Did you know that stress can result in looking years older when not dealt with for prolonged periods of time?

According to Dr. Sanam Hafeez Psy. D, Neuropsychologist and Professor at Colombia University, how our neural pathways respond to anxiety, stress and trauma directly impacts how we age and how youthful we appear. Meaning the routine stressors in our lives really impact how fast or slow we age. When stressed our skin tone, texture, elasticity, and overall glow can drastically change.

“When someone is under stress they can appear up to 5 years older, 10 years if they don’t manage the stress or make changes to their lives. Stressful relationships and careers age people. I have seen patients end relationships or get new jobs and look 10 years younger within days. People are spending money on creams, facials and cosmetic procedures but if the stress is still there it will still show,” offers Dr. Hafeez.

So what are some of the ways in which stress may be affecting your skin?

Circles and bags. Stress can restrict blood flow and capillaries under the eyes are fragile, lack of flow can leave your face looking sallow and tired, accentuating darkness. Stress can also affect us getting appropriate sleep. This in turn can can cause fluid to pool below your lower eyelid area, leaving you with is a puffy mess in the a.m. Stomach sleepers, bad news: You can expect the puffiness of your under-eye bags to be even worse because of gravity.

Mini-Menopause. The jury is still out on exactly how or if this is possible, but it appears that the constant flow of cortisol that goes along with chronic stress causes a dip in estrogen, one that mimics, on a smaller scale, the dip that occurs during menopause. Less estrogen means less collagen and less moisture. So, while estrogen levels may not drop enough to shut down your period, stress may make them dip enough to make your skin look dull and dry. It can also lead to inflammation which may lead to rashes, rosacea, eczema flare ups and other changes in skin moisture.

More wrinkles. Life’s stresses can be heavy (divorce, death, job-loss, financial concerns) which impacts our brain chemistry. When we feel sad or anxious, are crying or not sleeping well it’s common to see deeper lines around the middle of the eyes, forehead, under eye area and mouth.

Adult Acne. Acne isn’t just for hormonal teenagers. Stress hormones can also exacerbate acne flare ups. Squeezing, poking and picking can also become an obsessive way to release tension, but as you know, it makes breakouts worse, exacerbating the inflammatory response, and you’re left feeling a bit more stressed. NO picking.

Hair Loss. Stress can cause sudden hair loss by literally flipping the switch on the hair follicle’s growth stage from an active to a resting phase. Once the follicle enters this resting phase prematurely, it stays there for about three months, after which time a large amount of hair will be shed. When you experience an overall shedding of hair, you must cast back a few months to find the trigger. In most this hair will grow back.

Hormonal Mood Swings. Interaction between hormone physiology and mood works both ways – our mood can impact our physiology, and our physiology can influence the balance of our hormones. Stess can start a cascade of events that lead to undesirable hormonal changes in the body (like those that trigger insomnia, insatiable hunger and weight gain, and collagen breakdown).

According to Dr. Hafeez, “The good news is that there are ways to get to the root cause of our stress and manage it. When you notice changes in your facial appearance take inventory of what is going on in your life and what may be stressing you out. Simple things like sitting quietly for 10 minutes focusing on breathing, writing in a journal, exercising or taking a walk outside, reading, baking, painting, listening to music and reaching for an activity that takes the focus off the stress is most helpful. If you find yourself reverting back to the stressful issue therapy is a wonderful way to work through.”

Clearly there is a connection between how we look and how we feel and think, so keeping an eye on positive thoughts and affirmations can have a big impact. And beyond how we look, it’s important to honor our health and wellness, even if it means seeking professional attention to get back to our best self.

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