The Year of Reduced Stress
Are you feeling stressed these days? You are not alone in that. The post-pandemic world seems full of bad news, and the economic climate is less than ideal, so most of us are under pressure, and that can cause undue stress. You know that stress can impact your mental health and your body, but have you ever considered what it can do to your skin? Here, we look at symptoms of stressed skin, offering tips for managing your stress so you don’t break out, increase signs of aging, and suffer from other skin issues.
Interestingly, even as your stress can affect your skin, your skin, along with your hair follicles, can produce stress-inducing signals, creating a stress loop that can be hard to break. Both acute and chronic stress can reduce the overall health of your skin, as well as exacerbating various skin conditions, like psoriasis, eczema, acne, and hair loss. Your skin might respond to a temporarily stressful situation with flushing or sweating, but repeated exposure to stressors can have much more far-reaching consequences.
It might be helpful to think of the brain and skin as being a bidirectional pathway that carries stress signals back and forth. Stress triggers the production of pro-inflammatory factors like cortisol and fight-or-flight hormones, and these can send immune cells from the blood to the skin or stimulate pro-inflammatory skin cells, including mast cells, immune cells, and keratinocytes. Mast cells respond to cortisol by signaling skin receptors, and contribute to conditions like itch. Because the skin is the organ most exposed to the outside world, it is under constant attack by stressors like UV light and temperature fluctuations, as well as pollutants and other environmental stressors. What’s more, sometimes our response to skin inflammation, like scratching an itch, can cause further stress to the skin, contributing to the breakdown of the skin barrier.
Psychological stress can also cause skin issues, disrupting the top layer of skin and slowing its ability to repair itself. When this layer is disrupted, the skin can become irritated or wounded, chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can flare up, and acne breakouts can occur. These conditions can then cause psychosocial stress, creating a vicious cycle.
So, how can you disrupt this cycle and alleviate stress so that your skin can heal? Resolve to make this the year of reduced stress. Reducing your stress will improve your overall health, and while you might not see improvement in your skin immediately, studies have shown that stress management techniques can be beneficial to the healing of skin conditions like psoriasis. How can you manage stress? Start with a healthier lifestyle. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise can go a long way towards improving the health of virtually every system in your body. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, at least five days a week, and load your diet with nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Next, incorporate some mind-body therapies (MBTs) into your routine. MBTs are therapies focused on the connection between the mind and body, working to encourage the mind to influence physical function and improve health. Research indicates that these therapies can reduce some of the physiologic changes that have occurred because of stress, as well as improving your state of mind, particularly when used as part of a holistic wellness plan. Mind-body therapies include:
- Meditation:Defined as “intentional attention training,” meditation tactics include focusing on a particular object, image, or word, or being mindful of the present moment, with awareness but without judgement. This practice has been shown to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and depression, as well as improving certain skin conditions.
- Acupuncture:A component of traditional Chinese medicine, this practice involves inserting thin needles into the skin and then activating them, using either electricity or the practitioner’s hand movements. Studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicate that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for nausea, dental pain after surgery, addiction, headaches, myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and more. It can also reduce the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones in the body, easing anxiety and stress.
- Biofeedback: A practitioner of biofeedback takes measurements of the body’s functions and uses feedback from these measurements to formulate strategies to improve the patient’s well-being. The goal is to teach patients how to control certain bodily functions, and in so doing improve their health.
- Visualization:This practice involves controlling breathing and picturing images, ideas, and symbols or using positive thinking to achieve a desired result. It is similar to daydreaming, and by using the imagination to experience feelings like peacefulness, confidence, or motivation, it can help reduce anxiety and nervousness.
- Behavioral and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: These therapies can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and help reduce habits that can be damaging to the skin, like scratching or pulling out hair.
- Breathwork: By using breathing exercises to control the breath, patients can calm the body and mind. This technique can help slow racing thoughts, reducing stress and anxiety.
- Tai chi or Qigong:These martial arts practices combine slow, deliberate movements, controlled breathing, and meditation to improve circulation, balance, and alignment. They have also been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Yoga:This mind and body practice combines breathing techniques, meditation, relaxation, and physical postures. Like other types of exercise, yoga lowers stress hormone levels, increases endorphin production, and increasing blood flow to the brain. Yoga has the added benefit of elevating brain chemicals associated with lowered anxiety and improved mood.
In addition to a healthy lifestyle and mind-body practices, regular visits to a dermatologist can help improve stressed skin. When you need expert advice and help caring for your skin, contact Arlington Dermatology. For over 40 years, our Board-Certified dermatologists have been serving patients, making the health and welfare of our patients our top priority. We offer innovative methods of treatment, using state of the art medical equipment, in our conveniently located, patient-friendly facility in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Schedule an appointment through our website or call 847-392-5440.