I work as a full time health journalist for national newspapers and magazines with about two deadlines a week. I edit healthista.com. Outside work I am rebuilding my kitchen and bathroom, showering in the gym (due to being shower-less) and eating take-away off my lap most nights (due to being kitchen-less). Each day I wake up between 4.30am and 5.20pm to start the day.
It’s safe to say I am stressed.
Yes, I go to the gym most days but I barely do any yoga practice (I used to do it daily) and where I used to practice a little mindfulness meditation, now I just can’t fit it in. I barely take time out to breathe. Mind you, I am the co-author of a book on stress The De-Stress Diet: The Revolutionary Lifestyle Plan for a Calmer, Slimmer You with nutritionist and stress expert Charlotte Watts so I know what I should be doing. Taking regular breaks (I am currently working through lunch), having time out (I work seven days a week), doing regular deep breathing (forget it) and eating well (doing my best but until the kitchen is finished it’s looking like one Indian take-away after the other).
Today Auriole Prince, a forensic artist I have worked with before, got in touch. Auriole is am ex-FBI forensic artist who in the past has worked with investigators on ageing images of missing persons in order to release pictures of what they might look like today. She now runs a website called changemyface.com that provides ageing software so people can see their faces in the future (they have created the app Drinking Mirror which allows you to see the effects of cutting back on alcohol on your skin in ten years – great motivation).
I have worked with Auriole before on stories in which she aged my face ten years according to the effects of alcohol, smoking and eating too much junk food. She mentioned that it was National Stress Awareness Day and did I want her to doctor an image of my face to show what stress might be doing to it. Did I ever. One of the best motivators for me is after all, vanity.
Today, Auriole has aged my face according to what I will look like if I continue under my current levels of stress. It makes for sober viewing. This is me now. I am 45.
According to Auriole, I am already showing the effects of stress on my face. Bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, crow’s feet and skin that sags around my cheeks. ‘I can already see from your image that you have slightly dark bags under your eyes, this can be a real sign of stress and not sleeping properly or in your case, not sleeping enough. These will get much worse over the next ten years,’ she explains.
Stress has a dehydrating effect on skin because when you’re under stress, the body takes blood flow away from peripheral organs – such as skin – to provide muscles with energy. This is for the ‘fight to flight’ response that stress requires from our bodies. It’s perfectly natural. But it’s meant to be over quickly. Think about it. When we were cavemen fighting off predators we would fight or flee from the threat and then rest and recuperate.
Today, our threats are deadlines, bathroom and kitchen renovations, social media overloads and websites to run. And if it’s not one thing, it’s something else pressuring us to perform or deliver or decide. Unlike our cavemen sisters, except for a few weeks holidays a year, our stress doesn’t end. That means we are always and forever in this state of flight or flight. The result, our peripheral organs especially the skin, but also our sex organs suffer – the latter is why stress affects fertility so profoundly.