IS STRESS RUINING YOUR SKIN?
4 MIN READ
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just turn stress and anxiety off? If you could just set your cortisol levels to ‘optimal’ and leave them there? Think of how much better you would sleep without all those thoughts and fears keeping you up at night. Think of all the tension you hold in your body; your neck, your jaw, your stomach, and how great it would feel to just let all that go.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the way life works. You have stress responses and anxiety for a reason: to protect you from potential harm. Your cortisol levels rise in response to stressful thoughts or situations in an attempt to provide you with the fuel to act and cope.
These tools and reactions were vital in the past when humans had to outrun sabre tooth tigers, but today when waves of 10 out of 10 anxiety hit just because of a thought you had or a social media post you saw, those things have gotten out of hand. Worse yet, those emotions and physical reactions not only take a toll on your mindset, but they also wreak havoc on your gut health, immune system, and the largest organ in your body; your skin.
“Stress is not our friend, neither for our mind nor for our skin,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Prolonged and consistent stress leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol. One of the most important roles of cortisol is to regulate both your body’s inflammation and immune response. When you’re in a constant state of stress, or experience stress regularly, it alters your cortisol’s effectiveness and your body’s sensitivity to cortisol, which can lead to chronic inflammation and immune deficiencies.
You more than likely understand how a compromised immune system creates inflammation and affects your skin; from depleting collagen, to dehydrating, to creating redness, to causing breakouts. So while you pack on all your top notch serums and creams, and slather on concealer to hide your undereye bags and blemishes, your daily stress and anxiety is quietly destroying all your topical efforts – which, when you see what is happening to your skin, then causes more stress and anxiety and gives rise to a vicious cycle.
“It’s all interconnected in that stress and anxiety can impact skin conditions, and having skin issues can lead to anxiety and negatively affect someone.” says Abigail Waldman, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Now that we’ve got your cortisol levels tingling – sorry about that – let’s take a look at three tips to reduce stress and anxiety in the moment, and save your skin (and hair and nails) while you’re at it.
Three foolproof practices to reduce stress right now
1. The Breath Method
Breath is your life force, and is the most powerful tool in your mental wellness tool kit. When you focus on regulating your breath by taking slow, deep, conscious breaths, it sends a message to your brain to relax. It can also increase oxygen flow and allow your body to release toxins as well as tension.
HOW TO: When you are in the throws of panic or anxiety, find a place to sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and start by taking a slow deep breath in to the count of 6, hold that breath for four to six seconds, and slowly release your breath for the count of eight. Repeat this process six times or until you feel your anxiety subside.
2. The Root Method
Have you ever noticed how when you feel anxious or stressed out, you feel untethered, like you are floating around without anything to hold on to? This detached feeling is part of a normal stress response, but can play a role in increasing your anxiety. So, by connecting to the present moment, and focusing on the ground beneath your feet, you are able to anchor yourself to the here and now, and decrease the severity of your emotions.
HOW TO: Sit on the ground with your legs crossed in front of you, or find a chair and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Sit with your back as straight as possible and close your eyes. Focus on the ground beneath you and visualize yourself rooting into the earth. Imagine those roots growing deep, and the earth lovingly cheering those roots on. Then imagine a loving, bright light shining down on you, filling you with peace and tranquility from your head all the way down to your roots.
3. The Talk Method
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have an ongoing narrative in your mind. That little voice can be your best friend or your worst enemy, but what you may not be aware of is which category that voice falls into is completely within your control. When you take control of your inner dialogue, you have the power to radically transform not only your thoughts but your mood as well.
HOW TO: Set aside a few minutes and seek a comfortable and quiet place to be still with yourself. You can sit, lie down, or stand facing a mirror. If you’re sitting or lying down, close your eyes. If you’re facing a mirror, lock eyes with yourself, then focus on your breath. Start with two to three deep breaths to stabilize your heart rate. Once you’re ready, state the following mantra (in your head or out loud) with each exhale:
“I am safe, I am strong, I am loved, and I am whole”
Repeat this exercise until you feel your stress dissipate.
These exercises are designed to help you in the moment, but can also help you build resilience if practiced daily. The overarching goal is to reach a place where you’re able to radically improve your stress response, and better handle stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Incorporating tools like these into your daily routines will vastly improve your ability to cope.