Stress is something most of us experience on a daily basis. But how does it actually affect the body and our complexion?
It’s almost impossible to live without some stress in our lives. It’s a natural, evolutionary response that developed as means of allowing animals to react to a critical situation. When we enter this so-called “fight or flight” mode, we experience a surge in the hormones adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenalin that prepare us to survive a threat to our lives. Our heart rate accelerates, blood flow to the brain and muscles increases by up to 500 per cent, the conditions inside the stomach become painfully acidic – and even the structure of our collagen and connective tissues is damaged.
In modern life, thankfully we are rarely called upon to save our lives in this way. So while some stress is good for us, triggering our inborn sense of ambition, competitiveness and energy, most of us are living with too much. So it’s no wonder we’re tense, irritable, anxious and unable to concentrate. Due to the fact that many of us live highly pressurised lives, the effects of this are cumulative. Over time, this ongoing stress begins to compromise the health of the skin and body. So whats actually happening to our body when we are stressed?
Acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, premature ageing and many other skin conditions are all directly linked to our stress levels. In fact, managing your stress levels should be a key part of your skincare routine, working alongside any topical products you apply.
Remember too that stress robs us of sleep – one of the key ingredients we need in order for our skin cells to regenerate overnight.
Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of clients with many different skin issues. Yet the ones with the most problematic complexions are always the ones living with the most stress. So stress is literally written all over their faces.
When we’re stressed, our body releases hormones, which increase oil production in the skin. The result is spots and breakouts, which goes some way to explaining why adult acne is on the rise.
Unfortunately, the stress-skin cycle doesn’t stop there. When we eat, the body releases insulin as a means of storing energy for the body. The more stressed we are, the more insulin we produce. Insulin in turn, triggers the production of hormones called androgens, which block pores and cause spots.
As we’ve seen earlier in this chapter, stress re-directs blood to where the body considers it most necessary in order to survive a threatening situation. Which is why we talk about blood literally draining from someone’s face when they’re frightened or in shock.
As blood travels towards the brain of muscles, skin begins to lack the nutrients and oxygen supply it needs to heal these spots. And so the cycle continues.
We can look at someone and know from their expression if they are happy or stressed, deep lines can form through repetitive frowning, these tight muscles restrict the free flow of blood and nutrients, worry lines become permanently ingrained on our faces.
Stress triggers a series of chain reactions within the body that accelerate skin ageing.
Blood flow: Reduced blood flow means fewer nutrients and less oxygen are being delivered to the skin cells. Over time, this reduces the rate of cell turnover and the skin adopts a pale, lacklustre appearance.
Cortisol: When the body produces cortisol, the “stress hormone”, it immediately releases sugars intended to provide the body with energy. Yet not only do these sugars create inflammation within the skin, but cortisol also damages its supportive network of collagen and elastin. As the years pass, we develop more lines and wrinkles.
DNA: Small elements called telomeres sit at the top of DNA strands to stop them from fraying. Rather like the ends of shoelaces! When telomeres are damaged by stress, these strands start to split so that the skin cells can’t function effectively and the ageing process accelerates.
So how do we deal with all this stress?
Mindfulness and meditation
Some of the most readily available tools that can help us break this cycle are breathing exercises and meditation. Best of all, they’re free! Meditation isn’t just for the spiritually enlightened. It’s a practice that can help all of us live in the moment to become happier and more productive. Countless studies have proven that meditation can positively impact upon both our physical and psychological wellbeing. However, in this busy, 21st century world – achieving mindfulness isn’t easy. something so simple and so profoundly effective.
Here are some of my other favourite ways of dealing with stress x