You might not like to hear it, but stress has a purpose in our lives. Stress can be a motivating factor; acting as that push you need to get something done. Stress is the body's way of dealing with a challenge or a perceived opponent, and can cause changes in the body which cause you to focus more, be more alert, and generally gets you to overcome whatever stressor you're currently facing.
However, being in a state of constant, or near constant, stress has some detrimental effects on your health and overall well-being. Unfortunately, modern life seems to force us into a state of near constant stress, what with work, social commitments, and somehow trying to find a little bit of time for yourself.
Stress and your skin
You may have noticed, as I certainly have, that when you're stressed out for a long period of time, that it starts to show on your skin. Your face may have been completely blemish-free for the past few weeks, but after some time of prolonged stress, you wake up to the mother of all breakouts. Or you may have another stress-induced skin condition, such as psoriasis or eczema, that flares up when you're experiencing stress.
Trust me, I've been there, and I know how annoying it can be. It just adds another thing to your already full plate, and can cause you to be even more stressed out than you already were.
We can talk about how to relieve stress all day, but this time we want to get the low down on why stress has an impact on your skin condition. It's not like stress is bacteria on your skin or something that can be easily washed away after a long day. How is this invisible, but very present, thing connected so many skin problems?
The effect of prolonged stress
Here's the key thing about stress. Stress used to be the thing that would help us to escape from predators, as stress can have some benefits (like increased attention and that handy fight or flight feeling). However, our bodies are not equipped to feel constant levels of stress, but modern life has caused this to happen.
Looming deadlines, taking care of kids, trying to find time for yourself, and the general stress of daily life can all trigger the stress response in the body, and it rears its ugly head in a few different ways:
Inflammation is essentially your body's response to an injury or perceived threat to your health in an attempt to defend itself from things like viruses or cuts. Certain skin conditions, like eczema, psoriasis, and breakouts all involve inflammation, so if you're stressed out, you're more than likely going to see an increase in these inflammatory skin disorders.
For instance, I have both acne-prone skin and eczema, and when I get stressed out, both have a bad habit of popping up. I'll get dry, itchy patches on my arms and hands, and oily breakouts on my face. I then know that this is a sign for me to chill out and try to find a way to de-stress.
# Skin irritation
A 2015 study by Iwate Medical University in Japan found that stress and anxiety can deplete your skin's moisture levels, making your skin drier than normal. Over time, this can lead your skin to have a red, chapped-looking appearance, and can exacerbate conditions like eczema.
When you're stressed out, make sure to stay hydrated and apply moisturizing creams to help fight this dryness.
# Slower healing process
Too much stress, besides irritating your skin and causing you to break out, can also cause your body's healing process to go more slowly. Stress delays your skin's healing process, as it impairs the protective outer later of the skin, which keeps it from healing. This is particularly bad news if you pick at your breakouts when you're under stress, as I do sometimes.
Stress has also been found to affect your skin on a cellular level by shortening telomeres (protective "caps" on chromosomes that help to preserve DNA). As we get older, telomeres naturally shorten, but when you're under a lot of stress, this process can speed up and cause premature aging.
For example, have you ever seen a picture of a world leader before they entered office and after they left? Then you'll know exactly what we mean.
# Poor sleep
You know how when you're under a lot of pressure at work, you may end up tossing and turning at night? Stress could be causing you to lose some much-needed Zzzzs. Losing sleep over stress can make you feel even worse than you already do, as well as exacerbate already problematic conditions, like stress, breakouts, etc. It can easily turn into a vicious circle.
Try some breathing exercises to help you fall asleep, keep some lavender by your bed, or go to the gym during the day to help tire you out when it's time to hit the hay.
What to do
If you're experiencing a lot of stress and see any of these things happening to you, try to find time to de-stress and only do what you absolutely have to. I always pile way too much on my plate and say yes to everything, so I know this can be difficult. However, when you're at your most stressed out is when you should be trying to find some time for you to do things you enjoy.
Another thing to be aware of when you're stressed is your habits. Do you touch your face a lot when you're under pressure? That's a big no-no, especially if you have acne-prone skin.
Try to maintain your regular routines, especially skincare and eating habits, as those are usually the first to go down the train when you're under a lot of stress. Even if you have a huge breakout at the least opportune time, stick with your skincare routine.
Your body loves having a routine, and a good routine can help see you through even your most stressful moments.
Most of all, try finding some time for you to relax each day and do something that you want to do, not that you have to do. Take a bath, read, meditate, garden...whatever makes you happy. This can help counteract stress and leave you feeling relaxed and happier.
Here are some tips to help fight stressors, which in turn will help fight stress.
And always remember, that even the most stressful situation won't last forever.
How do you manage your most stressful situation? Share them with us!