If you’re like me, 2016 left you in a weird spot emotionally. While I realize that my privilege allows me to evaluate the past year from the comfort of my home office, I admit that there were some weeks when I was depressed and feeling unsure of what to do—despite all of the reasons I have to be deeply happy.
(Of course, it doesn’t help if the collective energy around you is a bit low, too. Somehow we started 2016 with Serenity and Rose Quartz being our colors of the year, and we ended it with The American Dialect Society naming Dumpster Fire the 2016 word of the year. One has to laugh. And then cry a little.)
So, when I recently came across an article in Cosmopolitan (yes, I read all the beauty rags), claiming “science says a positive mental attitude can age you more slowly,” my first reaction was something like, “Oh great, there’s another thing I’m doing wrong! Now I’ve made my skin sad.” But apparently, that’s the opposite of what I need to be telling myself.
In 2015, Olay and biotech company 23andMe partnered in a study* that examined, in part, how having a positive attitude affects skin aging. Participants who agreed with the statement, I have a positive attitude towards myself, were more likely to be “exceptional agers,” meaning that they may look up to 10 years younger than those of the same chronological age.
The article touches on another small study by Howard Murad, MD** and founder of Murad skincare company. Dr. Murad asked 40 female patients to read note cards with positive affirmations and journal about their thoughts for four weeks. He recorded that the women had lower blood pressure and lower stress levels—plus, each had “higher levels of skin hydration”—and plump, well-hydrated skin is a marker of youth and health.
If this sounds a bit too good to be true or if you understandably doubt the credibility of these studies, let’s look at the opposite side of the coin: the effects of negative emotions on skin. Unfortunately, chronic stress does compromise the skin barrier, leaving skin more vulnerable to environmental damage. Furthermore, an excess of stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) are precursors to inflammation. (While inflammation isn’t inherently bad—sometimes we need it!—problems start when we experience chronic inflammation.) Therefore, it makes sense that if we find a way to productively manage our stress by cultivating positivity, we’re allowing our skin to do its best work in protecting itself.
But let’s be honest. Cultivating positivity takes work. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t want to feel better, yet many of us struggle to see the bright side.
When I shared a clip of the Cosmo piece with my generally-happy friend, she had her own misgivings. “What if I don’t have a positive attitude because my skin is bad?” she jokingly responded. Indeed, even if the idea of positivity greatly appeals to you, it’s natural to not always feel positive in reality. Or you may even feel that being positive is a misguided goal. Trust me, I hear you if you’re sitting there reading this article thinking that positivity can be dangerous because it can shield us from certain horrors we must pay attention to. I’ve also struggled with that concept.
And yet. It’s my belief that we increasingly don’t have a choice. If we’re going to foster healthy change in ourselves and in the world around us, we need to commit to a productive form of positivity—one that’s not blindly optimistic but one that gives us the courage to fight.
To believe in ourselves.
To know that we are capable.
After all, how can I make the world a better place if I don’t believe I deserve better?
So let’s do this thing. Let’s be courageous. Let’s do the radical thing and love ourselves. Let’s be positive.
Fortunately, there are several ways to cultivate positivity. We can develop our own affirmations, make a point of doing things that nourish our spirit (I like reading novels), practice self-care, carefully curate our social media feeds (i.e. find the balance between staying informed and staying sane), spend time with our friends in person as much as possible…the list goes on!
The important thing is to make the effort every day (just like we do with your skincare regimens, right? ;)).
And hey, our skin might glow a bit more while we’re at it.
*The author does not consider the folks in charge of this study to be neutral third parties—but the idea of the power of positivity is a worthy one, no?
**See above asterisk.
How do you plan to stay positive in 2017?
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