Ever looked in the mirror after a stressful time in your life and wondered exactly when you started looking so old and tired? Or maybe the last time you went through something stressful, a huge pimple erupted on your face. Did you know that stress plays a role in a healthy complexion?
Stress: The Mind-Body Connection
First of all, let’s define stress and what it does in your body.
Stress is a physiological response caused by an emotion that is triggered by something in your world. It can be a feeling of overwhelm, or difficulty coping with a situation that can range from life threatening to something relatively harmless. You could be stressed from planning a surprise birthday party, speaking in public or from waiting for test results from your doctor. What causes you stress will be different than what causes other people stress, but the processes started in the body by stress are the same for everyone.
When you encounter a stressful situation, your body responds by producing cortisol. Think of it as your body sounding a huge fire alarm bell. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone, which would be really useful if there were an actual fire, maybe not so much to plan that surprise party or cope with a difficult work assignment.
The trouble comes in when we are constantly in a state of stress. Think of it like driving your car. Sometimes you need to put the pedal to the floor or slam on the breaks to keep yourself safe, but if you drive your car that way all the time, you’re going to wear it out quickly.
Cortisol released over an acute incident, like your child breaking his arm, gives you the burst of energy you need to handle the situation, and then calm down. Too much cortisol over an extended amount of time can cause inflammation in our body, decrease the efficiency of our immune system, and throw off the balance of good bacteria in our gut.
How Stress Affects Your Skin
So with this increased inflammation and out of whack gut biome, we can expect some skin issues.
Cortisol boosts sebum production (because in that fight or flight response you might need to be slippery to escape, right? Just kidding)
. This excess oil can clog your pores and lead to pimples. Your gut biome being out of whack makes it harder for your body to fight off infection and heal.
As the inflammation in our body increases, our reactivity to mostly benign substances does, too. In plain English, you can get a rash or hives from your laundry soap, just because your body is so inflamed. This inflammation will also exacerbate any preexisting conditions, like eczema or psoriasis.
Stress has been shown to impair the barrier function of your skin. This basically means that it’s not as good as keeping the moisture inside and the germs and bad stuff outside. As the barrier function deteriorates, your skin will dry out faster and faster. This will lead to dry, flaky skin, and the drier the skin becomes, the more wrinkles will show up. Which leads me to my next point.
All this cortisol breaks down collagen and elastin. This will accelerate the aging process, as skin becomes loosely attached and more deeply wrinkled because of the loss of collagen. Frowning and furrowing your brow can also increase wrinkles.
Dark Circles and Puffy Eyes
With the loss of collagen and elastin, the delicate skin around the eyes can become puffy and a bit droopy. Couple that with the lack of sleep many people experience when they’re stressed and instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve, you’ll be wearing your problems on your face.
5 Simple Steps to Ease Stress
So we’ve talked about how stress is affecting your skin, and barely touched on the effect it has on the rest of your body, but I think it’s enough to consider some things we can do to decrease the amount of stress in our lives.
1. Prayer and Journaling
There are many things that are beyond our control, and there are many things that worry us that aren’t really that important. The good news is that our Heavenly Father wants to hear all of it, and loves to comfort and guide us. Make a quiet, uninterrupted time to pray or write in a prayer journal. You’ll find your load much lighter.
2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eating a balanced diet full of antioxidants, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated can help negate some of the effects of stress. Staying physically active can also help to lower stress hormones and help you get a good night’s sleep.
3. Take a Deep Breath
Deep breathing has been proven to decrease blood pressure, improve digestion, boost the immune system and help you think more clearly. Try the 7/11 breathing technique right now and see if you don’t feel a bit calmer. Take a deep breath in, counting to 7. (Make sure you’re belly is expanding out a bit on inhale. This helps ensure that you’re taking deep full breaths, not higher shallow ones.) Slowly breathe all the air out of your lungs, timing it to a count of 11.
4. Take Time for Recreation
You really need to make time to enrich your life. Schedule things into your life that energize and excite. This could be taking a hot bath, reading a good book, going hiking, taking a new class, the possibilities are endless, and the only requirements are that you enjoy it.
5. Take Time for Self Care
Taking time to relax and pamper yourself with healthy skincare products can overcome some of the negative effects of stress on your complexion. Set time aside every day to do your skincare ritual. Enjoy the aromatherapy benefits of your products, feel the oils as they’re slowly absorbed into your skin. Really be present in the moment, paying attention to your senses. Stick to your routine even on days when you’re tired or anxious.
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