Stress’s Favourite Canvas for Expressing Itself: Our Skin3 min read

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Calendar alert and the increasing number of unread email notifications has my stress levels climbing as I step out of my house at 8:00 a.m. By the time I get through the commute and into my office, my anxiety level only creeps higher. Although, I realise that I am not alone for whom the modern life is taking a toll on the psyche and skin.

A massive pimple doesn’t wait for the right time to reveal itself. But have you ever observed that they always seem to appear at the worst of times, maybe right before an important meeting or close to the deadline for a big project? Turns out, there’s a reason. Stress is totally messing with our skin, causing breakouts, acne, flare-ups, and even wrinkles.

All of us deal with different stresses whether related to our career, our family, our social sphere or due to constant struggle to do it all. Our skin is the largest organ in our body, which serves as the perfect canvas for stress to express itself. Anxiety, like stress, may initially develop in our brain, but the consequences of it plays out all over our skin.

Due to our different genetic makeups, every person’s body reacts to stress in different ways. Our skin can’t tell the difference between different types of stress, physical, emotional, psychological or environmental, but the longer you endure stress, the more it takes a toll on our skin.

Stress, anxiety, and similar emotional states can trigger or worsen a wide range of skin conditions. In a research conducted on 100 people, about half reported that their skin problems started during a particularly frustrating time in their lives and another two-thirds testified that their symptoms worsened when they felt pressured.

Here are some evil ways stress ruins our skin:

Stress Causes Inflammation

Let’s look at the deep connection between skin, mind and gut to better understand how stress affects and inflames our skin. When our mind senses stress, it slows down digestion in the gut. As our digestion is decelerated, it affects the bacteria in our digestive system as it allows for an overgrowth of unhealthy strains of bacteria which disrupts the natural balance of microbes. This in turn causes the lining of our intestines to become more permeable triggering a body wide gush of inflammation. Because of the internal inflammation, our skin tends to be deprived of oxygen and essential nutrients leading to inflammation and acne breakouts. The longer the stress lasts, the more of an impact it has on our digestion.

Stress Dries Out Our Skin

Whenever our body feels stressed, it pumps out stress hormones as part of our fight-or-flight response. There is a spike in adrenaline and cortisol in our body. These hormones direct blood away from the skin, sending it to fuel our muscles and organs instead. An increase in adrenaline also causes us to sweat more which dehydrates our body.  If we don’t replenish our body with water, our body and skin are going to dry out. Drinking caffeinated and carbonated drinks will worsen it more.


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Stress Makes Our Skin Oilier

The change in hormone levels caused by stress is a major contributing factor to our blasted acne breakouts. The increase in cortisol has a side effect on oil glands of our skin, leading to higher than normal levels of oil and blockages in the pores, accelerating the appearance of acne.

Stress Hormones Worsen Existing Skin Conditions

The release of these stress hormones triggers certain physiological responses in our bodies. Adrenaline increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure while cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream. Relating this to skin, when our body produces too much cortisol, our immune system is weakened, which causes an inflammatory response resulting to eczema and psoriasis. It also exacerbates and unmasks the passive suppressed skin conditions that we may have.

Stress Disrupts Our Sleep Cycle

Under stress, our brain runs a mile in a minute. It is tough to power down at night in such conditions. Sleep is a key time for our body to repair itself, and depriving from it has detrimental effects on our skin as it further boosts up the cortisol levels. Lack of sleep also causes fluid to pool in the lower eyelid area resulting in puffy under-eye bags.

Stress Speeds Up Ageing

Too much stress translates into fine lines and wrinkles. Stress leads to accelerated ageing as our body is busy fighting stress instead of protecting our skin against environmental stressors such as UV rays and pollution. We also tend to carry unnatural expressions for prolonged time under stress, including furrowed eyebrows, frowning, pursed lips, downturned smile and so on. This deepens the appearance of wrinkles very quickly.

Stress happens to everyone, but since we can’t neglect our life and career, the best thing to do is learn to manage the stress and work to reverse the effect it has on our skin. Eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and taking care of ourselves can be the first step towards a healthier and happier skin.

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