How does stress affect your appearance?
Stress has been associated with a number of different health problems over the years, from high blood pressure, to diabetes, to even obesity! As our understanding of this issue increases, it’s becoming more and more apparent that our emotions can have a significant impact on our physical health and our skin is certainly no exception!
Despite these leaps forward, though, not many people seem to be aware that stress could potentially be prematurely ageing our skin. I do touch on this a little bit in my blog, ‘6 habits that are prematurely ageing your skin’ but to summarise, a study conducted by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that chronic anxiety was capable of shortening telomere length in middle aged women.1
Telomeres can loosely be described as the protective caps that keep your chromosomes safe. These protective caps will naturally wear away as you age but the study found that stress and anxiety could be exacerbating this process, thus ageing your skin at a cellular level!
Of course this often takes the form of more visible symptoms and there are other contributing factors to consider too. That’s why below I’m going to be discussing 6 ways stress can noticeably age your appearance, from wrinkles to puffy eyes to hair loss!
1. Stress can make your eyes appear darker and puffier
Have you noticed that the delicate skin surrounding your eyes is appearing darker and duller?
Baggy eyes can become more common as we age for a number of reasons, but stress can play a role in exacerbating this process. When you experience stress, it will trigger your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes and one side effect of this is that your blood vessels will dilate. If this is happening regularly, it can damage the fragile capillaries under your eyes, causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissues, making the area appear darker and puffier. You also have to consider, too, that stress can interrupt your sleep which can have a number of influences, especially when it comes to this problem!
My top tip: If you feel as though stress is starting to affect the appearance of your eyes, don’t worry! There’s still plenty you can do to tackle those dark circles and baggy skin. I would start by having a read of my blog, ‘7 simple tips to get rid of puffy eyes’ which offers a few options when it comes to treating the appearance of puffy eyes. It’s also important that you consider your salt intake too – too much salt in your diet can contribute to water retention, which in turn can worsen this particular issue.
2. Stress can cause wrinkles
Ever been told that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile? This idiom isn’t entirely inaccurate as frowning can cause the muscles around your mouth to tense which, over time, can cause wrinkles to occur. However, stress can have a bigger impact when it comes to a more important factor to consider when thinking about premature ageing – oxidative stress!
Oxidative stress occurs when free radical molecules (which are produced when your body processes oxygen) start to damage healthy cells. When this damage becomes too much, you can experience oxidative stress, which exacerbates the ageing process by affecting your skin’s natural tone and breaking down key structural proteins, such as collagen. Stress accelerates this as, when you experience emotional stress, the hormones released during this response can cause free radicals to proliferate.
My top tip: The good thing about oxidative stress is that there is a simple solution – antioxidants! These nutrients help to hunt down the scavenging free radical molecules in your body, preventing them from harming healthy skin cells and helping to repair any damage. Your diet is the best to start in order to increase your intake. Think brightly coloured fruit, leafy green veg and plenty of berries – goji berries, blueberries and blackberries really come into their own here! If you want any more inspiration, I’ve included a few excellent, antioxidant-rich recipes below.
My favourite antioxidant-rich recipes:
Carrot and Mango Smoothie
15 Minute Rainbow Lentil Soup
3. Stress makes your skin appear drier
Dry skin is a common skin problem that’s even associated with wider skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Often, environmental factors have a big role to play – dry air, sun exposure and even the wind can all play a role in drying your skin out! Research is now indicating that stress could be playing a role too, by inhibiting your skin’s ability to retain moisture. In my blog, ‘Can eczema really be affected by stress?’ I cover this problem in more depth but, unfortunately, if your skin is unable retain moisture it will naturally become drier and then more vulnerable to irritation. You might also find that your skin struggles to repair any damage, further compounding this issue!
My top tip: Dry skin is a common skin complaint but one that’s easy to address. In my blog, ’10 tips to comfort dry skin’ I discuss a few simple steps to implement in your day-to-day life, such as involving more natural products in your skincare routine or incorporating a humidifier into your household. I also emphasise the importance of moisturising here – a good, high quality moisturiser can really help to nourish your skin barrier, allowing your epidermis to absorb more moisture as well as other skin-boosting nutrients. One of my favourite moisturisers for skin that’s suffering from stress-induced premature ageing is our soothing Comfrey Cream.
