Nothing probably feels more uncomfortable and even offensive than being told that we look older than our age. But it’s because there’s a difference between chronological and biological aging.
While chronological age refers to your actual age, biological age refers to aging that occurs because of the changes in the body. Take, for example, the appearance of wrinkles or increased bone density loss that makes you prone to fractures.
The problem is, these changes can happen too soon. Thus, even if you are, say 30 years old, your biological age may be five years more with the way your body wears down. But what usually causes it? There are many factors, but one of the major culprits is stress.
How Stress Makes You Look and Feel Older
Contrary to what you might think, stress as a natural human response is not the enemy. In fact, you need it. It activates your fight-or-flight system, so you can be more alert when trying to beat a deadline or pay attention to your surroundings if you’re in a new location.
It becomes an issue when stress is chronic. Unlike acute stress, chronic stress leads to low-grade inflammation. At its earliest stages, you may not see any changes in your body. But as it becomes more uncontrolled or worse, it slowly damages your organs and tissues and introduces changes down to your cellular level.
This is how it can then speed up your biological age:
1. It Can Lead to a Lot of Skin Problems
Stress can be both a cause and a risk factor for different skin conditions, such as allergies or hives, eczema, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis, which causes the skin like on your scalp to flake.
It may also aggravate dandruff, which may be caused by a fungus known as Malassezia globosa. This microbe actually lives on the skin, such as the scalp, for a long period. It may even exist while you’re still a baby.
It is also generally harmless, but sometimes it can burrow into the follicles, where it waits to be stimulated. Stress may do that.
Fortunately, you can already deal with these skin issues in many ways. If you have dandruff, for example, you can use a natural anti-dandruff shampoo such as one with moringa oil. Many studies cited how this plant contains antifungal properties.
But it also helps to get to the root cause, which is point #2.
2. Stress Ruins Your Immune System
When the body is under chronic stress, a stress hormone called cortisol increases. This one can impair the immune system by decreasing the production of lymphocytes.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in infection management and prevention. T cells, for example, can “customize” your immune response according to the pathogens present.
Meanwhile, B cells create antibodies to attack these harmful microorganisms. Moreover, in case the same pathogens invade the body, you can mount a defense quickly.
This explains why you are likely to be more prone to skin issues when you are under a lot of stress. The largest organ of the body is home to millions of microorganisms on top of the thousands of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that you are exposed to regularly.
When your immune system isn’t optimal, bacteria like Propionibacterium acnes, which causes acne, can reproduce fast.
3. It Changes Your Gut Composition
Do you know that some people develop diarrhea or constipation when they’re under a lot of stress? One good reason is stress’s ability to change not only the way your body digests food but the composition of your gut.
What is the gut? This refers to the gastrointestinal tract that’s home to billions of coexisting microorganisms. Many studies already show that their composition can impact obesity, immunity, and a host of diseases.
In the gut are both good and bad bacteria, but if you’re healthy and stress is under control, pathogens do not trigger the appearance of conditions.
4. Chronic Stress May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease
As mentioned, chronic stress may increase the odds of low-grade inflammation. And this one can damage the lining or the tissues of the heart. Stress can also increase blood pressure and speed up the heart rate as your cortisol levels rise.
You can never get rid of stress. For one, it is already your body’s innate response—it’s part of who you are. Second, your life is surrounded by many stressors.
But you can learn to control or manage it, so you can maintain a healthy level of stress hormones and avoid the consequences of chronic stress.