Is constant stress making you look older than your years? Is it taking its toll on your body, as well?
One definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Another is “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.; something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.” We all experience stress throughout our lives – some people even claim they thrive on stress, because it helps them focus and forces them to get things done. But what happens when stress becomes chronic?
Unrelenting stress has been shown to have a number of negative impacts on the body, from insomnia to weight gain, to the increased risk of heart disease, depression and impairment of the digestive and immune systems, as well as the central nervous system. It also can show on the outside, affecting the condition of our hair, skin, and eyes, giving us the appearance of being far older than our years.
What happens to the body under constant stress?
When we are under ongoing stress, it simulates a constant fight-or-flight reaction within our bodies. Stress chemicals are released in the body triggering biological changes that over time can have a harmful effect on critical DNA in the cells. In one study, researchers measured the length of DNA sections called telomeres, and found that individuals with the greatest job stress had the shortest telomeres – and when telomeres become too short, the cells can die or become damaged. Shortening of telomeres has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Stress can also contribute to signs of aging in the brain. Chronic stress has been shown to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in women.
In addition to speeding up the heart rate and increasing blood pressure, production of the stress hormone adrenaline can lead to temporary vision and hearing loss.
What are visible effects of chronic stress?
Aging Skin. When we are under ongoing stress, our bodies are constantly producing the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for collagen breakdown, among other things. This prevents the skin from repairing itself naturally. Without the recuperative qualities of healthy collagen and elastin to deal with the damage to the skin, it is more likely to develop wrinkles, loss of volume and elasticity, and become dull and dry.
Hair Loss. Stress can literally flip the switch on the hair follicle’s growth stage, sending it into a dormant state. Once it enters this stage, it can remain inactive for a number of months, causing a large amount of hair to shed. For most women this is a temporary condition, but it can be disconcerting to say the least…adding to even greater stress levels.
Adult Acne. Raging hormones and acne are not just for teens. Adult-size stress and the hormones that are released as a result of it, can trigger acne long after we have left our teen years.
Tired, Puffy Eyes. Stress ages eyes by robbing us of the deep, restorative sleep that’s essential to the youth and health of the whole body. Getting too little shuteye sets off a series of skin problems – inflammation, leaky capillaries, and poor waste removal. Fluids that should be carted away from the skin while we sleep never get picked up. In the face, the excess liquid has to go somewhere, so it pools in the delicate tissue under the eyes, causing dark, puffy, under-eye circles.
Tips for getting stress under control
One major factor in feeling stressed is our perception that we’ve lost control. WebMD offers some tips to help establish more control over the stress in our daily lives.
• Ask yourself what you can do about the sources of your stress. Think through the pros and cons. Take action where you can.
• Keep a positive, realistic attitude. Accept that although you can’t control certain things, you’re in charge of how you respond.
• Stand up for yourself in a polite way. Share your feelings, opinions, or beliefs, instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
• Learn and practice relaxation techniques. Try breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, yoga, or tai chi.
• Exercise regularly. You’ll feel better and be more prepared to handle problems.
• Eat healthy. Avoid too much sugar. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. When you’re stressed, you’ll probably want less-nutritious comfort foods, but if you overdo them, they’ll add to your problems.
• Try to manage your time wisely.
• Say no, where you can, to things that would add more stress to your life.
• Make time for hobbies and interests.
• Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
• Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or food to manage stress. Ease up on caffeine, too.
• Spend time with people you love.
• Talk with a counselor or take a stress management class for more help.
We can’t prevent stress in our lives, but we can learn to recognize when it has become a chronic threat to our health and wellbeing. Learning to manage stress is the key. It sometimes takes a little practice and effort to apply these techniques in our lives, but our effort is well worth it when we see the positive benefits to body and soul…inside and out.
Sources: Huffington Post; Daily Makeover; WebMD.