Skin: A Cycle of Stress
More than a quarter of U.S. adults say they’re so stressed they can’t function
According to a recent poll conducted for the American Psychological Association on Stress in America 2022, many Americans suffer from high levels of stress. 76% of adults reported they had experienced in the last months headache, fatigue, anxiety or depression as a result of stress. And 27% said they were so stressed that they can't function.
So what is stress? How do we define it?
Stress is a very personal, subjective experience. Individuals manifest the effects uniquely so there is not one definition that scientists all agree on. However, The American Institute of Stress clarifies stress simply as;
Acute – fight or flight, adrenal stress where the body prepares to defend itself from potential harm. It takes time to recover from this heightened state (around 90 minutes).
Chronic – day-to-day levels of stress, coping stress – the stress we tend to normalize and ignore.
Eustress – stress in daily life that brings positive connotations, marriage / promotions / graduation / new baby.
Distress – stress in daily life that brings negativity, divorce / redundancy / financial worries.
Stress has always featured in everyday life, but seemingly in today’s fast-paced society, the levels we are dealing with can be off the chart and the effects more physically evident and protracted.
Running on hyper-drive has become the “norm”. We are constantly contactable, always connected, time zones and working hours mean nothing, we live in fear of dropping a ball and failing unrealistic expectations of our time, energy and output; add to that the cost of living has increased without a correlating wage increase, less jobs, global instability…the list goes on and on.
So, many of us have come to accept the feeling of heightened stress levels as “to be expected”, something to just adapt to and live with, while struggling with the impact mentally and physically.
So what actually happens when someone becomes stressed?
The body instantly releases the hormones Adrenalin and Cortisol (known as the stress hormone) in the fight/flight “alarm” mode, preparing the body to deal with the perceived “attack” This encourages blood to flood to key organs in defence, the heart beats faster and breathing increases.
The next stage is “resistance” mode – when the body becomes adaptive to the conditions and works to resist the negative impact that stress reactors have on its resources.
The problems occur when we subject our systems to prolonged periods of “resistance”. The wear and tear on our bodies becomes more protracted.
The reality is, Cortisol itself is not a bad hormone when regulated – it helps us cope with facing the day to day. We run into trouble when we are running on heightened levels of Cortisol as an accepted norm.
This can lead to all manner of health issues longer term including a predisposition to high blood pressure, weight gain and heart conditions….
But, we are looking at the direct effects on skin and how we can recognize the impact and regulate our cycle of stress to help neutralize the damage done.
Stress & Skin:
Skin is the largest organ of the body, this we know. It is our first line in defence between external stress and our internal organisation wellbeing and structure.
Broadly speaking, when Cortisol is elevated it triggers the sebaceous glands to increase oil production. This sudden increase can lead to breakouts from blocked pores and congestion. So usually the first sign of our skin suffering from our lifestyle and stresses is in a breakout.
Additionally, stress can also trigger flare-ups of pre-existing conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
You know how it is, you’re feeling overwhelmed, skin health is compromised, dealing with a breakout, dull uneven skin, perhaps dehydration and a new pesky wrinkle popped up overnight!
Often when we are stressed, especially at times of acute stress reaction; regimes and self-care are compromised. This in turn can contribute to further skin health decline, compromised hydration and barrier function, which in turn has a damaging impact on skin strength, repair and resistance.
So you end up feeling pretty negative about the face in the mirror in the morning right? Guess what, another stress trigger. It’s a never-ending cycle!
How do we break the sequence?
Often our personal time suffers when we are anxious, overwhelmed, stressed. We sacrifice regimen, diet and exercise so we reverse this mentality and identify self-care as part of restorative treatment for our mental as well as physical wellbeing.
Simple steps to help stress manage your skin:
- Skincare is self-care. We can all find 2 minutes in morning and at night for proper cleansing and treating our skin with restorative active rich skincare. 2 minutes of time is luxury if you choose the right products. Your skin will thank you.
- Exercise. Releases endorphins, which are good for mental health, physical strength, vitality and skin glow.
- Mindfulness. Do something simple with thought. Whether that is preparing nutritious food for yourself, taking a walk outside to break the working day up, journaling, meditating…something that you can do for as long as you can fit in (without the pressure to return to your routine becoming a stress trigger!).
- Fresh air. Simple and free.
- Stress management exercises. Find your Zen zone. Whether that’s running, gym, walking, drawing, reading, listening to music, having a bath or doing a face mask. Find something that allows you to bring your stress levels down for a period of time.
- Hydrate and cut down the sugar. This will help counteract inflammation within the body triggered by stress in our lives that can be prematurely ageing.
- Sleep. Essential in helping the body reset and repair.