Stop Stressing Out: Here’s How Stress Is Messing With Your Body

Stevi Incremona
Stevi graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Drama. When she's not auditioning and running around New York, she's escaping to her original home at the Jersey Shore and most definitely lying on a beach somewhere equidistant between the ocean and tiki bar. She's a coffee snob, craft beer enthusiast, technology nerd, and obviously (most importantly) has a very real addiction to buying and trying affordable beauty products.

In the small amount of time it took for me to write a melodramatic opening line to this article, I missed a call from my parents, several texts from my boss, two calendar alerts reminding me of my obligations tomorrow, and the puppy I’m dog sitting for the week started growling because I haven’t pet him in several minutes.

Things are the opposite of chill. I’ve been operating at a 9 on the scale of “1 to too many obligations” for several weeks now and I’m stressed, dude. It wasn’t until I attempted to do my usual makeup routine this morning that I noticed that no amount of makeup was going to be able to hide the fact I’m overwhelmed and you can literally see it on my face.

Have you ever noticed that at the most inopportune moments (i.e.. big job interview, long awaited first date) your body seems to rebel and your skin does the exact opposite of working with you? It’s not in your head. Stress takes a major toll on the body and one of the first places it shows is on your pretty little (or in my case, quite large) face. Here are some of the ways stress rears its ugly head.


On your face…

When you’re stressed, your body releases a bunch of new hormones, the key one being cortisol. Cortisol can affect your skin in a few ways:

1. Acne

For some, their skin will react with an overproduction of oil, leading to clogged pores. If you already deal with acne, this is very likely to exacerbate the problem. At the same time, it also messes with your immune system, disrupting the skin’s ability to deal with bacteria. This could lead to an inflammatory reaction to germs that your skin comes into contact with, leading to breakouts.

2. Dull skin and under eye bags

Your body’s reaction to stress is a survival mechanism. The “stress response” causes your body to divert blood to more essential organs, so the blood flow to your skin is reduced. This results in less cell turnover, making your skin appear dull, sunken in, pale, or darkened in certain areas.

Dehydration from a decreased intake of water can also lead to dull, dry skin. Perhaps, the area that shows this decreased blood flow most is the signature bags under your eyes that seem to be in full force when you’re at your most stressed.


In Your hair…

While your body is being super dramatic and having this huge fight or flight reaction to stress, other hormone production changes and is slowed down. Melanin, the hormone that gives your hair and skin color, stops being produced. This does a really good job of speeding up the greying process.

Additionally, high levels of stress affect your hair’s growth cycle. Hair goes through three phases: it grows, then it rests, and then it eventually falls out. When you’re stressed, your hair doesn’t stay in the growing phase as long as it should. It completes the cycle and falls out sooner, leading to an all around thinning effect.


In your habits…

If your stress is being caused by external factors like work obligations, a demanding social life, and a budding new romance, chances are you’re sacrificing some things to fit everything in. Maybe your sleep schedule is off, your workout routine has taken a hit, or your eating habits have been altered. Here’s two signs of changes in habit.

1. Sweet and salty comfort

I know, I know, I know. Nothing feels better than plunging your hands into a bag full of salt and vinegar chips after a rough day, but food choices have direct effects on the skin. Salt causes dehydration, while sugar causes bloating. You’ll not only feel like crap because you’re making crappy choices, it’ll show on your face the next day like an annoying passive aggressive reminder of your poor choices.

2. Newfound ticks

Stress is also notorious for causing people to develop little ticks and nervous habits like nail or lip biting, or excessive face touching. Because your immune system is already being played with by our buddy cortisone, you’re much less likely to be able to fend off all the bacteria you’re bringing to your skin if you’re constantly ~face palming~ and rubbing your eyes. Alternately, your cell turnover has taken a hit, so your nails won’t grow back as fast, and your bitten lip won’t heal quite as fast. The overall combo effect ain’t cute. Trust.


The takeaway: be aware of your stress levels

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It is extremely important to be aware of your stress levels and acknowledge your body’s reaction to the small trauma. When you know you have a difficult few weeks ahead, be proactive about stress management.

Take time for yourself and bump up your skincare routine to include some acne-fighting agents if you’re prone to acne. Or focus on your water intake per day if you’re prone to dehydrated, dull looking skin. Any little bit helps.

Focus on the upkeep of your healthy habits. Exercise, a full night’s sleep, and a healthy diet are always important, but they’re imperative when your body is being overworked. The tendency is to make bad decisions regarding our health when we’re stressed, but will only make us feel worse. A focus on staying well rested and active will have you seeing the light at the end of the tunnel sooner, and looking all the more glamorous in the meantime.