We hear a lot about stress these days and the role it plays in our health. This is probably because as a society, we’re dealing with an incredible amount of stress on a daily basis.
While daily stress has been a part of our lives for as long as anyone can remember, what we’re dealing with today often seems a little different. Our schedules are hectic as we push ourselves to do more, being constantly connected to technology comes with its own kind of stress and then there’s the unavoidable fact that almost every day there seems to be another tragic news story.
All of this means that stress is even harder for most of us to let go of. The effects of stress build up day after day and soon you’re feeling – and seeing – the results.
Chronic stress has a major effect on your skin and before you know it, everything you’re feeling on the inside is being reflected on the outside. While stress can make you fatigued and even depressed to the point that proper skin care isn’t a top priority, the cause of stress-related skin issues is actually much deeper.
Let’s grab a cup of soothing tea and take a look at all the ways chronic, untreated stress affects the health of your skin.
Each person experiences the symptoms of stress in a different way. For some, it’s a vice grip headache that won’t let go, insomnia or muscle tension. There’s countless ways that stress can manifest itself, but one thing remains true for each and every one of us – stress induces a whole-body response.
When you’re stressed, your body produces more of a steroid hormone called cortisol. Not all stress is bad, and under normal circumstances your body utilizes the cortisol to deal with the stress response. The real problem arises when stress is chronic, and an abundance of cortisol becomes a problem.
The production and release of cortisol induces a spike in blood sugar which in turn produces an inflammatory response. This is one of the reasons why you might find that your body, especially your muscles, ache more when you’re under stress.
The abundance of cortisol also triggers the production of enzymes that break down collagen and elastin– otherwise known as your skin’s support structures. We depend on these guys to keep the skin supple and smooth. The breakdown of collagen and elastin is a natural part of aging, but chronic stress can speed along the process leading to earlier signs of aging and the deepening of those initial fine lines and wrinkles.
Isn’t funny that the same stress response that causes premature aging also exaggerates acne? Really, it’s not very funny at all, but those extra blemishes that appear during times of stress aren’t just coincidence.
When you’re stressed, your body produces and releases hormones. Like we mentioned above, this results in a spike of your blood sugar. The body is built to respond to this by producing insulin. Excess insulin is known to increase oil production and trigger a nasty breakout. To add insult to injury, the natural inflammatory response is going on makes matters even worse.
When this happens, the best thing to do is to treat your skin gently. You don’t want to make matters worse by using harsh treatments. Instead, make a point of using a gentle, natural cleanser to clear away the excess oil and try a natural enzymatic exfoliant to clear away dead skin cells that can make a problem like a breakout even worse.
Flare Up of Inflammatory Skin Conditions
Yes, we’re about to put the blame on that nasty cortisol again. As stress induces inflammation, people who suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and rosacea are more likely to experience a flare up.
Unfortunately, this tends to induce a vicious circle of even more stress. If you suffer from an inflammatory skin condition, you already know that it can affect how you feel about interacting socially and add a new element of stress to every day activities. A flare up itself can make you stressed out, which only makes the problem worse.
Stress itself doesn’t lead to scarring, but the behaviors that go along with it can. When we’re stressed we’re more prone to accidents, injuries and even compulsive behaviors like picking at a pimple or scratching at wound that’s trying to heal.
In order to heal properly and reduce scarring, your skin needs to be in good health. This includes the underlying supportive structures of collagen and elastin. The very same breakdown of support that leads to premature aging can make it more difficult for skin to heal itself properly without scarring. Stress also delays the healing process by impairing the function of your outer layers of skin.
Dry Flaky Skin and Redness
Too much stress can make your skin look like it’s been enduring one of the longest, coldest winters even if it’s a beautiful spring day. Chronic stress – and the sleep deprivation that goes along with it – disrupt the natural functions of the barrier layers of your skin. These outer layers are meant to protect the skin underneath, and when you’re stressed they become limited in their ability to function.
What this means is that irritants that your skin once would have been protected from, suddenly become very problematic. Minor irritating chemicals, UV exposure, wind and other elements become a very real threat to your skin.
In addition, the natural fight or flight response that comes with stress can increase the appearance of redness. When you’re stressed, the blood vessels dilate to allow more oxygen to enter. The body’s goal is to increase alertness, but it shows in your skin with the appearance of increased redness and ruddiness.
