Here's Why Stress Is Killing...The Way You Look

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You’ve got five million emails to answer, deadlines out the wazoo, and a sample sale spree to pay off asap— so basically, you’re in a constant state of WTF. We get it. It’s called stress, people. And there’s a reason you feel it. “Our body protects us from a stressful situation by starting the stress response and releasing hormones to prepare our body for emergency action,” says David E. Bank, MD, a dermatologist and director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York.

Sweaty palms, a crazy fast heartbeat, and your mind reeling is your body’s natural way to help you not only cope with whatever comes your way, but totally rock and make it out alive and well, on the other side. The problem is that it’s not acute, one-time stress that you’ve got to worry about as much as never-ending worrying. It’s when your body finds itself constantly facing stress that you end up facing issues with not only your health but also your appearance.

“When you face a stressor, all functions that are deemed unnecessary to fight off the emergency are put on hold,” explains Bank. “Then, when you face prolonged stress, your body never gets the opportunity to return to homeostasis — so you could have breakouts, high blood pressure, weight gain, and wrinkles all the time.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dolce and Gabbana
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The not-so-pretty side effects of chronic stress:

1). Skin Catastrophes
You know how when you’re on vacay, your skin is glowing and ah-mazing? And then when you don’t get enough sleep and are working crazy hours, it’s dull and gross? You are not hallucinating. “When adrenaline is released through the body, blood flow is directed away from the skin leading to a decrease in oxygen to the skin, making your skin dull, less hydrated, and prone to clogged pores,” explains Bank. The result: obvious lines as well as wrinkles. Plus, when you’re already stressed, you’ve got a pimple to add to it. “The release of cortisol increases oil production and if you’re constantly stressed, the rate of cellular turnover in your skin is slowed down and it takes longer for fresh skin cells to develop,” says Bank. “All these effects working together can aggravate skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis,” he adds. “Stress also causes your immune system to be weak leaving your skin susceptible to attack — the skin’s barrier function is designed to keep moisture in and irritants out, but increased stress makes this more difficult.”

Stress Rx: Fake vacay-skin, 24/7! Since your skin is in a weakened state, it’s important to stick with a routine to make sure it’s getting the nourishment it needs. If stress has aggravated any skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, or severe acne, seeing a dermatologist might be good next step. But if you’re just trying to fix normal wear-and-tear, Bank suggests using a non-comedogenic (won’t clog your pores) moisturizer that contains ceramides (skin-plumping lipids that mimic those naturally found in skin) as well as mega-hydrators such as hyaluronic acid to temporarily iron out lines and mimic skin’s inherent protective layer. This will keep the good stuff in (moisture, water, etc.) and the bad stuff out (i.e. pollutants, irritants). You can also jump-start that collagen-producing mechanism with a retinol-based treatment. While it will take a few weeks to kick in, it can help redo any springy skin damage that occurred while you were all worked up.

2). Fatter Fat Cells That surge of cortisol we talked about earlier keeps blood sugar balanced; the adrenaline makes your body more efficient at turning fat cells into energy. Sounds like the perfect get-slim-quick secret, right? Not quite. “When you’re constantly stressed, your body sees increased levels of glucose, and instead of turning this glucose into energy, it stores it as fat, resulting in weight gain,” says Bank. “While your metabolism is seen as more efficient because of the release of adrenaline, this prolonged increase can actually disrupt the homeostasis of your metabolism.” The super-short summary version: At first you’re all stressed-out skinny, then over time you can’t zip up your skinny jeans.

Stress Rx: Keeping a healthy diet — as in piling fresh fruits and veggies on your plate and being "that girl" who orders a big salad at dinner — will give your body the nutrients it needs to function with all hands on deck, limiting the effects of stress. "With the increase in blood sugar, a balanced diet can help level out glucose levels and limit weight gain," says Bank.

3). Spider Veins
It might sound wacky, but the mind-body connection is not a made-up theory, it’s legit. “Increased blood pressure is a direct result of stress,” explains Bank. “The hormones released by the adrenal medulla increase blood pressure to help you cope with the stressor.” While this doesn’t pose any problem for a minor bitch fest here and there, it can be dangerous if you're experiencing prolonged stress: “Consistent high levels of stress hormones cause your blood pressure to be increased over long amounts of time which can lead to broken blood vessels, redness, varicose veins, and spider veins.”

Stress Rx: Sure, genetics play a major role in whether or not you’re prone to these unsightly suckers, but how you play the game of life clearly factors in, too. Bank notes that developing these malfunctioning veins won’t happen overnight, but over time, stress can exacerbate what you probably would have gotten down the road (are you seeing the pattern here?). To treat veins that have already popped up before they get out of hand, you could head to the derm's office for a series of V-beam (what docs call a pulse dye laser) treatments — the cost is about $500 to $1500 for one to two sessions. The mix of heat and light zap pooled blood and disperse it, causing your body to simply metabolize the waste. Or sclerotherapy — $350 to $500 per shot, a few are needed — which is a saline solution that goes right to the trouble spot to break up the malfunctioned vein. But be warned: Once you get rid of some, others will pop up eventually. Wear tights whenever possible to constrict blood vessels; and kick your feet up — you’ll boost circulation and relax.

Photos: Via SkinMedica, Cooking Light, Candela