It’s official, American’s stress is breaking records. Specifically, the American Psychological Association’s anxiety meter registered a statistically significant increase in stress for the first time. The “Stress in America” survey has been running since 2007 and results show that stress has been gradually decreasing, until now. According to Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., professor at Columbia University and founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services (New York City), prolonged stress can lead to premature aging. The routine stressors have a significant impact on how fast or slow each individual ages. “When someone is under stress they can appear up to five years older, 10 years if they don’t manage stress or make changes to their lives,” says Hafeez. “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 in their face.” Here are the telltale signs of stress to look out for on clients’ faces and your own.
1. Dark circles: Stress results in blood flow to main organs plus capillaries under eyes are fragile and break under stress leaving your face looking sallow and tired. Dark circles seem more apparent.
2. 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.
3. More visible wrinkles: Life’s stress due to divorce, death of loved one, job-loss, financial concerns; 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.
4. You itch, flake and even have hives: Stress leads to inflammation which may lead to rashes, rosacea, eczema flare ups and changes in skin moisture.
5. People ask if you’re feeling okay: When the Starbucks barista or guy at the dry cleaners asks if you’re feeling okay, pay attention. These people may not know the details of your life but they know how you look because they see you quickly.
6. Under-Eye Bags: Tomorrow's to-do list can weigh on your mind, keeping you from getting enough beauty sleep. This can cause fluid to pool below your lower eyelid area, and what you end up 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.
7. Increased jaw size – Heavy jaw: Grinding teeth and clenching of the jaw are common symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, these habits can cause the jaw muscles to work overtime. This can result not only in damaged teeth, but also a heavier than usual jawline, as the muscles become larger with the grinding action.
8. 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. Rest assured that in most women, this hair will grow back.
9. Adult Acne: Acne isn’t just for hormonally crazed teenagers. Many adults can’t seem to outgrow it because of stress hormones. What makes it worse is that tense people often can’t leave pimples alone. Squeezing, poking and picking at them becomes an almost obsessive way to release tension, but it also makes breakouts worse, exacerbating the inflammatory response, and you’re left feeling a bit more stressed. So no picking
10. Hormonal Mood Swings: There is a lot of interaction between hormone physiology and mood that works both ways. Our mood can impact our physiology, and our physiology can influence the balance of our hormones. If stress can sit at the top of 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), then what we want to do is find ways to gain the upper hand on our stress level and ensure that we keep all those hormones in check.