Beauty Tips & Tricks

Health

This Is How Stress Can Ruin Your Skin & Body (And How to Stop It)

10 Apr, 2018
By Daniela Massenz
Stressed out? You’re not alone. Most of us live with this modern affliction, and it has a serious impact on our bodies, minds and spirits. Best we get it under control, then.

Stress – if it’s not sometimes an issue for you then you’re a) very lucky and b) probably a hermit living far away from all the people and issues that can be so stressful. For the rest of us, stress is probably a daily reality. And it doesn’t just result in that awful ‘knot-in-your-stomach’ feeling. Stress has an impact on almost every aspect of your life, and particularly your body.

While a little stress may actually be good for you – boosting cognitive function and strengthening your body’s immune function – prolonged or chronic stress has a negative effect on the immune system and other bodily functions. In other words – stress can literally make you sick.

There are warning signs – and it’s good to be aware of them.  And if they strike, we have what you need to find your chill…

Stress & Your Skin

Your skin may be one of the first places you notice that you’re stressed.
 
  • Acne and pimples. Too much cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body will increase your body’s production of oil. Adult acne breakouts may be the result – the tell-tale sign is when you get cystic acne on your chin.
 
  • Increased sensitivity. Stress hormones also trigger the release of inflammatory compounds like histamine by skin cells, making your skin more sensitive and reactive, also resulting in flare-ups or worsening of psoriasis, atopic eczema, alopecia and rosacea in people prone to these.
 
  • Accelerated ageing. If your skin is out of balance, it will look dull and age more quickly. Too much cortisol has been positively linked to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, so stress doesn’t just make you feel old, it actually does age you!
 
  • Increased dryness. Cortisol also messes with your skin’s barrier function, resulting in dullness and dehydration. Make sure you include omega fatty acids in your diet along with regular gentle exfoliation – and drink plenty of water!
 
  • Skin picking can also be a problem if it becomes a habit, not to mention the fact that it can spread infection.
 
The temptation is to try to fix the problem by trying a bunch of new products, but this will probably make the situation worse. Simplicity in skin care is the answer.

Don’t be tempted to add active treatments like retinol and fruit acids to bring back your glow. Gently does it. It’s time for TLC and cocooning with soothing ranges that damp down skin irritation. Sensitive and atopic skin solutions from dermatological skin care ranges including La Roche Posay (Effaclar for oily sensitive skin), Bioderma (Sensibio for dry and red, irritated skin), Avène (Xera Calm for severe dryness and irritation) and Vichy (Pureté for sensitive skins and LiftActiv for signs of ageing) - are helpful here.

And of course, removing the source of the stress will bring back your healthy glow. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, changing your diet (cut back on the carb fests), exercise or therapy are all a good place to start. See more below.

Stress & Your Hair

Is your hair looking dull and lifeless or, worse, falling out? High stress levels may be the cause.
 
  • There are three types of hair loss commonly linked with stress off the charts:
    • Trichotillomania - literally tearing your hair out one by one in a habitual tic. This can result in permanent hair loss eventually;
    • Telogen effluvium – a state in which hair follicles seem to go to sleep and eventually just fall out when you wash or brush your hair; and
    • Alopecia areata – where your hair falls out in patches. This can be caused by various things, including stress. Here, the body’s immune system actually attacks the hair follicles – and hair falls out.
     
  • Stress also causes your hair to stop producing colour, so you may find yourself suddenly going grey (probably the origin of the belief that someone’s hair went white overnight – not quite. That’s physically impossible).
 
Luckily, none of these (even the grey – which can be covered) have to be forever. Reduce the stress, and your lovely locks may well recover.

Read More. How Too Little Sleep Can Mess with Your Skin, Body - And Day

Stress & Your Body

Not sure why you are putting on weight? Or have constant aches and pains? These are just some of the way your body reacts when it’s under stress.
 
  • Weight
    It’s completely unfair, but it’s true that if you’re stressed you’re more likely to gain weight. This is because when we’re stressed our bodies go into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Your body thinks you’ve used calories to deal with the stress, so you need to eat more. And it’s not just eating more, but the type of food you eat – usually all the wrong sorts of ‘comfort’ foods.

    Hormones play a role here too – your body releases more cortisol which also raises your insulin levels. So your blood sugar drops and boom! Suddenly you’re craving sugary, fatty foods.
 
  • Mouth
    Wake up with a sore jaw? You could be grinding or clenching your teeth while you sleep. Chat to your dentist about a night guard and try to keep your teeth apart during the day instead of clenching your jaw.

    Stress can also cause mouth ulcers and cold sores. Small white spots with a reddish border in your mouth could be caused by a virus or bacteria but could also point to a problem with your immune system, and stress increases your chances of getting them. Cold sores, or fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus and often appear when you’re feeling low physically or emotionally stressed or upset.
 
  • Headaches
    Dull pain, tightness or pressure around your forehead or at the back of your head and neck = tension headache. Lasting anything from 30 minutes to a few days, if you’re getting them every second day, your stress levels are off the charts.  
 
  • Stomach out of sorts?
    There’s a reason our stomach is called the second brain. That’s because our brain and digestive system are connected by a nerve. Because heightened levels of stress actually cause chemical changes in your body, stomach pain and indigestion are often a first sign of too much anxiety.

