How Does Stress Affect Your Skin?

June 2024 - Health & Wellness

Our skin, the connection between our external and internal worlds, is the primary sensing organ for stressors like pain, heat and cold, ultraviolet light and other environmental factors. Skin also reflects our physiological and emotional lives. In fact, the brain-skin connection runs deep and when we are stressed, it shows. We sweat when we are nervous, blush when we’re uncomfortable or break out before a big date. And if stress is acute or prolonged, some skin conditions—like acne, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea or hair loss—become worse.

Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby
Stress is a physical and psychological reaction to some type of demand, positive or negative—so much a part of life that our bodies are specifically designed to deal with it. In fact, normal stress actually helps to build physical and mental resilience.

When a threat is perceived, we go into a cycle of response, repair, renewal and growth. As the threat passes, these responses return to normal, and the body heals without lasting damage.

But, when stress becomes chronic, our bodies continually fight to respond, repair and renew, decreasing our ability to return to a healthy, baseline level. That lack of recovery then becomes a stressor which affects every system in the body—including your skin.

A Two-Way Street
When we are stressed, a trio of glands—the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis—triggers the release of ‘fight or flight’ hormones. These include cortisol which stimulates inflammation, and androgens which stimulate oil glands and hair follicles in the skin.

That response is a two-way street. Skin and hair follicles send stress-inducing signals back to the brain, which perpetuate and prolong the stress response. For example, stress can aggravate acne and, in turn, outbreaks can lead to more stress.

Stress can also irritate the epidermal barrier, the protective top layer of skin. Wounds can take longer to heal and chronic conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea can become worse.

Healthy Habits
A preventive, proactive approach helps us to bounce back to a calmer state. Here are some strategies to soothe stress and support your health, overall.

  1. Eat Well
    Focus on a healthy, whole-food diet to support cell growth and a strong immune system, and to reduce inflammation.

    • Organic fresh fruits and green, leafy vegetables
    • Omega-rich, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, cod)
    • Lean protein
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Beans, legumes and lentils
    • Fermented foods rich in probiotics like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi
    • Plant-based, unsaturated oils
    • Anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper

    Some skin conditions, like psoriasis, benefit from limiting or avoiding gluten, refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods, full-fat dairy products, nightshade plants (potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes), caffeine and alcohol.

    If you have any skin condition or health concern, please consult a qualified doctor before embarking on any diet, supplement or treatment plan to make sure it meets your specific needs.
  2. Supplements
    Supplements can support your under-stress body.

    • Ashwagandha. An Ayurvedic adaptogen, this herb enhances your physical and mental resilience, reduces cortisol levels and improves sleep quality.
    • B-Complex. All eight B vitamins are essential for brain and heart health.
    • L-theanine. This amino acid found in green tea helps to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
    • Melatonin. A natural hormone helps to regulate the sleep cycle.
    • Magnesium. This mineral supports blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, DNA synthesis, nerve and muscle function, and many other body functions.
    • Vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin helps your body to reduce inflammation, support immune function and absorb calcium. Paired with probiotics, it can improve depression and anxiety, and, with Omega-3s, anxiety and sleep.

    Always check with a qualified medical practitioner before taking any supplements, especially for their potential interactions with any medications.
  3. Mood Management
    Practice positive thinking. How we perceive life’s ups and downs can impact how our body responds.

    • Meditate and relax. Be still, breathe slowly. Try a mindful practice like yoga or tai chi.
    • Limit exposure to attention-fragmenting activities like social media. Listen to music or a podcast instead.
  4. Engagement
    A pleasurable activity, solitary or social, can keep your mind engaged and provide a sense of satisfaction.
    • Find a hobby or recreational activity, sign up for a class, learn a new language, join a choir.
  5. Connection
    Social connections are critical to a sense of belonging and well-being.
    • Be proactive in engaging with people in your community. Talk to your neighbours, sign up for local activities.
    • Volunteer to help others.
    • Invest time and care to deepen relationships with family and friends.
  6. Activity
    Exercise builds strength and resilience and releases feel-good endorphins.
    • Walk regularly, join a fitness class or sign up for a team sport.
    • Enjoy nature and fresh air—proven mood-lifters—particularly first thing in the morning.
  7. Therapy
    Talk to someone qualified, in a no-judgement environment.
    • Support from a mental health professional can help you to prevent and manage prolonged stress, using methods like cognitive behavioural (talk) therapy. 

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

Tagged With: ,
SHARE THIS POSTfacebooktwitterpinterest