Stress has many negative effects on the body: high blood pressure, indigestion, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and . . . gray hair? Most people believe there is a link between stress and gray hair; but is the link really as certain as we’re led to believe?
The answer is: not really. Stress definitely isn’t a good thing; but exactly how it affects our physical and emotional health isn’t well understood. What we do know is that stress is a normal response to any kind of threat we face — real or imagined. It activates our “fight or flight” response, which jumpstarts our body into a state where it’s ready to deal with whatever threatens us. Acute stress, which only lasts for a short time, is not necessarily a bad thing; but chronic stress is harmful and causes our body to wear down more quickly.
To understand how this happens, we need to get into our body’s chemistry. When we perceive a threat, three hormones are released:
When present in the body at elevated levels over long periods of time, these hormones have the effect of keeping the body constantly on alert, which uses a lot of energy and is a contributing factor in early aging — including graying hair.
photo by Quinn Dombrowski
There are also smaller genetic changes that occur as a result of prolonged stress.
While all this biology goes a long way in explaining how stress could lead to premature aging, it’s not only biological factors that are involved. People who are stressed often don’t take care of themselves the way they should. They don’t get enough sleep, eat as well, get enough exercise, and sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol to help them deal with their stress. So for all the stressed people out there, you’re not necessarily doomed to premature aging. Just be sure to keep up the good habits and ditch the bad ones.