Stress and Your Skin
The mind and the skin are intimately intertwined. You may have noticed this connection when you are stressed, the mind is overwhelmed and then shortly after your skin issues suddenly become much worse. If you have acne, you may suddenly have a breakout, if you have eczema you may notice more spots and you are more itchy than usual and may have difficulty sleeping because of the itching and if you have psoriasis you may notice more spots and they may start to itch or the itching may be getting worse.
Does stress cause acne, eczema and psoriasis? Short answer…no it doesn’t cause them, but certainly stress can make an existing skin condition worse. I see this mind skin connection daily in my clinic.
How does this happen? I like to begin to answer this question from broader perspective. When we are under stress, our bodies are wired to go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. The body starts pumping out stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to trigger energy flow to the heart, muscles, lungs so that if we need to run from the threat (whether it be a lion, bear, tiger or just the threat of a deadline) so that the body is ready to go. At that time, our body does not care much about how our hair looks, what our skin or what our nails look like. In fact, when under stress and subsequent increases in cortisol there is more inflammation in the skin and this inflammation can break down collagen (wrinkles), lead to more pimples, flares of eczema, breakouts of psoriasis and impact the delicate skin barrier. At the same time, having flares of our acne, eczema or psoriasis also causes us more stress and the cycle continues.
Now I don’t think just the release of cortisol this is the end all be all of the story of stress and the skin. During stress, we also are less likely to be sleeping well and eating well and our body is not optimally digesting our food. Without good sleep and digestion, we aren’t giving our body optimal opportunity to engage in the repair mechanisms that normally happen during sleep to occur and we may not be getting the best nutrients to our cells.
What can we do about flares of our skin condition when we are stressed? Yep, you got it….relax, sleep, exercise and eat well. Seems so easy, right? No need to pretend this is easy, it’s not easy to do all of this when we are not stressed with our non-stop busy lives…. and even harder when we are under stress. But once we realize our overall health is at risk when we are stressed and chronic stress is not a sustainable way to live, we open up to making changes in our lives to de-stress. Here are a few tips on beginning a journey of relaxation and healing your skin from the inside out:
- Change your perception
- Instead of seeing stress as something bad, flip it around and see it as something good. How we interpret the events that occur in our lives can determine how our body responds. You can choose to view stress as a way to energize you and prepare you to respond to a challenge rather than a harmful response. The brain and body are stimulated and aware and are being rewired to learn from your challenging experience so that you are better prepared to handle similar instances in the future. Sometimes it’s hard to make this change of viewpoint on our own as stress is very complex. Therapists, life coaches and psychologists can be useful catalysts to help walk us thru the maze of stress quicker than we can on our own.
Physical activity can be a great stress reliever, as long as you don’t overdo it. Overexercising can also lead to more stress. So be mindful of your body and if you feel exhausted after exercise then your body is letting you know that you may need to rest. Do what feels right, sometimes blowing off some steam might be relaxing restorative yoga class and other times it may be having a dance party by yourself in your living room.
- Another approach to de-stress may be receiving a body healing treatment such as acupuncture, massage, reiki, fascial stretching etc. Start to connect with local practitioners in your area and start your own de-stress health team!
- Be mindful of the foods are you eating. Focus on healthy fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein. Plan your meals and have healthy snacks available.
- A good night’s sleep or a power nap sometimes is enough to reset our stress response.
- Take a walk in nature and notice the smallest details of your surroundings….the trees, flowers, grass, birds, insects, sound of your steps on the ground, how the sun lights up parts of scenery and the color of sky. Take your mind off of your stress and onto the beautiful world and planet around you. If its evening and you can’t go for a walk, then just go outside and take a look at the stars, notice their arrangements, the colors and sizes of the stars. If its cloudy that nite, just sit outside and take a few moments to close your eyes and just listen to all of the sounds. Try to hear the most faint and distant sounds you can and appreciate the layers of sounds. Take time to notice the world around you.
- Spend a few moments being still in meditation or prayer and connect to your spiritual beliefs and the universe. You may want to grab your favorite sacred text and read a few pages before you take time to be still. Sometimes just opening up your sacred text at random leads you to a quote or paragraph that provides just the right insight or encouragement you need at that moment.
- Sometimes all we need to soothe our spirit are spending moments with a good friend, family member or our pet. Take time to listen, see what’s going on in their world, laugh together, cry together and appreciate the moment.
- Have an “At-home Spa Day”! Yes, get your bathtub ready and your facial mask on. Set out some candles, put on some relaxing music, diffuse some essential oils, relax in an Epsom salt bath, slather on a moisturizing hair mask, soothe dry skin with a thick moisturizer or oil treatment on your body after your bath and treat yourself to an exfoliating facial mask.
It will take some time after the stress is “gone” or not as intense before our skin will get back to normal. It takes about a month to shed one layer of skin so changes in the skin typically take a few shedding cycles before they return back to baseline or improve with treatments. Sometimes the stress keeps coming and its hard for the skin to get back to normal. Making lasting changes in your personalized approach to stress is key as stress is likely to be an integral part of our lives and its how we respond to it that makes a difference in the implications of stress on our health.
Start your journey for meaningful changes in your mind, body, spirit and skin care