The Stress of the Pandemic Is Probably Making You Look and Feel Older—Here's What to Do About It
We can't be the only ones who take a peek in the mirror or a close look at that Zoom box and think, "Oof! Is it just me or am I aging faster than a president during a super-stressful term?"
It's officially been 12 months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And in that time, we've not only witnessed more than 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths here in the U.S., but also countless infections, worries over testing and treatment, a widespread racial justice movement, several catastrophic weather events, a contentious election season, an economic crisis, an insurrection at the Capitol ... not to mention our own personal challenges with family, friends and careers.
Let's face it, for 365 days straight, we've all been living in a world that's maintained level-10 stress levels (or - .01 some days, depending on the latest news cycle and how many cocktails Ina Garten mixed up on Instagram). From doom-scrolling and overwhelming stress to a lack of sunshine and feeling starved for quality sleep, most humans are feeling like much more than a year has passed. And we might be looking like it and feeling like it, too.
Related: 5 Aging Myths to Stop Believing Now
More than 4 in 10 Americans over 18 report they've experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety in the past year. That's up from 1 in 10 in 2019, per a February 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation report. The latest statistics also confirm that more of us are grinding our teeth, short on sleep (clinical insomnia rates have risen 37% since March 2020, according to a study in the January 2021 journal Sleep Medicine), exercising less and eating more processed foods.
Plus, the aforementioned stress sets off a hormonal ripple effect—your body pumps out more of the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers inflammation, speeds up aging and can impact the vibrance and strength of your hair, skin and beyond. So what can we do about it?
7 Ways to Stress Less and Look Younger During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Get back to basics and keep these seven simple steps in mind.
1. Prioritize colorful, whole foods and aim to eat a healthy-ish diet.
Nosh on an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean-style diet for your best and brightest skin, dermatologists recommend. Don't worry, indulgences like wine and chocolate are still allowed—and will help you stick with it and stay sane during these stressful times! (Just make sure to stick to one drink a day or less if you're a woman and two if you're a man.) These 23 Mediterranean diet recipes that support healthy aging are a great place to start, then you can build in breakfast recipes that help promote healthy aging and a few favorite treats around that foundation.
2. Drink more water.
We know, it's easy to act more like a camel when you're focused on juggling other things or switching straight from coffee to cocktails. If you find it challenging to stay well-hydrated (about 91 ounces per day from food and drink, depending on the individual), try Drew Barrymore's trick that inspires her to drink more H2O, and check out these 10 totally legit reasons why water is great to help slow aging and for your overall health.
3. Set yourself up for sleep success.
Sleeping more is definitely easier said than done, but it's well worth the effort—to prevent premature aging, to improve concentration and mood, to help prevent several chronic diseases and to boost mental health, per the Sleep Foundation. Check out 4 ways to get a better night of sleep, according to a sleep expert.
4. Slather on the sunscreen.
No question about it and no fancy facial treatments or lasers required; consistent SPF use is the #1 way to help your skin look younger, according to a dermatologist. Even if you're just staying inside, apply one of these safe sunscreens daily, early and often.
5. Try a product that contains retinol.
If you want to upgrade your skin care routine, consider retinoids (aka topical vitamin A products, like this trendy avocado retinol face mask). Retinoids boost collagen production, and as a result, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, according to Harvard Medical School experts. Over time—we're talking six months or more—they may also fade age spots and soften rough skin. For a stronger retinol, you can score a prescription from your dermatologist or use a service such as Curology, which will ship it directly to your doorstep. FYI: Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so apply your cream in the evenings and make sure to slather on the SPF.
6. Give meditation a shot.
Zenning out can help lower stress and improve sleep and may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. There's no one right or wrong way to do it.
7. Move your body.
Even if you think you have no time or are steering clear of the gym, you can still score a good workout. And you should still try to! Research proves that physical activity will benefit your mental health, longevity and more. Aim for at least three workouts per week (here's why!) and don't get discouraged if the gym's not an option right now. You can get fitter and stronger than ever working out at home.