What Does Stress Do to Your Skin and Tips for De-Stressing
Stress can be either mental, emotional, or physical. Your brain interprets your environment, and when you feel psychologically stressed, it’s your brain that activates the fight-or-flight response meant for physical stress. The fight-or-flight response provides a boost of energy, causing your breathing and heart rates to increase in order to deal with short periods of stress. And just like our daily lives, stress can fluctuate in its intensity.
Your skin acts as the interface between your environment, mind, and body, and is sensitive to the same signals that cause the stress response. When you react to a perceived threat—which can be mental, physical, or emotional—your body produces cortisol, the major stress hormone, alongside adrenaline to pump up your body’s nervous system and provide an energy burst to combat the threat. This reaction occurs regardless of whether the stress comes from a physical or mental place, and while the burst is only to combat stress for a short period of time, life accrues many stressors that may put you into a chronic state of stress that will harm your skin.
When cortisol levels stay elevated, skin rejuvenation becomes impaired and inflammation occurs throughout the skin. Cortisol constricts blood vessels, causing blood pressure to rise as the body attempts to deliver oxygen to the muscles. This may cause dullness due to the clamped blood vessels being unable to deliver proper blood flow to the skin, or redness due to reactive blood vessels opening too widely.
Cortisol also blocks insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise to provide the body with a quick energy source. Because of this elevation of blood sugar, fine lines and stress wrinkles are more likely to appear due to glycation, which damages collagen and elastin.
Other signs of stress may be skin becoming dry and dull, due to chronic stress impairing the skin’s lipid barrier and resulting in water loss, alongside flakiness due to skin cells turning over too quickly. This buildup of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface will also lead to acne, due in part to the excess cortisol promoting inflammation throughout the skin, which also breaks down the collagen and elastin that would keep your skin taut and young-looking.
It’s important to remember that stress occurs in many different ways, and while you may not be able to control what triggers your stress, you can control how you react to it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to de-stress your life:
Assess your mindset.
This means looking at the way you interpret events as being positive or negative. Your interpretation of how something should be creates expectations that you inherently live by. Ask yourself if you are an optimist or pessimist, and figure out if you are an extreme of one or the other. If you’re an optimist, a little pessimism serves as a good reality check, whereas if you’re a pessimist, a realistic sense of optimism can provide a sense of motivation. To figure out where you land on the mindset scale, journal your experiences. When in a negative situation, write down how you felt and what you did to deal with it. If you notice that you tend to have more negative reactions, try to reframe your thoughts, because the negativity will build up into stress before you know it. Although stress cannot be avoided, you can respond in more positive ways and minimize the negative effects.
That being said, you can try to avoid stressful situations. If you know someone who stresses you out, try to limit your exposure to them to reduce the intensity of the experience. If you find yourself getting stressed out before work due to traffic, see if you can try an alternate route or leave a little earlier to avoid traffic altogether.
Anticipate your stressors.
If you can anticipate your stressors before they happen, you can better manage your situation. When you have a lot on your plate, pare down your to-do list and prioritize the things that need to be down right away. Communicating your feelings and asking for help are other ways to anticipate your stressors—the most important thing is to not feel like you’re bottling in your stress.
Adjust your standards.
As mentioned earlier, you inherently have expectations for how situations will turn out. When a situation doesn’t line up with that expectation, it may cause you stress, especially if you are a perfectionist. You can create some distance from the situation immediately by taking a moment to ask yourself whether the situation will matter in a month, a year, or five years. Once you determine your answer, you can dilute your sense of urgency and the significance of the event on your overall well-being.
Stress, especially emotional stress, triggers metabolic problems that can result in obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as dysfunction in the cell walls. Exercise uses cortisol and the burst of energy from the fight-or-flight response to bring your body back into balance. If you work up a sweat, exercise can also release impurities from your body that would clog your pores, so there are additional skin benefits, too.
Make time to do things you enjoy.
This seems like just another task to add to your day, but you may already be doing this without even realizing it. Ask yourself how you unwind from a day of work—is it watching your favorite TV show, cooking, or listening to music? If you use your weekend to run errands for the week, why not schedule a massage or something indulgent for an hour? When you set time aside to do something you enjoy, you’ll feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for the rest of your day.
When it comes to stress and stress management, try to take a moment to step away from a situation. Whether it’s a five-minute stroll to clear your mind or an hour in a warm bath, find out how you anticipate and manage your stress. Your mind, body, and skin will thank you for it.
Dr. Lancer. Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin. p. 15, 162-175, 200-1.