Let’s mix it up a bit and take a short trip to the vast, sun-drenched plains of Serengeti. It’s a calm day, rising heat shimmers in the air, gentle breeze skims rustling grass. A placidly grazing zebra slowly moves through the pasture. All of a sudden he lifts his head and perks his ears. He notices the stalking lion! At the same instant, his pulse and blood pressure shoot up. His heart starts pumping blood to the muscles and he sprints for his life.
This little scene from the wildlife is an illustration of the original stress mechanism. Stress is a normal adaptation to preserve life. And thanks to it, our friend zebra lives to see another day. We have replaced lions with traffic jams, pollution, and tense work environments, but the mechanisms to deal with troubles have not evolved accordingly. In today's demanding world stress often becomes chronic, which can have consequences on your health.
But can stress really leave a mark on your skin? Unfortunately, yes. Studies have revealed that our skin is an unexpectedly prominent target organ for numerous nervous system signals, which have a deep impact on skin biology and health. Research has suggested that skin is not only a target of organismal distress but also an active participant in the stress response. There are also two-way communication pathways between the brain and the skin. So how does it work exactly?
Stress-related skin problems
- Your nervous system reacts to stress and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
- Higher levels of cortisol trigger sebum production
- As a result, your skin becomes oily, prone to acne outbreaks, clogged pores, etc.
- Elevated cortisol can cause inflammation, and increase your skin’s reactivity and sensitivity.
- Skin inflammation can cause hyperpigmentation.
- Stress impacts your immune system and allergy-related immune function.
- Stress affects your sleep, which interrupts the skin’s regenerative processes and skin barrier function
- Stress intensifies autoimmune disorders and conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
- Stress can trigger mood disorders, nervousness, or anxiety.
- Anxiety can increase nervous habits like scabs or acne picking, scratching, hair pulling, or fingernail biting.
- Even small amounts of anxiety can send your body’s stress response into overdrive, resulting in serious psychological problems like depression.
It is fair to say that although stress is an inevitable part of modern life it can become a huge issue. Left unattended it will destroy your health and lower your quality of life. Sadly, as lots of us are short on time, stress-release mechanisms often tend to be poor or infrequent. When stressed, you are more likely to reach for alcohol, caffeine, or fatty sugary foods. You might neglect self-care and routine. It will further aggravate skin issues, cause more anxiety, trigger more stress, locking you in a negative feedback loop.
To escape this vicious circle and repair your skin you need to get on top of the regiment game.
De-stress and help your skin
- Make sure to stick with your skincare routine. Keep it simple: cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Setting a reminder on your phone will help you to stay on task.
Be mindful of your diet. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, refined complex carbohydrates, and processed foods. To make it easier, preplan your weekly meals. Include sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats, and antioxidant-rich foods.
Stay hydrated. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day helps the body to function properly and keeps your skin hydrated.
Schedule regular exercise. Whether that’s swimming, hiking, or fitness classes - find something you enjoy. Adding in some gentle yoga will surely help combat stress. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins - hormones that relieve pain and create a feeling of well-being.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. During sleep, your skin rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure, reducing wrinkles and age spots. Proper sleep helps elevate mood, cognition and will help you cope with daily stressors better. To help your brain switch gears and relax, turn off social media and your electronics an hour or two before bed.
Practice regular stress management activities, including mindfulness, meditation, daily affirmations, and journaling. Meditation brings short-term stress relief and lasting stress management benefits. It can produce a deep state of relaxation and contribute to your physical and emotional health.
- Taking time just for yourself can mean an improvement in your mood, brain function, and memory. Relaxation will allow your mind and body to repair themselves. Read a book, catch up on your favorite show or podcast. And don’t forget to spoil your skin with a relaxing bath, rejuvenating luxurious treatment, or a massage.
These self-care strategies will keep you grounded and serve as the first line of defense. But if your skin problems persist, consult your dermatologist. Some stress-related conditions like psoriasis, rosacea and eczema often require medical intervention.
Quick stress-fighting techniques
We all are familiar with the concept of a bad day when nothing seems to go your way and you just want to escape the madness. There are some quick pick me up techniques that will elevate your mood instantly and help you to make it through the tough day:
Redecorate. Create a stress-free zone to come home to. Design it with only you in mind.
Share some random acts of kindness.
Remove the shoes. This simple act can reduce your stress. Some companies even have a no-shoe policy at work. It is shown to produce positive profit results.
- Be creative. An artistic expression of any sort can significantly reduce stress. Whether you like to write, cook, paint, make candles, dance, take pictures, or a million other creative activities, tap into it and enjoy yourself.
Plants and animals. Research shows that plants and animals can greatly reduce stress and even stabilize your blood pressure. Observing aquarium fish for just 10 minutes a day can be a huge stress reliever.
Being playful is a great way to reduce stress. Remember those carefree days as a child - that's what you're going for. Play hopscotch or tag with friends, blow bubbles, build a sandcastle, climb a tree, or just monkey around.
- Seek silence when everything else fails. Turn everything off, unplug, and be with yourself.
Written by Elena Popkova