Why it pays to stay calm: Anxiety may age you by SIX YEARS

  • Women with phobias were found to have more cellular damage associated with ageing
It will do nothing to calm a fearful person, but a new study has found that anxiety could make you grow old more quickly.
Researchers found that a common form of the condition, known as phobic anxiety, could trigger cellular damage leading to premature ageing.
Older women with an unreasonable fear of situations such as crowds or heights had shorter telomeres than their calmer peers. Telomeres are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect our genetic material from damage.
Women with a phobia such as a fear of crowds, were found to be ageing more quickly
Women with a phobia such as a fear of crowds, were found to be ageing more quickly
They are considered markers of biological or cellular ageing. Shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.
A team from Brigham and Women's Hospital from Boston took blood samples from more than 5,000 women aged 42 to 69 years old. They also asked them to fill out a questionnaire about any phobic symptoms that they sufferers. 
The team found having a high phobic anxiety level was associated with significantly shorter telomere lengths. 
The difference in telomere lengths for women who were highly phobic vs. not was similar to what was seen for an additional six years of age.
Study author Dr Olivia Okereke: '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.'
The findings pave the way for further prospective investigations relating anxiety to telomere length change.
The study was published online in PLoS ONE.