    Remember those mornings when you arrived at the school gate, realised you’d forgotten to study for a test, and suddenly felt terrible stomach pain? Too much tension in your abdominal muscles is the cause.

    As we said previously, hormones are greatly affected by stress. If the hormones responsible for digestion are out of balance, all sorts of problems can occur, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which occurs when your body just stops processing your food properly. Besides stomach cramps, nausea and wind, you alternate between constipation and a terrible sense of urgency to go – just fantastic… not. Even if you get rid of the stress, the IBS may still remain.

    Then there’s adrenalin - another cause of stomach pain, and sometimes even nausea and vomiting. Stress causes the body to release this hormone, which makes your body produce extra stomach acid, which can irritate the lining of the oesophagus and result in the symptoms mentioned above.

    Because prolonged stress eventually causes damage to the cells lining the digestive tract and disturbs the normal protective gut bacteria, an inflammatory response may be triggered when eating certain foods, leading to a food intolerance.

    Cortisol also suppresses immune cells, so the chances of getting sick increase.
 
  • Fertility
    If babies are on your radar, you need to know that stress not only decreases your libido, but also fertility. When cortisol production increases, the production of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone all decrease.
 
  • Aches and pains
    Because stress affects the immune system, this can be felt as joint aches and pains. In addition, stress also causes inflammation. Inflammation can make joints swell, causing pain and making movement difficult. If you’re stressed, you’re probably also going to experience some sort of muscle tension. As your muscles tense up, your joints need to work harder, causing more inflammation. etc., and so the cycle continues.
 
  • Blood pressure
    Although there’s no proof that stress itself causes long-term high blood pressure, it is true that your body produces a bunch of hormones when you’re in a stressful situation – the same old ‘fight-or-flight’ response. These cause your heart to beat faster and constrict your blood vessels, which results in a temporary spike in blood pressure. If this happens often enough, it could lead to a long-term problem.

    Read More. Why a Healthy Gut Is the Key to a Happy Skin, Body - and Life

Stress & Your Mind

If you’re always exhausted, struggling to sleep and/or your brain is permanently foggy, stress could be the cause.
 
  • Fatigue
    If you’re always tired and can’t wake up in the morning – cue emotional stress, which could eventually lead to a full-on anxiety- or sleep-related disorder.
 
  • Sleep is an issue
    Making the situation even worse is the fact that if you’re stressed, you’re probably not sleeping properly. You’re exhausted, but then just before bed time, you feel wide awake (this could be a symptom of adrenal fatigue).

    Stress increases both physiological and psychological arousal negatively – making relaxed, restorative sleep impossible. You may find you can’t fall asleep, or, if you do manage to fall asleep, you wake regularly, meaning you’re unlikely to be spending enough time in stages 3 and 4 of sleep, which is when your body and brain repair themselves.
 
  • Waking up tired and wired!
    You wake up tired but jittery and your attention span is that of a hyperactive mosquito. As previously mentioned, anxiety causes your body to respond in a ‘fight-or-flight’ way. This affects brain function and can make concentrating difficult - and even make short-term learning impossible.
 
  • Flying off the handle for no reason?
    Take note. It’s very common to find yourself getting angry more quickly than usual when stressed. Feeling angry all the time without any clue how to manage that anger is also a clue you may be depressed – so always take it seriously and talk to a professional about managing this debilitating condition.

    Read More. THIS Is the Real Reason You’re Always So Tired

So What To Do?

Obviously, understanding the sources of your stress and taking steps to remove these is first prize, but it’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly what that is, and it may be a combination of things.

Speaking to a psychological counsellor can help enormously. There is evidence that therapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy, helps in the management of skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Therapy will help to unpack the problems and put strategies in place to deal with the situation. This may include some life skills, changes to your lifestyle, and even medication, at least temporarily, to help you cope.

The lifestyle changes  
  • Exercise is really valuable here – Getting your heartrate up and pushing your body helps you to feel tired physically and it also releases endorphins. So you’re not a gum bunny? You just need to move. Yoga is incredibly beneficial for stress relief with its emphasis on stretching and conscious breathing. Dancing energetically to some upbeat music, and even taking time for some walking and stretching will make a difference.
 
  • Setting a routine, especially for proper meal times and bedtime so you get a good eight hours in - and sticking to it (!) - is a good way to reduce stress.
 
  • Taking some time out – even half an hour of mindful quiet time, where you are living in the moment, really helps. You’ll find some good mindfulness apps such as Calm and Insight Timer, which guide you through a mindful meditation.
 
  • It’s often the chaos of our lives that wears us down, so simplifying is a good start. Do you really need to be involved in everything? Sometimes you just have to say NO!
 
  • Try to switch off occasionally by doing something completely mindless – reading, crocheting, knitting and embroidery are very good. If watching TV is your relaxation, remember that you need to stop watching an hour before bedtime. In fact, avoid all screens for an hour before bedtime, and remove all devices from your room, which should be dark and free from those annoying little lights that devices all have.
 
  • Don’t neglect your friends. It’s important to stay socially connected so you don’t end up isolated, which will in turn increase your stress. Do things that you find relaxing and give you pleasure. Just try not to overindulge in food and drink.
 
Your body and mind will thank you.

If you need to chill out quickly, here are 10 easy stress relief and relaxation techniques which can get you from OMG to OM in less than 15 minutes.

Read More. Why Happiness Makes You Healthier (And How to Be Happier)


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