What No One Told You About Stress and Acne

Lots of people are going through stressful times on a daily basis. Undoubtedly, stress and anxiety levels have skyrocketed especially in the last 2 years. 

However, I have some news. 

Not ALL Stress is bad!

Believe it or not - some stress that we feel is actually good for us! Good stress is like that feeling on the first date or before a big presentation when we feel heightened awareness and we need focus and energy to rise to a challenge. We are rewarded for the risk with a positive outcome. 

There's also day to day stress that is tolerable. This type of stress we feel we can cope with because we have social support from family and friends, healthy coping mechanisms like exercise and rest and sufficient time to recharge after a long day. 

Toxic stress i the type of stress that we are unable to cope with. The amount or duration of stress outpaces the strength of our mindset and the social support we have available. We feel overwhelmed and flooded with negative feelings of anxiety and worry.

Everyday stressors can turn into toxic stress when we start with a negative mindset, have low social support or are not able to recharge with healthy coping mechanisms.  

Now what does that have anything to do with acne? 
Continue reading below to understand the complex relationship between stress and your skin. 

1. Stress and the Fight or Flight System

Toxic stress leads to a chronic stimulation of the "fight or flight" pathway called the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is chronically activated - it triggers cortisol production and inflammation. These changes lead to oily skin, inflamed skin and excess skin cell proliferation. 

When these factors work together - it creates a perfect storm for acne-prone skin to breakout. 

2. Stress and the Gut Microbiome.

In addition, stress negatively impacts the gut bacteria. This can lead to gut bacteria imbalances. Proper gut bacteria balance is important for keeping the right gut and skin pH. When the pH is correct it prevents infections in the gut and skin barrier. 

3. Cortisol Can Impair the Gut Lining

Cortisol shunts blood flow away from the gut during times of stress. If there is damage to the gut lining this can make healing slower. Compounded over-prolonged periods of stress can lead to a chronic leaky gut

4. It's Difficult to Heal When Stressed

When our body is consumed with dealing with fight or flight situations - it can't devote resources to healing and maintenance tasks. I liken this to a really busy week at work. You may be getting your work done, but you also might fall behind on dishes, laundry and various chores. Your body also has a long list of maintenance tasks like removing toxins and old hormones from your bloodstream, repairing tissues and keeping pathogens at bay. Your body needs periods of safety and rest to catch up on those healing tasks.  

What you can do to improve negative stress

1. Spend Time in Nature

Forest bathing is the Japanese term for spending intentional time in nature. Spending just 15 minutes walking outdoors in a park or forest observing nature can help lower cortisol levels and influence a feeling of wellbeing. This meta-analysis noted, "Overall, forest bathing can significantly influence cortisol levels on a short term in such a way as to reduce stress, and anticipated placebo effects can play an important role in it" (Antonelli et al., 2019).

The role of placebo effect is important. It emphasizes the mind-body connection. The effects of anything we do with intention and mindfulness will be magnified simply through the mind's ability to influence our hormones and neurotransmitters. 

Harness the power of your mind by stilling your thoughts and noticing small things in the moment like the crunch of the leaves under your feet or the drift of steam rising from your cup of tea. This is both a FREE and powerful form of self-healing.

2. Practice Essentialism
Take time to define your values. What is MOST important for you to accomplish in your day? Your week? Your Year? You LIFE? 
Create a plan for those items. Then you have to SAY NO to many good things to say YES to a few truly great things. 
The undisciplined pursuit of MORE can sabotage our peace and create poor health that manifests in our bodies and on our skin.
3. Turn off the noise
The unrelenting "noise" of the modern environment can easily overwhelm our nervous systems. 
The majority of this noise will be coming to us through emails requesting our time, favors, and attention. Or noise from social media saying what we should do or who we should be or how we should think. If we don't have clearly defined values and priorities this can easily distract us and lead to anxiety and overwhelm and feelings of inadequacy. 
4. Be Curious, Not Anxious
When our skin is breaking out - it's communicating to us that the internal environment is out of balance. Instead of stressing about things that seem "out of our control" take a moment to thank your body for the reminder that it needs care
When a baby cries - we know he/she is communicating needs. Even though a baby can't out loud SAY what he/she needs - we can be gentle and curious about the babies needs and start the process of meeting those needs and be patient with him/her in the process. 
This is the same care we can extend to our own bodies. When our skin is inflamed - it is crying out and we need to start the journey of healing with an open mind and patience. 
There is ALWAYS a reason for acne, which means there is always a SOLUTION. It may take some time to pinpoint your exact needs, but the more grace and patience we give ourselves in the journey, the more successful we will be. Overflowing anxiety, frustration, and anger will not calm a crying baby and it won't help our skin either.
To conclude, remember that STRESS and ACNE are directly interconnected so you can't heal the skin WITHOUT healing the nervous system. 
I share all my strategies for balancing the nervous system in my signature course The Clear Skin Code which has helped hundreds heal their skin and nervous system.   
As always, if you have any questions - please feel free to email me at [email protected] and I'll personally get back to you!




2. Antonelli, M., Barbieri, G. & Donelli, D. Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Biometeorol 63, 1117–1134 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-019-01717-x

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