iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Robert Tornambe, M.D.

GET UPDATES FROM Robert Tornambe, M.D.
 

Does Stress Make You Ugly?

Posted: 10/16/10 10:30 AM ET

Can stress really affect your physical appearance? Unequivocally, stress not only affects your mental well-being but also has a direct impact on beauty. Aside from the unattractive scowl that stress brings to the face, it creates direct physiological changes.

Stress is defined as the reaction of the body to a stressor or stimulus that causes stress. Stress can be acute, which affects the body in the short term, or chronic, affecting the body in the long term. Synonyms for stress include anxiety, nervousness, apprehensiveness, impatience, fear and restlessness.

There are three basic stages of stress. Alarm, the initial phase, is a reaction to a stimulus that one would perceive as a danger, initiating the "fight or flight" defense mechanism built into our systems. The brain's adrenal gland produces the hormone adrenaline, which stimulates an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, causing a greater amount of blood flow to the large muscle groups of the body, creating a burst of energy and strength. This primeval mechanism permits the body to flee from danger or fight for survival.

The second stage is resistance, in which the body's resources start to deplete in an effort to cope with the drastic changes occurring. The final stage is exhaustion, as the body simply stops functioning normally as resources become completely depleted. This is a simplistic description of the stress mechanism, and obviously there are different degrees of stress that can affect us.

Stress that is well managed or occurring in small increments is not harmful, and when the stressful stimulus is removed, the body reverts back to normal. An example of reasonable and manageable stress may be a deadline for work or school that can provide the initiative to get that particular job done on time.

Stress that is not controlled most certainly affects the body's physical characteristics or beauty. It affects skin, hair, fingernails, digestion and sleep patterns. Stress-induced conditions include hair loss, heart disease, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual dysfunction, tooth and gum disease and ulcers or indigestion.

Stress-induced production of adrenaline and another hormone, cortisol, has a significant deleterious effect on the skin, the body's largest organ. The cell renewal process of the skin occurs every 28 days but slows as we age, causing wrinkles and dry skin. Stress slows that process even further, hastening the aging process. The excessive hormone production also stimulates the skin to create thicker hair follicles and increase the oil production, creating acne breakout. Rashes can occur from stress, too. The immune system is affected by stress, increasing the skin's susceptibility to irritation from outside pollutants and free radicals, also inducing early aging.

The stress hormones also affect digestion, preventing the absorption of needed vitamins from food. Vitamin B deficiency causes hair loss. It forces hair follicles to remain in the "telogen" phase of growth, which is essentially the fall out stage. This can occur up to three months after a stressful event. Vitamin deficiency also causes gum disease and allows fingernails to become brittle or causes nail biting, further affecting growth.

So how can we prevent stress from affecting our appearance? Countless books and articles have been written on the subject of dealing with stress. The first step is recognition. To help deal with your stress, write down a list of what you are most worried about before any event, or what chronically causes worry in your life. Identifying your stressors is the first step in managing them. If you are chronically late or find that it hard to get organized, figure out what you do that makes you late or disorganized. Write it down, and acknowledge it. Then you can come up with a plan to preemptively tackle what may drive you and your loved ones into a stressed-out situation.

Over time, you will find that a small amount of preparation can prevent larger problems from forming in the first place. Another trick in dealing with stress is plain old reasoning and the realization that you cannot control everything. Sometimes we trap ourselves into worrying about things that we have no control over, and recognition of that fact can reduce stress immeasurably.

Develop your own personal stress-busting techniques to allow you to deal with acute stressful situations.

  1. Learn to meditate or do deep breathing exercises.
  2. Express yourself: Sing a song. This will regulate your breathing and stop any stress-related hyperventilation.
  3. Exercise. Take a long walk or run or find whatever physical activity that allows you to circumvent the effects of stress.
  4. Identify those activities that you truly love and permit you to become immersed in their endeavor. This encourages you to think about something other than what is bothering you. These include hobbies, movies or music.
  5. Get a pet. Studies have shown that petting a dog or cat is a proven way to lower your blood pressure.
  6. Volunteer and take the focus off yourself; do community service, help out your kids' PTA, or tutor students in need.

These are just a few recommendations. Each of us must develop our own personal techniques to deal with stress and allow us to go on with our lives in a normal fashion.

 
 
 

Follow Robert Tornambe, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertMTornambe