A 2004 study that followed mothers of chronically ill children showed that the stress of caregiving actually caused these women to age faster on a cellular level than did the mothers of healthy children who constituted the control group.
When cells divide, the protective caps on the ends of the chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten slightly with each replication. The telomere length of the stressed caregiving mothers indicated that their cells had aged an additional nine to 17 years over the normal aging pace of the low-stress group.
What explains the physical toll of stress?
Reasons stress could be harmful include direct effects — such as through long-term suppression of the immune system or excessively elevated stress hormones such as cortisol. Other reasons could include indirect effects as well.
People respond to stress in many ways, not all of them healthy. Overeating, smoking, drinking too much, not exercising enough, and engaging in other risky behavior can certainly take a toll.
We are all bound to go through stressful phases of our life. Just remember that the way we care for ourselves may have a positive or negative effective on our health.