The correlation between your skincare routine, diet, and the health of your skin is easy to see - forgetting to wash your face may lead to an excess of dirt/oil buildup, skipping the moisturizer may lead to dry skin, eating greasy food may lead to a break out, etc. But, the connection between mental health and the skin is often forgotten. Did you know that stress can not only cause acne, but also more serious conditions like eczema and alopecia? Your mental wellbeing affects all parts of you, inside and out, so it’s very important to take the time to do whatever keeps your mind healthy!
*Note: if you feel depressed, overwhelmingly anxious, have suicidal thoughts, or just feel you need someone to talk to about your mental health, find a local therapist (most are listed on psychologytoday.com) or call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone right away.*
Stress, Anxiety, Depression
Most people feel stress from time to time - whether from work, social situations, or just life in general, it happens to all of us. Because the skin and the nervous system are intertwined, stress and anxiety may take a big toll on the skin. Under normal circumstances, the nervous system is able to bring the body back into balance after the stressful event is passed. However, if someone is stressed frequently or has chronic anxiety, the body is never able to balance out and is constantly sending out high levels of stress hormones that have a bad effect on the skin in a variety of different ways.
When a person is experiencing high levels of stress, the body produces more than the necessary amount of skin sebum (the skin’s natural oil) which can lead to clogged pores and aggravate acne. Stress can also turn up the nerve signaling in the body that causes the itch sensation, which causes people to touch their skin more than necessary, in turn transferring oils and dirt to the skin and increasing inflammation, all of which can lead to breakouts.
When someone is experiencing stress, the body responds by triggering the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. When there is too much cortisol in the body, it can suppress the immune system and cause inflammation in the skin, worsening eczema which is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. Because eczema feels uncomfortable physically and is unpleasant to look at, flare ups can cause even more anxiety, so it is very easy to get stuck in a loop where the stress causes the flare up and the flare up causes stress. If you feel you are unable to manage your eczema, we recommend seeing a dermatologist to discuss options, and also considering seeing a therapist who can help give you tools to manage your anxiety.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder which causes skin cells to multiply faster than normal, leaving red, scaly looking patches on the skin. While infections and the cold can cause the disease, studies have found that psoriasis is independently associated with stress related disorders, like PTSD. Inflammation is the body’s main response to stress (whether it’s an infection, an injury, or mental stress) - it sends out chemicals to target the stressor, which cause inflammation. In people with psoriasis, the immune system over responds, sending out too many of those chemicals, which causes the overproduction of skin cells. Managing stress is an important skill to learn for everyone, but especially those with psoriasis.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
While it is possible to manage stress and anxiety on your own, if you feel unable to do so, or if you feel you are suffering from depression, please contact a mental health professional as soon as possible to help you on your road to recovery. If you feel you will be able to lower your stress levels on your own, try out these different techniques to find what’s best for you:
Mindfulness is about paying attention to yourself on purpose and being fully present in the moment. It is a wonderful way to combat stress! To try mindfulness meditation, set aside 15 minutes of alone time. Find a quiet room and lay down on the couch, bed, or floor, and simply free your mind of everything besides your breath. If your mind wanders, don’t get upset - just gently bring it back to your breathing. Focusing on yourself for just those few minutes will relieve stress and tension and give you a boost to finish out your day.
If you have trouble meditating on your own, try using a guided meditation. There are so many wonderful guided meditations on youtube and spotify, and there are even meditation apps you can download.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins - a chemical in the brain known to improve mood and give you more energy. Exercise is also shown to improve the quality of your sleep, and reduce anxiety. Your exercise should be something that you enjoy and can be as vigorous or lowkey as you want - running, walking, lifting weights, practicing yoga, spin class, biking, you name it. The important thing is to get the body moving for at least 20-30 minutes per day!
Try to remember that all people suffer from stress and anxiety from time to time - there is nothing wrong with you. What’s important is pinpointing the stressors in your life so that you can eliminate them or at least combat the negative effects in whatever way is best for you. Limiting stress will help you feel happier, your skin (and whole body) will be healthier, and you will have more energy and desire to enjoy the things you love!