Stress is, at times, probably one of the most overused words of the 21st century but it is actually one of the biggest health threats of this century too. Most are well aware of the ever growing presence of stress but what you may not know is what stress can do to our appearance.
The key things that we tend to judge our appearance on are; skin, hair, weight and teeth, and shockingly stress highly detrimental to all 4!
The ‘villain’ in much of this is Cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands and is essential for life- it helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system, it helps to balance the effect of insulin to keep the blood sugar levels normal and it does have a very important role in responding to stress. However! As our lives are becoming more and more stressful and for over longer periods of time (cortisol works best in the fight or flight scenarios) we are overproducing cortisol and our bodies don’t like it!
The primary issue with excess cortisol is sleep function- basically it messes it up! High cortisol levels can reduce the amount of REM sleep we get which further elevates cortisol production. REM is our ‘restorative sleep’, this is when our cells can repair and regenerate collagen-making cells that keep us looking bright and youthful, so lack of sleep = dull skin. The lack of sleep also effects blood sugar levels and when these are heightened our bodies take on an inflammatory state which, among many other negative health issues, causes our skin to thin and age.
Acupuncturist and aromatherapist, Annee de Mamiel, founder of the wonderful de Mamiel range agrees, adding “There is tension in muscles because we are holding onto stress, this we see as furrowing, lines and wrinkles in our skin. Conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis, are aggravated by stress, which triggers unexpected flare-ups that in effect, create more stress.”
Cortisol can also increase oil production and supress the immune system, a lethal combination for acne sufferers; the excess oil can create breakouts and the supressed immune system gives slow-growing bacteria in acne a chance to form.
The excess oil can also affect our hair, causing it to become lank, dull and greasy, but in more extreme cases, high stress levels can also possibly cause hair to fall out. I say ‘possibly’ because there are many debates on whether this has actually been proven or not but I am sure many alopecia sufferers can directly link their hair loss to a traumatic event or highly stressful period in their life. One thing that pretty much is agreed on regarding hair, is that significant stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into the telogen (fall-out) phase causing the hair to look thinner overall. Again, greying hair and stress is still debated on but compare any prime minister’s or president’s hair at the beginning of their term with the end of their term and the answer seems pretty clear to me!
Many people comfort eat when they are stressed but that’s not the main cause of weight gain through stress, it’s that pesky cortisol again. Cortisol regulates the body’s blood sugar levels but in excess it directly effects glucose levels and slows the metabolic rate. So any excess fat and glucose that isn’t burnt off in the ‘fight or flight’ scenario (which isn’t much in our modern day lives!) remains in the body and is deliberately stored around the stomach close to the liver ready to revert back to energy. Add to this the digestive problems associated with stress such as bloating and IBS, and no wonder our waistlines have expanded throughout evolution.
There is also a complex connection between the brain and the digestive system; the stomach and intestines have more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord, and these nerves run directly from the brain to the digestive system! No wonder we talk about ‘gut feelings’! In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin (mood controlling hormone) is found in the digestive system, not the brain!
The good news is that all of these issues can be resolved when we get the stress under control, the bad news is the same can’t be said about our teeth. Dr Manrina Rhode from the award winning Harley Street Dental Studio says “During times of stress or anxiety it is a natural response for people to clench their teeth because in doing so they actually release endorphins to help feel better but it is incredibly ageing for the teeth. Often people will grind their teeth in their sleep too, wearing away the enamel, and once the enamel is gone it doesn’t come back”. Dr Manrina recommends using a gum shield at night if you know you grind your teeth or during stressful periods.
We all know there is more to beauty than just what’s on the surface but what we see in the mirror is also a good indicator of what going on inside, stress is damaging our health and we need to get a hold of it. Go for a walk! Sing! Go out with your friends or have a night in! Exercise! Chill out! Breathe! Laugh! Cry! (it does you good to let it out!) Do whatever it takes! Everyone is different so do what works for you, but the one thing that cannot be compromised on is sleep. Good sleep is the absolute key to controlling how our body copes with stress; aim for at least 7 hours a night and give yourself a ‘technology curfew’ (it’s been proven that the blue-white light from LED screens disrupts our brains from releasing melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep) then sit back and watch as your appearance restores to its former glory! Well it’s not called beauty-sleep for nothing!
Potters Herbals Nodoff Plus Mixture to aid sleep, £6.59
Potters Herbals Calm & Relax tablets for stress and irritability, £5.49
Lumity beauty supplement for improved hormonal balance and more restful sleep, from £79.00