Unrelenting Dark Circles
Not every single negative effect of stress on the skin is due to cortisol and inflammation.
Dark under eye circles are just one example of this. When you’re dealing with stress, chances are that you’re also dealing with some serious fatigue. Not only are insomnia and anxiety amplified by stress, but you’re also more likely to just feel worn out, no matter how much sleep you’re actually getting.
Fatigue is bound to find it’s way to your skin, and one of the first places it’s going to show is in the delicate skin underneath your eyes. A lack of quality sleep night after night will manifest itself in the form of dark circles and bags underneath your eyes, as well a general decline in skin tone and texture.
Putting Stress in Its Place
There’s no reason to let the effects of stress take control of your life, or your appearance. Even in the most stressful of times, it’s important to carve out a few minutes each day for self-care and to make yourself a priority. While stress is an unavoidable fact of life, the effects of it don’t have to be.
To keep your body – including your skin – healthy and strong, here are 9 simple ways of combating stress that anyone can fit into their daily routine.
- Focus on the positive. No matter what’s going on around you, there’s always a glimmer of beauty in the world – it’s just really hard to spot it sometimes when you’re under a lot of stress. Take 5 or 10 minutes each day and look around you. Find at least one thing, no matter how small, to see the beauty in. It’s difficult for your mind to feel both positivity and negativity at the same time, and this one little move will provide a fresher perspective for your day.
- Get enough sleep. When you’re stressed out, sleep is usually the first thing to go. After all, how are you supposed to get some quality shut eye when your mind is racing a mile a minute? Take care of yourself by establishing a consistent bedtime routine as much as possible. Make a commitment to be in bed early enough to allow for no fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep. Start a calming routine right before bedtime. This might include journaling your thoughts, so they don’t keep you awake, a cup of non-caffeinated herbal tea, a warm bath, quiet mediation or reading.
- Eat to beat stress. Now is the time to really focus on providing your body with the nutrients it needs to fight off the effects of stress. This includes lots of whole, natural foods that are rich in antioxidants to counteract the oxidative stress going on at a cellular level.
- Find at least one person that you can talk openly with so that you’re not going through stress alone. It can be as simple as a trusted work colleague when you’re dealing with workplace stress, or close friend, support group, doctor or therapist. Often the act of speaking what’s on your mind and sharing it with others is enough to lessen the weight of stress. Plus, an outside perspective never hurts.
- Take care of your eyes. While the effects of stress can accumulate, they often show up first in the eye area. This makes you look tired, which can make you feel even worse. Use an all-natural cooling, lifting serum both morning and evening to sooth the skin and brighten your appearance. Avoid the temptation to cover up the effects of stress with heavy makeup – which can sometimes make you look more tired and aged than you actually are.
- Remember to breathe. When was the last time you just sat and focused on your breath? It’s a simple strategy that produces big results. When dealing with stress, your heart rate and breathing patterns can change. Taking the time to slow down and breathe slowly can help your body readjust. Plus, deep breathing for just a couple minutes can help you feel more grounded and prepared for what they day throws at you.
- Avoid stimulants and depressants. When you’re tired, it seems like caffeine is the only way to get through the day, but it can easily make stress side effects like anxiety exponentially worse. The same is true for relaxing with a couple drinks at the end of a long stressful day. Alcohol is a depressant that can interfere with your sleep patterns – two things that don’t blend well with stress.
- Get physical. This might not be the best time to go all in on a new fitness routine, but mild to moderate amounts of physical activities can help you combat the effects of stress. Plus, even a small amount of exercise is beneficial. Go outside and walk for 10 minutes or spend 15 minutes doing some yoga poses in the morning or evening. You don’t need to invest an hour, just a few short minutes.
- Take good care of your skin. This isn’t the time to forgo your regular skin care routine, in fact, it’s more important now than ever. Cleanse and moisturize your skin daily with gentle, natural products. Stay away from harsh products in an attempt to quickly resolve any stress related skin issue you’re having. Instead, choose gentle ingredients that do lots of work like vitamin C, which is known for it’s healing and restorative capabilities.
We all deal with stress, and sometimes it seems to just pile on. While stress is a natural response to daily living, it’s important to do everything possible to stop it from causing havoc on your health long term. Living a natural, clean lifestyle is one of the best ways to minimize the effects of daily stress. That and appreciating the beauty in the world around you. Take the time to care for yourself, we promise that you’re worth it.