Let’s face it, stress is part of every-day life. Very few of us can avoid it. Anxiety often blights teenage years, but this is usually overcome as we mature. Stressful situations linked to work or relationships can hinder both physical and mental health. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt like a kettle on constant boil.
While some people learn coping mechanisms to reduce the impact of unavoidable stresses, others will struggle. For many of us, coping gets harder as the years go by.
Redundancy, a bereavement, health problems, mobility issues and, yes, even lockdown restrictions can pile on the pressure. So, what does all this do to our appearance?
If you are burdened with emotion, it can take a physical toll. You may even suffer from depression or another illness as a result. It could be that you start to neglect yourself, too. People who cannot manage certain situations or challenges are much more likely to feel as well as look older than their peers. And science can explain why…
Stress: What It Does To The Body
When we become stressed, the body reacts by producing hormones. This includes adrenaline and norepinephrine but also cortisol. While these chemical reactions may provide short-term benefits, they can have detrimental, longer-term drawbacks.
Unfortunately, women are more prone than men to high levels of stress hormones. Studies suggest this puts us at greater risk of certain health conditions, including reduced immune responses, heart complaints and even high blood pressure.
Learned behaviours to control stress are thrown off-balance by repeated high levels of these hormones. This is especially true as we get older.
According to The HPA Axis Response To Stress In Women: Effects of Ageing and Fitness, a study by T Traustadottir et al and published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, levels of hormones can increase with age. In fact, the cortisol levels in men can be almost three times LESS than in women.
This research appears to be backed up by university* experiments in the United States, which suggest increased levels of cortisol, over time, can damage the brain. (It just gets worse, doesn’t it?) This damage appears to impact the memory. So ‘chemo brain’, ‘senior moments’ and ‘the change’ may not always be to blame when you momentarily forget something.
Research is still being undertaken to consider a link between stress and the risk factors associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease. Scary stuff.
The next time you react to a shocking news story, consider this… Studies have found women are more adversely impacted by negative media reports than men. A report by Marie-France Marin, Julie-Katia Morin-Major, Tania E Schramek, Annick Beaupré, Andrea Perna, Robert-Paul Juster, and Sonia J Lupien, published in the journal Plos, determined bad news stories can cause stress reactions to increase in women. Not only that, negative news is the one thing women are least likely to forget.
What Anxiety Can Do To The Face
When people assume a person who looks older than their years has had a hard life, they may not be wrong. Excessive stress, along with raised levels of hormones released into the body as a result, has been proven to significantly impact the immune system. In fact, stress ‘ages’ it.
Research has determined that some cells on the end of chromosomes can even stop dividing. This internal ageing process can dictate how long we live – let alone how long we can still pass for 40 in our 60s!
If you are not convinced, take a look at this research – The impact of oxidative DNA damage and stress on telomere homeostasis.
Not everyone whose telomere cells age prematurely will look like a walnut, of course. But they are more likely to, simply because of failing health.
Lack of motivation, or even the ability to take care of the skin, are big factors. But the biggest issue is not being able to manage stress levels.
I am writing in the dark here because, on a scale of 1 to 10, I am an 11 when it comes to anxiety. It’s probably why I’m going through treatment for cancer and it’s probably why I led a pretty unhealthy lifestyle during my three decades in the newspaper industry. Thank God for all the potions I’ve put on my face over the years!
This next bit is where we can all learn something. I will re-read, and not just for proof-reading purposes, after I have typed it!
How To Stay ‘Young’ For Longer
Enough of the depressing stuff! This is what we all need to read – how to manage stress.
It goes without saying that if we feel great, we will probably look great – or, at least, good. Some studies have suggested that people who are happy with themselves tend to live longer too.
Top tips for minimising stress:
Try to maintain a positive outlook on life, whatever the situation. For example, I was a crying wreck when I was told I had stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer. I made tentative enquiries about a plot in the graveyard, considered cashing in a pension and was, generally, consumed by doom and gloom. However, once I started chemotherapy and realised it was nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be, I embraced it. In fact, serious pandemic stresses aside, I lived and breathed chemo. That was my glimmer of hope. I made new friends all around the world, going through exactly the same as me. Guess what? Pathological complete response. (Look that up, if you don’t know what it means.)
Don’t isolate yourself. It may be hard at the moment, but keep in touch with those you care about. It doesn’t matter if you can’t visit them, or vice versa. A simple phone call, text message or video chat can be hugely uplifting and give us a different perspective. Feeling supported and cared for reduces stress.
Say ‘No’ to becoming a couch potato. I’m one of the worst offenders for this. In fact, I’ve been sat in front the TV or a computer screen for a year – with my only forays into the wider world being hospital appointments. In the context of the pandemic, it has given me a great deal of comfort. I have felt safe at home. However, lack of exercise is not good for anyone. That’s why, now that I’ve had the first vaccine shot, my number one priority is to get out and about (off the beaten track, of course). I’ve encouraged myself to do this by investing in some comfortable trainers. I went for my first long walk in 12 months yesterday. Hence, my legs are aching today. But it’s a good ache.
Look after yourself. I know we talk about pampering ourselves so often that, in a way, it has become an almost meaningless phrase. But, it shouldn’t be. A nice face mask. A long, bubbly bath. Soothing skin creams… They can help not just make us feel better in the moment but have lasting benefits. Taking care of the skin can reduce our chances of developing an infection as well as make us look great.
Here’s to living longer – and looking younger – for many, many years to come!
*University of California at San Francisco. Aging, the stress response, cortisol, and cognitive function.
Further reading on this website: Insomnia: The Impact Of Sleep Deprivation On The Face – Regime Skin Care