We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me’ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.
Have you ever felt like you’ve aged by a year in the space of only a few weeks? Feelings of sadness, anger or stress can sometimes be so intense as to leave us feeling depleted, powerless, old. Yet how much of that feeling translates into wrinkles? To what extent do our experiences brighten or tarnish our faces?
Are you in a mood?
When our body is under stress, it produces high levels of cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone“). Cortisol increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels, it hardens arteries, increases fat storage and weakens the immune system. Cortisol has also been linked to muscle and collagen loss, reduced production of growth hormone and reduced cell regeneration. In short, excess cortisol can accelerate aging. Not only that, but it can increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and fertility problems.
Stress can also increase our susceptibility to temptation. When we are stressed we are more likely to make bad food choices, drink to excess or smoke. All these factors can lead to an increased production of free radicals, speeding up the aging process even further. An increased consumption of alcohol and coffee can lead to dehydration, which makes wrinkles appear deeper. When we are under stress, we tend to sleep less and neglect taking care of our skin. That can lead to break outs, dark circles and puffy eyes.
Just like stress, anger leads to increased cortisol levels and, therefore, accelerated aging. Not only that, but all the huffing, puffing, lip pursing and furrowing of brows that goes on when we feel frustrated takes its toll on our poor faces.
Repetitive frowning can leave out faces looking droopy and haggard. Tearful, sleepless nights give us dull skin and puffy eyes. More importantly, chronic depression can accelerate the production of free radicals, which slows down our body’s response to inflammation. Chronic inflammation is believed to accelerate aging and increase the risk of heart disease, neurological diseases and cancer.
Our body responds to fear by switching to a “fight or flight” mode. As our adrenaline levels rise, so does our heart rate, and the blood vessels in our skin become constricted so as to control any bleeding that may occur in the case of injury. This gives our skin a dull and pale appearance. When feelings of fear become prolonged, so does our “fight or flight” reaction, slowly wearing down our body. As our system becomes impaired, our digestion suffers, our vision and hearing deteriorates, and we are no longer able to regenerate cells with the same speed and efficiency.
What you can do
The mood that we are in is largely up to us. Whilst we cannot always control the factors causing stress, sadness or anger, we can control our reaction to those factors. Sometimes that can be difficult. At other times, it can be quite easy. But even if we are able to control our reactions only some of the time, we can still slow down the aging process, improve our appearance and, more importantly, protect our health.
1. Try not to worry about things you cannot change. Let’s say you are late for a meeting. You know for a fact that you are late and there is nothing you can do to prevent that. Getting stressed and frustrated is not going to get you there any faster. So why get old over it?
2. Same goes for things that make you angry. How many times do you find yourself losing your temper over things that are not really very important? Like spilling coffee on your shirt or not being able to operate a gadget. Anger won’t clean your shirt. It will only make you wrinkly.
3. Are there any specific things or people that consistently make you feel stressed, upset or angry? If so, you need to identify them and recognise the effect they are having on you. Once you have done that, you need to think about whether you want those things or people in your life. You may feel it’s time to look for another job, get out of a bad relationship or stop seeing a jealous friend. If so, be brave and take the leap.
In other situations, removing the cause of your stress will not be possible or even desirable. In those cases, there is plenty you can do to control your reaction to stress stimulants in a way that is realistic and methodical. Click here for more tips on how to deal with stress.
4. Accepting ourselves is key to curbing negative feelings. Take care of yourself in the same way as you would take care of a loved one: because you like yourself and you want what’s best for you. You can choose to eat healthy and exercise, not because you feel that you should, but because you want to. You can choose to do things you enjoy because you deserve it. Stop beating yourself up about things.
5. Sometimes, feelings of depression or anxiety are so intense that we cannot cope with them without external help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but one of strength. It proves our determination to react against the things that are dragging us down. If you are going through a period of intense grief or anxiety, consider consulting a doctor.
6. Evidence suggests that smiling reduces stress and makes us feel happier. Smiling, even when we least feel like it, can improve our mood and our confidence. No matter how silly it feels, just go ahead and smile!
Your Stressful Job is Indeed Aging You, Study Confirms