Do you ever break out when you’re stressed or sad? Well that is no surprise because your mood/mental health has a definite effect on your skin.
The brain and the nervous system influence the skin’s immune cells through various chemical messengers and receptors, which respond to stress. We all know that stress is an inevitable part of life and arises when we are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure that we perceive exceeds our ability to adapt to it. Our brain plays a major role in the stress response, which exerts its effect on the skin mainly through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When this response is activated, stress hormones such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), glucocorticoids, and epinephrine are released. This results in a wide range of physiologic and immune reactions that can trigger or exacerbate skin conditions.
Unlike high blood pressure and diabetes, skin problems are often visible to others. This leads to even more stress and anxiety and thus the cycle begins.
In my Dermatology practice, I see patients every day who say their skin condition is exacerbated by stress, illness and even menstrual cycle. (ever break out right before a big exam or important meeting at work?)
The common dermatological issues that have been documented to be made worse by stress include acne, rosacea, psoriasis, itching, eczema, pain and hives, just to name a few.
So, what can you do?
1. Identify triggers.
Pay attention to what causes your skin to break out. Keep a log and pay attention to the timing. Is it always during your period? Are you prone to breaking out during major holidays? Paying attention to possible triggers can help you become proactive and perhaps prevent major breakouts.
2. Pamper yourself.
During stressful times, it is ok to indulge in something that makes you happy. We are taught to ignore our feelings and often don’t even realize we are stressed out but I encourage you to “lean in” and acknowledge your feelings and do something that makes you happy. It may be getting your nails done or visiting a good friend.
3. Up your skin care game
Skin care is self-care. Make sure you already have a consistent, well thought out skin care routine. Great skin care is preventative and can keep you from having breakouts even when stressed.
4. Get help
It is ok to ask for help. All too often we are stressed because we have taken on too much. Seek help in your circle and when people offer help, take it. If you are depressed, speak to your medical provider or other trusted person who can help.
5. Stop catastrophizing.
You would not believe how often patients say to me “I will just die if my skin is not clear by my (fill in the blank).” Sometimes, our thoughts dictate the outcome right out the box. No one wants a break out. Especially on a big day or when you are already stressed but changing how you view it can really calm your system down enough to improve your skin without any major intervention.
Skin is the largest organ in the body so it is no surprise that stress and psychological disorders can affect it just like they can affect your heart health and other systems. Recognizing this and being proactive is a win for those who are affected.