We’ve all heard of what chronic stress can do to our sleep patterns, relationships, and productivity. Stress can infiltrate every part of our lives if not managed. But have you considered whether stress might be the culprit for your skin problems?
You may know that stress causes certain hormones to be released in the body. When your brain processes incoming stimuli as threatening, it releases a chemical cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. This is vital in some ways. For instance, it increases blood flow to your muscles so you can run quickly when, say, you see an oncoming car heading your way.
The problem is that today, our brains are saturated with far more stimuli than in generations past. Most of these things are not life-threatening, but because there’s so much to process at all times, our brains are interpreting things that way, keeping us stuck in a survival state.
You may have heard of “fight, flight, or freeze,” which describes a nervous system state associated with stress. Too much time in this state can lead to chronic health issues, and one part of the body where stress becomes very evident is the skin.
If you suffer from acne, you might look at your diet or the products you’re using. But if these aren’t the factors for chronic acne, consider whether you might be dealing with a stress issue. The chemical hormone cortisol actually causes your body to increase its oil (or sebum) production. This oil can clog glands, causing breakouts.
Stress can also cause rashes. Chemicals associated with stress produce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is great when you have a cut or the flu, helping rid the body of infection. But chronic inflammation can cause all sorts of health issues, not least of which are rashes, redness, and even hives. Eczema can also be aggravated by stress, as can fever blisters, so keep this in mind if you have either of those conditions.
Because of stress, we may also engage in unhelpful behaviors as coping mechanisms. We may work more, sleep less, increase alcohol and caffeine intake, and forget to wash our faces or drink enough water. All of these things can further contribute to problems with our skin.
There are a number of things you can do to care for skin that’s breaking out or irritated from stress. It’s essential to target the root cause of the stress. Find ways to relieve the brain’s state of constant overdrive. This may mean taking a mini-vacation, talking to a counselor, or even just going to bed an hour earlier. Get some physical exercise daily, and try a mind-body practice like yoga. Breathing, meditating, and walking in nature can help.
Make sure you’re taking care of your skin by washing it at least twice a day with high-quality skincare products, moisturizing regularly, and drinking plenty of water. Wash your pillowcases in hot water every couple of days to remove the excess sebum you’re leaving on your sheets. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol for a while as much as possible.
Finally, consider making an appointment with your dermatologist if you’re struggling through a particularly stressful time in your life and your skin is bearing the brunt of it. If you’re in the greater New York City area, Vanguard Dermatology’s experts are ready to help you, so reach out today for a consultation.