Stress is something that many of us contend with on a daily basis. But what effect does it have on the body and our complexion?
Stress is the body’s natural response to a perceived threat. When we enter this fight or flight response, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into action, prompting the release of many hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare us to deal with a potential injury. Our heart rate accelerates, blood flow to the brain increases by up to 500 per cent and digestion slows down. This can cause inflammation throughout the body, leading to acne flare-ups and premature ageing. What’s more, the stress hormone cortisol is no friend to the skin – it can trigger the rapid breakdown of collagen, the protein that gives our skin its structure and firmness.
Stress and ageing
Modern-day life sees many of us living with far too much stress, and not only can this damage our skin, but it can also have a significant impact on our mental health, leaving us tense, anxious and unable to concentrate. Over time this ongoing stress will begin to compromise the health of our skin and body.
I’ve seen many patients over the years, all with varying skin issues. However, the ones with the most problematic concerns are always those who are battling excessive amounts of stress in their daily lives.
The physical impact of stress on our skin is wide-ranging. It can trigger a series of chain reactions within the body, all of which accelerate skin ageing.
Reduced blood flow means less oxygen is delivered to the skin cells, reducing the rate of cell turnover and triggering a dull, lacklustre complexion. Cortisol releases sugars intended to provide the body with energy, yet not only do these sugars lead to inflammation within the skin, but they also damage its supportive network of collagen and elastin. And even our DNA is damaged by stress, restraining our skin cells from functioning effectively and accelerating the ageing process even further.
Minimising stress in daily life
Acne, rosacea, eczema, premature ageing and many other skin conditions are all directly linked to our stress levels. So much so that managing stress should form a crucial part of your daily skincare routine, alongside any topical products that you apply.
In our busy 21st century world, finding the time to practice mindfulness is crucial, which is why I recommend just doing one small thing each day to help create space in your life for some respite.
There are so many tools readily available that can help us to practice breathing exercises and meditation. Countless studies have proven that meditation can positively impact both our physical and psychological well-being.
Over the last four years, I have practised meditation. If my mind is very busy, I find it easier to follow a guided meditation like Headspace, which makes it really easy. I just let someone’s voice direct me to the space between my thoughts to re-centre myself and focus on what’s important to me. I also love the Muse meditation device which centres your brain and provides real-time feedback on your brain activity, heart rate, breathing, and body movements to help you build a consistent meditation practice.
Write it down
It’s very easy to lie awake at night worrying about the future. Keep a notepad on your bedside to brain dump your thoughts when they get overwhelming. Not only will this stop you from forgetting anything important, but it also helps to process what’s going on in your mind a lot better.
Make some you time
Run a warm bath, visit a friend, do a yoga class, sit in the park or get outside for a peaceful walk. Research shows that being in nature, even for just 20 minutes a day, can improve mood and increase happiness, as well as decrease anxiety by lowering the levels of cortisol.
Exercise releases our happy hormones, so it’s an excellent (and very simple) stress buster. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours at the gym – find something you enjoy doing, whether it be walking, cycling, pilates, tennis, or trampolining. Just getting active, and raising the heart rate is so beneficial.