Mindfulness and Skin - How Stress Ages You

In any 24 hour period, there are countless things vying for our attention and focus. In this fast-paced world, we need to be able to multitask, develop a healthy work/life balance, as well as shift through and control various emotions and thoughts that run through our minds as we respond to our relationships, our moods, and our environments.  

And somewhere in your busy day, you'd like to pay more attention to your skin's health and appearance. You know that beauty, confidence, and self-care are important and you might even have a morning and night routine in place. Your serums, creams, dermarollers, and sheet masks are brand new and at the ready. You'd like to greet the day with glow, yet you're finding stress and anxiety seeping into your life.

It's a part of being human. Stress, anxiety, and even depression are things that will affect all of us at some point in our lives. But it's how we respond to these states of mind and emotions that determine our overall mental health. Not only this, but what if I told you that your emotions, thoughts, and states of mind affect you on a physical level as well? That's right. Your mind can affect your outwards appearance and overall health, including the health and appearance of your skin. 

What is Cortisol?

It's common knowledge that stress ages you. When you are presented with a stressful situation, your mind and body act accordingly. It switches to a fight or flight mode, during which you experience increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Your eyes may dilate, your heart rate may increase, and you might feel flushed and warm as blood as being pumped more fully through your body. 

Let's take a look at cortisol, specifically. What exactly is it? And why does it play such an important role in your body?

Cortisol is your body's main stress hormone and is responsible for governing a wide variety of factors:

  • Manages how your body utilizes carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
  • Keeps inflammation down
  • Regulates your blood pressure
  • Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
  • Controls your sleep/wake cycle
  • Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward

It's an integral hormone and plays an undeniable role in your mood, motivation, and responsiveness. But what happens when there's too much cortisol in your system? Headaches, memory and concentration difficulties, digestion issues, irregular sleep patterns, and weight gain are all possible consequences. But the important thing to keep in mind here is that your mood is affecting your body on a chemical level, based on your body's hormonal response to stressful stimuli.

Stress Destroys Collagen and Elastin

Another undesirable trait of high cortisol levels? They break down collagen and elastin in your skinThis is when wrinkles and fine lines begin to form, because the skin is essentially being weakened and robbed of its building blocks that keep it youthful, firm, and healthy. 

In one particular study, chronic stress was found to have negative effects on skin aging in the form of wrinkles. Research has found that "skin aging is often accompanied with a two to four times increase in plasma levels of inflammation."

Chronic stress also leads to insulin resistance, the consequences of this being higher levels of blood sugar. Higher blood sugar contributes to a biological process called glycation that hinders elasticity in skin tissue — another main culprit of wrinkles and fine lines.

How Your Mood Affects Your Face

Are you an overthinker? Do you scrunch your eyebrows when you're upset or angry? Do you find yourself frowning or squinting to comprehend a difficult situation? Do you frown a lot, smile a lot, or tighten your lips?

Lines in the face develop from repetitive creases in the skin. This is why a chronically angry person may have more lines in their forehead than someone who is generally at peace and happy. Their facial expressions determine what repetitive muscle movements and tension are put into play. The bottom line? Overall increased facial muscle tension will develop lines and wrinkles in your skin. 

Being mindful of your mood and facial responses start with the basics. Understanding yourself and your internal emotions is a daunting task, but it's an essential one. Many people don't realize the effects their mood has on their outward appearance, and over time these effects start to show. 

Practice relaxing your facial muscles and being more conscious of moments when you're in deep thought, contemplation, or emotion. Begin by breaking bad habits and developing more peaceful responses to situations and stimulation.

Get Your Beauty Sleep - Literally

I can't stress enough how important sleep is in your mental and physical health. As stated earlier, cortisol can negatively affect your sleep patterns, resulting in less than desirable REM sleep and energy levels. 

Another undesired result of this? Lack of sleep leads to dark circles, under-eye bags, and an overall worn out appearance. Recent studies have even found that one night of insufficient sleep was enough to age adult cells more rapidly. 

Sleep is a vital time of cell growth and regeneration. Not only this, but sleep has an undeniably direct effect on skin. Skin itself follows what's known as a "circadian pattern, varying in thickness and other characteristics in response to the patterns of light and darkness".

Negative sleep patterns also impair the skin's ability to repair itself against stressors. These stressors include inflammation and redness, moisture loss, elasticity loss, and the ability to repair minor damage, like that of sunburn.

Meditation Brings You Back to Yourself - And Slows Down Aging

It's not easy to keep your emotions and thoughts in check. Regulating your internal emotional mapping, changing habitual facial expressions, and getting a solid sleep schedule seems so much easier said than done. I completely get it.

But there are a few steps you can take to start to train your mind and body to respond to stressful situations more healthily. Remember, your body will always have a chemical reaction to stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotions. It's how we navigate these moods that determines our outcome and essentially our overall physical and mental health.

Meditation and breathing exercises are wonderful practices to start incorporating into your life, not only for its mental benefits but for its physical ones as well. Meditation introduces more oxygen into the body, into the bloodstream, and ultimately, into the cells. This transforms body tissues and cells, improving regeneration, reducing wrinkles, and slowing down the aging process. Increased levels of oxygen detox and cleanse the blood, ultimately improving skin conditions as well.

Meditation also reduces those stress hormones in the body, minimizing your levels of cortisol and ultimately its physical impacts. It relaxes those facial muscles, eliminates tension, and lessens the likelihood of wrinkles. 

These overall lifestyle changes don't happen overnight, but with consistency, mindfulness, and devotion, these small changes can make for incredible shifts in your overall mental and physical well being. Not to mention, mindfulness is going to keep you looking younger. All it takes is action - being more conscious of your moods and responses - to alter your body on a chemical and molecular level. 

Amazing skin is more than serums, creams, and dermarollers. It's a mindset, a lifestyle, a glow that emanates from the inside out. It's a peace within the mind, a gratitude for life, and a mindfulness that follows you wherever you go. Skin is more than just cells; it's alive and responds to your emotions and stress levels along with you. It feels and grows, shifts and alters based on your internal states. And understanding this, I believe, is a golden ticket to staying youthful forever, inside and out.

Thank you Amber Babies for sticking with me through yet another blog post and if you have any other tips on mindfulness and emotions, please feel free to drop a comment below!

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