Stress is often referred to as ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’. With studies showing that chronic stress is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, its detriment to human health cannot be denied.
Stress keeps us awake at night, affects our relationships with others, and makes life seem less purposeful. It also affects the largest organ of our body – our skin – in more serious ways than we realize. As a trigger for various dermatologic issues and premature aging, it is something we should fight on a daily basis to maintain our skin in an optimal condition.
Stress undermines skin quality
Various studies have shown the detrimental effects that stress can have on our skin, hair, and nails and a recent study published in the Archives of Dermatology reveals why. The study found that as stress hormone (cortisol) levels rise in the body, our skin begins to produce excess oil, which can result in acne and blocked pores. Stress can also have a big effect on hydration. Another Archives of Dermatology study found that stress hampers the barrier function of skin, resulting in the loss of water and affecting the skin’s ability to heal itself after injury.
Stress and existing skin conditions
If you have eczema, rosacea, acne, or psoriasis, stress can act as a powerful trigger, bringing about a breakout or worsening an existing one. Stress is also considered a trigger for cold sore outbreaks, which can cause pain and discomfort, and take over a week to clear up. For cold sores and other stress-related conditions, proactive stress management is often recommended by dermatologists. Often, stress cannot be avoided (because of the conflicting demands of our work and personal lives), but efforts should be made to curtail cortisol levels through natural, proven methods.
Natural ways to battle stress
There isn’t only one road to a state of calm. Exercise, time spent in nature, and journaling, are just three methods that have been scientifically proven to help keep stress at bay. Of the many practices which are recommended for this purpose, Eastern holistic activities such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi have proven so effective that these therapies are so often recommended in settings such as eating disorder recovery and substance abuse centers. The secret of these practices is ‘mindfulness’ or ‘keeping the mind in the here and now’. This approach is so powerful because rather than asking us to eliminate difficult or stressful thoughts and emotions from our mind, it encourages us to recognize and accept them without judgement, nevertheless realizing that they are temporary and that they can exist without being reacted to in a negative way.
Mindfulness and other stress-reducing approaches remind us that ‘all things shall pass’ – including tough times and worries. It is important to accept stress as a ‘necessary evil’ yet tackle it with courage, using proven methods to stop it from leading us into poor lifestyle decisions such as overeating, drinking, and substance abuse. Not only will a healthy diet and lifestyle boost our chances of a long life, it will also keep our skin looking young, hydrated, and free of triggers for potentially painful or unsightly skin problems.