SKIN, STRESS AND MENTAL HEALTH
If you are beginning to feel stressed and worn out, you may find your body has a habit of showing that stress in other ways. Not only does it have drastic effects on your mood and day to day bodily functions but can have a serious effect on your skin and mental health. Olivia Grout-Smith, from the Five Dot Botanics team, unpicks the issue head on…
HOW CAN STRESS AFFECT YOUR SKIN?
Bordering on the beginning of 2021 and the early stages of our relationship, my partner and I were sitting in bed one evening. He was in Uni accommodation at the time, a lot of testament to the strength of our relationship was held in the year where I shared his ‘acceptable to the military’ single bed. That evening I first noticed as he scratched violently at the aggravated skin on his inner elbow. I recalled he would usually scratch is forearm and inner elbow, just out of habit, due to his history with mild eczema.
I noticed just how angry the surface was becoming, and how severe the scratching had become, to the point where he would even do it as he slept. This encouraged me to figure out what was going on and put an end this, being the incredibly light sleeper that I am. As a student at one of the UK’s most notoriously acclaimed engineering programmes, his anxieties would almost always surround work. Only one day did it hit me how this stress affected his skin health.
Our skin reflects going on inside, physiologically and mentally.
Acne, psoriasis as well as rosacea and eczema are just a handful of some conditions that can be aggravated hugely by stress and anxiety. One fascinating study saw how when patients suffering from chronic itching were shown stressful and fear inducing stimuli, the parts of the brain were responsible for the evocation of the flare up, and when antihistamines were taken, activity in the regions connected to itching, decreased as did the need to scratch.
While I digress into archives of dermatological studies, I think it’s important to recognise just how important these findings are. It showcases an important point that needs to be recognised. Factors for skin health is determined by a myriad of factors! Cleanliness, hormonal fluctuations, diet, hydration, genetics and finally mental health are being recognised as equally as valid.
Your mental wellbeing
Having gone through my fair share of skin battles, and I can safely say it drastically impacted my anxiety and stress. All-Party Parliamentary Group found in survey undertaken by participants with various skin conditions found too the detrimental effects ones skin condition can have on your psychological state with 98% agreeing that their condition affect their emotional and psychological wellbeing.
So…how does stress affect the brain?
When our body is stressed, the signals trigger the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which holds the glands responsible for the body’s response to stress. As well as the commonly talked about ‘cortisol’, the lesser-known hormones called catecholamines direct immune cells from the blood straight into our skin which activate pro-inflammatory cells. However, your skin to brain communication is a two-way street: the more stressed you are, the more inflamed or sensitive your skin can become, which is very stress inducing it itself. Hence the self-perpetuation. Fantastic.
WAYS YOU CAN REDUCE STRESS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE
There is hope!
It’s important to note that if you have a specific skin concern that hasn’t been resolved through various lifestyle/skincare routine changes, then you might want to consult your doctor or dermatologist. Likewise, if you are struggling with your skin and it is having a significant effect on your mental health then please consult a professional or your GP.
Look after yourself
Like all physiological and psychological issues, root causes spread themselves thin over
many factors. Although, along with maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle, it must be taken into account the work it takes to allow your brain to detach from the spirals of anxious thoughts and stresses. Taking time at the end of the day to unwind or slowly start meditative practices that allow your mind to wander and be present may give you more clarity and perspective – giving you the ability to respond to stress, free from self-criticisms.
There is no such thing as perfect skin
And not only is it important to value the preventative measures for possible stress induced skin conditions, but also to give light to the enormous pressures we put ourselves under to find our ‘perfect routine’ to have the so called ‘perfect skin’. Whilst I think the focus may only causes minor insecurities, it can also be detrimental to a self-esteem or confidence; a sense of inadequacy to those with the 20-stage skincare routine and blemish free skin.
Last year, during my lowest point in my relationship with my skin, social media began showing me people who embraced their imperfect, textured, scarred skin, whilst I didn’t even recognise it at the time, I had unconsciously began ingesting this narrative and now, proudly only wear foundation/concealer maybe once a month.
We are told to cover up, look our best and our most presentable, however our focus needs to shift from this unachievable and unrealistic ideal and like with all facets of our self, just let go of that benchmark.