Are You Stressed Yet?
It’s been a truly unprecedented 12 months. Racial injustice, a plague sweeping the land, and coup attempts are enough to increase anyone’s cortisol levels.
Stress can have countless sources, from financial strain to relationship turmoil to a tumultuous sociopolitical climate.
If this stress isn’t processed in a healthy manner, it can lead to all sorts of health problems. These may include anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, weight gain, sleep problems and… skin disorders?
A recent article published by the NY times reports that long-term, ongoing stress can cause skin breakdown, rash, acne, and premature skin aging.
Stress Keeps You Alive
Acute (short-term) stress is your friend. Stress promotes the release of cortisol, a hormone that causes increased focus and attention, and slows non-urgent processes like digestion and growth.
Stress heightens your senses as you desperately search for your keys. It enhances mental clarity as you walk into that important meeting. It energizes your muscles to help you run from a charging bear.
But when stress lingers, it’s a problem.
Stress Also Kills You
Chronic (ongoing) stress is the Enemy. When stress continues over days and days, it starts to take its toll on your body. Chronic exposure to cortisol has been shown to cause a host of health problems, including skin disorders.
This is Your Dome On Stress
Good Oil, Bad Oil
As a baldie, your dome is constantly exposed to the elements, which can cause the skin to dry out.
Fortunately, your dome is protected by an oil barrier that keeps irritants away and locks moisture in.
The stress hormone cortisol slows the production of these healthy oils, reducing the strength of your oil barrier. At the same time, cortisol stimulates the production of a different oil: sebum. Too much sebum causes oily skin, clogged pores, and acne.
Your skin’s health depends on legions of friendly bacteria living on it that protect you from irritants and UV rays, digest excess sebum, and crowd out disease-causing microbes (we wrote all about your microbial friends here...). Without your bacterial army, your skin is exposed to all sorts of bad actors.
Your skin’s pH (or acid level) needs to be tightly controlled for optimal health. Chronically increased cortisol levels can alter the pH of your skin. Without a healthy pH level, your friendly microbes will die off in droves leaving skin vulnerable to damage.
Calling All Collagen
Collagen is a protein that hangs out in your skin and joints. It helps give shape and structure to your skin and keeps it looking youthful. Ongoing exposure to cortisol slows the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid. This can cause premature skin aging and wrinkles.
All of these stress-induced issues can lead to skin irritation, drying, redness, breakdown, and infection. Fortunately, all of this can be prevented by eliminating the underlying cause: stress.
Or more specifically, your response to stress. According to Dermatologist Woolery-Lloyd, “90 percent of our stress is not the stressor itself, but how we deal with that stressor”.
In other words, the stress is inevitable, how you deal with it is up to you. Last year we published an article explaining how to reduce stress and improve the health of your “inner-dome”. Today, we’ll highlight a few techniques from that article that you can use to reduce stress.
Promoting Restorative Sleep
Sleep is one of the key foundations of health, and decreased sleep can lead to anxiety, depression, weakened immune system, and even heart attack. Sleep psychologists have found that even mildly impaired sleep results in increased blood cortisol levels for the next 24 hours.
Good sleep hygiene is the key to getting consistent, restorative sleep. Some simple ways to improve your sleep include:
Set aside 8-10 hours every night for sleep. Make this time sacred: non-negotiable!
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
Use aromatherapy: lavender essential oil promotes relaxation and sleep
Managing Your Inner Voice
Have you ever stopped to listen to the little voice inside your head? The one that is constantly chattering away. Noting things you see. Reflecting on experiences. Telling you how to feel about others and yourself.
The voice in your head has a direct impact on your outlook and mood. Negative self-talk is toxic: it destroys your mood, motivation, and self-worth.
On the other end, positive self-talk can help lift you up and move you forward. It helps you find the best in challenging situations. It reminds you that you are doing your best and that beating yourself up will get you nowhere.
Many people don’t realize it, but you can actively change the way your inner voice speaks. Through intentional, consistent effort you can stifle the mental naysayers and replace them with rational, grounded thinking.
This helpful article from Healthline describes techniques for developing positive self-talk. If harsh internal voices are a struggle you face, consider checking it out.
Start by cultivating an awareness of your inner chatter. Pay attention to the words you use and the ways you talk to yourself. Ask: is this something that I would say out loud to my best friend? If not, then you probably shouldn’t be saying it to yourself! Replace the negative phrase with something grounded and/or positive.
I know it sounds cheesy, but this stuff really does work!
According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is “the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.”
Mindfulness is a state of being. It’s about being intentionally present, in the moment. Not lost in worries about the future, or regrets about the past. Fully present in the Now.
The health benefits of mindfulness are well documented. It’s been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and cognitive decline, improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and chronic pain, and improve your immune system.
Here’s how you can incorporate mindfulness into your own life…
Guided meditation: Guided meditations are available for free on Youtube and through apps like Headspace and Calm.
Mindful breathing: Set a 5-minute timer. Pick a spot where you can feel your breath: the tip of your nose, your chest, or your stomach. Focus your entire attention on that spot and notice how your breath feels going in and out. In and out. If thoughts arise, gently remind yourself to return attention to the breath.
Mindful walking: stand and pay attention to how the ground feels under your feet. Slowly lift your foot and step forward. Pay attention to how it feels to shift your weight slowly onto that foot. Focus on the sensations. Be present with the feelings. Repeat for 10 steps.
Death, Taxes, and Stress
Stress is unavoidable. Between work, relationships, and global pandemics, there’s no hiding from it.
But experiencing stress doesn’t mean living with stress. You are in control of your own wellbeing. You get to decide how stress will impact your life. Will you allow yourself to wallow under a mountain of unmanaged stress?
Or will you choose to take control? To recognize stress is unavoidable, but not untreatable. You have the power to manage your stress levels. Get enough sleep. Eat whole foods and exercise a couple of times per week. Learn a few mindfulness techniques, and apply them daily.
You’re not stuck with stress-skin. You can take control of your stress and your dome!
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