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.
1. Chen, Ying; Lyga, John. Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. Inflammation & Allergy-Drug Targets, 13 (3), pp. 177-190(14)
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