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The symbiotic cycle of stress and skin, and what to do about it

If you’ve suddenly started to experience acne breakouts after an anxiety-filled period (hi there, 2020) or your eczema flares up every time a deadline looms, your body’s stress response is likely to blame. You might be surprised to hear that lockdown and its various stressors – disrupted routine, being furloughed, spending more time indoors – hasn’t only resulted in emotional turbulence and the breakdown of our social lives, but also to an increase in problems with our skin. 

Stress is an inevitable fact of life- especially in the current climate- and although some causes of stress can’t be avoided, finding ways to cope and minimise the kinds of stress which can be, will help both your skin and your general wellbeing. 

Psychodermatologist (aka psychologist for your skin) Dr Alia Ahmed says that  “anxiety is a well-known trigger of the stress response, which is linked to skin problems like acneeczema, urticaria, psoriasis, rosacea and obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders.” 

“The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes the release of various chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation both in the body and the skin,” explains Dr Ahmed

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“Feelings of emotional distress lead to the release of a stress hormone (cortisol) which delays healing, disrupts the skin’s natural barrier and affects the immune system, making it less able to defend itself.” From red, dry and itchy skin to lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and dullness, difficult feelings can lead to skin that doesn’t feel, or look, at its best. This can also work both ways: stress causes skin conditions and skin conditions cause stress- it’s a bit of a catch 22.

But all is not lost. Here are just a few tips to help you manage your stress and get your skin back to its glowing, radiant self. 

General health might not be the most ground-breaking tip, but it might be the most important. Making sure you get eight hours of sleep a night, drink two and a half litres of water a day and eat a well-balanced diet can do wonders for your skin. Maybe try turning off the Netflix an hour earlier than usual and replacing the G&T with a leafy green smoothie? Also why not try some light exercise? There is no end to the free online workouts available just nown – Yoga With Adriene is a personal fave of mine. Moving your body, gives your head time to rest and releases hormones to help actually boost your mood. 

To keep your mind even more calm and positive, being intentional with the way in which you talk to yourself is also important. You have to be your own best friend. Remind yourself how amazing and special you are and be thankful for all the things you have. If things in your life are emotionally draining you or making you feel low, try and distance yourself from them. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of your physical environment. Picking your clothes off the floor and taking your collection of mugs to the kitchen can be really helpful to mood boosting. If your environment is a positive and calming space, your mind will be too. 

Making your skin routine a fun and calming part of your day is another great way to both take care of yourself and treat yourself at the same time. Dedicate time in your day to care for your skin and buy products which make you feel great – you deserve it. If you’re feeling fancy then a facial tool might be a good investment. Gentle facial massage can improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and boost collagen production. It’s also like having your own little spa. 

A lot of these tips can feel hard to implement, especially in times of intense stress, so the most important thing is that you are kind to yourself. This year hasn’t been easy for anyone. We’re all in this skin stressed moment together, so you can seek solace in that, and I’ll see you on the other side. 

Image: cotton bro via Pexels