4 – Stress weakens collagen
Collagen is absolutely pivotal when it comes to the health of your skin, helping to keep it supple and elasticated, ensuring a youthful-looking complexion. Unfortunately, as we age our production of this structural protein will naturally decline. That’s why the last thing you want is stress eating away at your supply of this vital substance. As with most things stress-related, the blame here lies with cortisol.
If you’re constantly in a state of stress then your blood levels of this steroid hormone are going to be sky high which is bad news for your skin, as cortisol can degrade collagen, even influencing how your body produces this protein. This means that, over time, your skin could start to lose its elasticity and become more vulnerable to premature ageing, especially when it comes to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles!
My top tip: When it comes to boosting your production of collagen, once again what you eat can play a big role. In particular, vitamin C is important here. This multitalented nutrient is essential for supporting collagen, but unfortunately it can often be leeched from your body by dietary choices such as drinking caffeinated drinks, or detrimental habits, like smoking. If you really feel as though you need to give your production of vitamin C a little life, you could try our natural vitamin C supplement, Nature-C.
5 – Stress could be affecting your hair growth
Stress isn’t just bad news for your skin – it’s also pretty terrible for your hair too! This connection is actually quite well established as, when you experience stress, your body focuses on producing extra hormones such as cortisol. This, in turn, can affect other hormones throughout the body which can then have a knock-on effect on your hair. For example, in cases of telogen effluvium, stress can encourage your hair follicles to enter a resting phase thereby stunting your hair growth, leading to thinner hair or even hair loss!
My top tip: Looking after your hair properly is crucial but, unfortunately, these days most of us expose our hair to damaging elements such as thermal heat (straighteners, curlers etc.) or don’t take proper care when washing or drying it. If stress is also inhibiting your hair growth then this can be a recipe for disaster, which is why I would try to put as much effort as possible into nourishing your hair. I speak a little bit more about this in my blog ’10 ways to avoid bad winter hair days’ but you could try using more natural products such as our ultra-nourishing Neem Shampoo.
6 – Stress can encourage inflammation
Inflammation lies at the heart of many skin conditions, such as eczema and acne, ultimately causing irritation, swelling, itchiness and a whole ton of damage to your skin cells. Unfortunately, if you’re in the midst of a bout of stress, your body is going to be swimming with inflammatory chemicals which will definitely have repercussions for your skin. If you do suffer from a skin condition, you may find that you experience a vicious flare-up but, even if you don’t, inflammation can encourage the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, enlarge your pores, promote free radical damage and contribute to puffiness!
My top tip: Stress doesn’t just flood your system with inflammatory chemicals, it can also encourage inflammation in a variety of other ways – it can inhibit your sleep patterns and make you more susceptible to unhealthy food cravings, both of which will inevitably make you more vulnerable to the symptoms. That’s why it’s important to keep on top of these secondary elements too – make sure you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep each night and recognise when you’re starting to reach for junk food alternatives. This can sometimes be easier said than done, of course, but this is where good sleep hygiene can come into the picture!
What can I do to tackle stress?
These tips are all very well and good but, if stress is the underlying trigger affecting your skin, then it only makes sense that you tackle this issue head on. There are a number of ways you can go about doing this – you could try to address the source of your stress or discuss your feelings with a friend or family members. These steps might seem a bit daunting to begin with but, trust me, they tend to be the most effective methods in the long run.
You could also try practicing different methods of relaxation. Mindfulness is one technique that comes to mind here or you could try participating in more gentle, low-impact forms of exercise such as tai-chi or stretching.
However, if you really feel as though you need a helping hand when it comes to tackling stress, you could try our gentle stress remedy AvenaCalm. AvenaCalm is prepared using extracts of the oat herb plant meaning that it’s extremely rich in B vitamins which can help to support your nervous system, enabling you to cope better when you feel anxious or under pressure.