic symptoms the participants had.
When each participant’s blood sample along with the questionnaire data were analyzed, such women who had a high phobic anxiety level also had significantly shorter telomere length.
On average, the difference of telomere length was seen for an additional six years. This meant that on an average women experiencing phobic anxiety were biologically six years older than their actual age.
According to Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, BWH Department of Psychiatry and study author, “Many people wonder about whether and how stress can make us age faster. So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress - phobic anxiety and a plausible mechanism for premature aging. However, this type of study design cannot prove cause-and-effect or which problem came first - the anxiety or shorter telomeres.” (4)
However, what the study does accomplish is that it provides a platform for more research linking anxiety to telomere length.
1. Anxiety Linked to Shortened Telomeres, Accelerated Aging; Science Daily News; Web August 2012;
2. Anxiety Disorders; Patient.co.uk; Web August 2012;
3. Are Telomeres The Key To Aging And Cancer? Learn Genetics - The University of Utah; Web August 2012;
4. Anxiety Linked to Shortened Telomeres, Accelerated Aging; Brigham And Women's Hospital - Press Release; Web August 2012;
Abstract of the technical report may be accessed at:
1. High Phobic Anxiety Is Related to Lower Leukocyte Telomere Length in Women; PLOS ONE; Web August 2012;
Reviewed September 5, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith