Stress Less, Smile More.

I have had a busy few weeks, and much to my delight was told by several clients last week that I look tired. Thanks Guys! I knew I was due a break, and when we are tired and stressed, it quite literally shows in our faces. And the longer we work like this, the more it shows up in our bodies too - dark circles, thin hair, loss of muscle mass which could lead to more injuries and the memory of a goldfish.

Maybe it's a rise in technology and social media, perhaps its work, relationships, the pandemic, the stress of planning for a 'perfect' Christmas, or the fact that we get the appreciation/recognition we are seeking for the same things that burn us out. Whatever the reason behind your stress levels, you can guarantee it will show up in our hair, eyes, skin, and body that can make us look and feel older than we should.

The good news is that our bodies can rejuvenate themselves to age better and reverse the signs of ageing with some easy daily tricks and tools that trigger the relaxation response.

What is stress doing to our skin?

To understand what damage stress is doing to our bodies, let's look at the science. The stress hormone cortisol is not a friend to our appearance, especially our skin. Stress causes the overproduction of cortisol, which means inflammation, achy bones, reddened skin, inflamed sinuses and thinning hair. All of a sudden, everything aches. You're not sick; you are overstressed. Sound familiar?

How to reverse the stress response

Ok, so we've established that additional stress can make us appear older, and if you want proof, just look at any president before and after they've been in office! But looking it at from a positive perspective, our bodies respond quickly to the benefits of a little downtime.

Clever marketing gurus have been telling us for years that the answer lies in a topical application, and hey presto, this product(s) can defy the laws of nature. The key is to keep things simple, using fewer ingredients and natural products. Take an hour and turn off your phone. Allow your body to do what it does best - heal, repair, regulate and digest - and everything will calm down, settle, and restore itself.

Shift your perception and breathe

We are so overstimulated these days that people struggle to ease into a relaxed state. Endless to-do lists mean that finding the time just to sit and be still is virtually impossible. If you were to observe a room full of adults these days, you would see they are all breathing into their chests, shallow and short. They should be deep breathing, fully expanding their chests and diaphragms. This is a big indicator that we are all in a state of fight or flight without even realising it. Stress is thriving, and the biochemical reactions on the body are happening whether we pay attention to it or not.

To get our stress levels to reduce, it's pretty simple. We need to practise daily breathing exercises to deepen our breath and open the diaphragm. When we breathe this way, we aid the digestive system, bring blood back to our vital organs, and the body learns to recognise there is no immediate threat and that it's ok to rest and relax.

De-stress with a smile

Next time you're so frustrated you feel like gritting your teeth, you might try grinning instead. Studies suggest smiling is not only good for you psychologically, but physiologically, too. Surprisingly, a smile can bring you health benefits even if you don't start out feeling happy.

A team of psychologists from the University of Kansas set out to discover whether having your face in a smiling position could reduce stress. In their study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers Sarah Pressman and Tara Kraft wanted to test the old adage "grin and bear it" to determine not what makes a person smile but what a smile can do once it's in place.

They gauged stress levels by taking heart rate measurements and asking the subjects how stressed they felt while performing difficult tasks.

Regardless of facial expression, all participants reported feeling about the same degree of stress during the tasks. What differed, however, was how quickly the different groups' heart rates returned to normal: the heart rates of the subjects with a neutral expression (no smile) took the longest to recover. Subjects' heart rates in the broad-smiling group recovered the most quickly, and those with a moderate or so-called standard smile were in-between, still experiencing better heart rate recovery than those with a neutral face.

"Deeply acted" faking feeling happy is tiring, but focusing on the positive can eventually result in a more positive outlook. So next time you're stuck in traffic or the person ahead of you in the line is taking too long, consider smiling, and it may make you feel better and bring your heart rate down, too.

Make it a habit

One final note: no one lives without stress! Stress is not good or bad, it's just a survival technique, and we would barely be alive without it. We feel stressed when we are challenged, maybe with a hike or a cold-water swim, but even when we turn over an exam paper or prepare for an interview. The stress hormones released into our system are designed to stimulate the body into action and keep us safe through life's highs and lows.

Cultivating healthy habits to deal with stressful times is much better for our health and wellbeing. It's not about how many stressful events come our way either. In his book, The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee, he talks about micro-stressors and how many of these small but significant events we encounter each day, which slowly add to our ever-increasing stress levels. It's how we react to them that makes a difference. And now he's on a mission to show that combatting stress is easier than you think.

So take a deep breath keep, keep calm, and be kind and compassionate to yourself. You are a human being, not a human doing, and you are amazing.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly” - Thich Nhat Hanh

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