How the skin is affected by stress

How the skin is affected by stress…

by Carolyn@Qetello

Skin, health, acne, stressed, cortisol

Is your skin stressed out?

When we’re stressed, the adrenal glands release our ‘fight or flight’ hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, which elevate our heart rate, increase the acidity of the stomach and change the structure of our collagen; even damaging connective tissues and thus, compromising the health and integrity of our skin.   

The adrenal glands, located at the top of our kidenys can become over exhausted causing adrenal fatigue.  When this happens the adrenal glands decrease the production of aldosterone, which can lead to dehydration, making the skin look tired, dull, sullen and aged. 

The circulation of blood within our bodies is also affected when we’re in this ‘fight or flight’ mode, with blood being diverted to the brain and muscles; resulting in a lack of nutrients being carried to, and less toxins being removed from the skin.  Thus the skin is left in a state of imbalance leaving a dull appearance and at increased risk of skin problems, such as acne.

Conditions like acne, eczema or rosacea, to name a few, are the visible conditions that are often caused by internal stress. 

These internal stresses are connected to our emotional wellbeing which, in turn are a direct translation of our self-belief system, so when something challenges our self-beliefs, an emotion is triggered, which can cause us to feel an intense emotion, such as fear, leading to stress. (For more information on how this works check out my blog post on the mind-skin connection)

When we experience these skin issues, we feel often displeasure and our stress levels are elevated even further, and we become stuck in a damaging cycle.

The cortisol hormone released into our bodies when we’re stressed, actually increases our sebum production, resulting in oilier skin and breakouts.  With increased cortisol comes sugars which can cause inflammation in the skin.  Collagen and elastin become damaged by the cortisol and over time more visible lines and wrinkles develop.

The more stressed we are, the more insulin we produce too, this increases the production of the androgen hormones, such as testosterone, which can cause blocked pores through excess sebum production, leading to potential bacterial growth in the hair follicles and acne.  Learning how to cleanse our skin properly is key to removing excess sebum, dirt and bacteria to keep the pores clear. 

One really quick and simple way to reduce stress is by practicing deep breathing also known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing or belly breathing.

By this I mean when you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.  A really good tip to practice this technique is to imagine your belly is a balloon that inflates as you breathe in and deflates as you breathe out!

Many of us find this deep breathing unnatural, but have you ever watched a baby breathe – they do this naturally and it’s something we ‘unlearn’ as we get older!  According to Harvard Medical School this is partly due to body image in western culture, where a flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and some men too!) tend to hold their stomach muscles in. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” the norm.  

This type of shallow breathing actually limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs don’t get a full share of oxygenated air and can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing, on the other hand, encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. So, it’s not surprising then, that deep breathing lessens anxiety by slowing the heartbeat; lowering, or, at the very least, stabilising blood pressure. 

This moves us away from the 'fight and flight' mode and takes us into our 'rest and recover' mode, which in turn reduces the release of cortisol, decreases the sugar production, re-balances the skin’s sebum production and protects the skin’s structure.

Deep breathing, also encourages more oxygen flow around the body, bringing those all-important nutrients to your skin, removing toxins, and brightening your complexion.

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