How we approach and mentally manage the routine stressors in our lives really impacts how fast or slow we age. As a neuropsychologist, my expertise is in understanding neural pathways as they respond to anxiety, stress, and trauma. How we think directly impacts how we age and how youthful we appear. When stressed, we can see it in our skin tone, texture, elasticity, and overall glow. Stress is literally written all over your face.
When someone is under stress they can appear up to 5 years older, 10 years if they don’t manage 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 on their face.
Here are ways stress is written all over your face
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.
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 wrinkles
Life’s stress due to divorce, death of loved one, job loss, and/or 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. Itchiness, flakes, and even hives
Stress leads to inflammation which may lead to rashes, rosacea, eczema flare ups, and changes in skin moisture.
5. People asking 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 morning. 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 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.
The good news is that we can 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 focus off the stress is helpful. If you find yourself reverting back to the stressful issue, consider therapy. Clearly, there is a connection between how we look and how we feel and think.