Is Your Skin Communicating Stress?

We all know chronic stress ages you but how exactly does it do that? 

Stress and anxiety both inflame your body. Even dwelling on past stressful experiences will cause C-reactive protein (CRP- the marker of inflammation) to rise. 

Here’s the fascinating part about our bodies:

When our neanderthal ancestors experienced the stress response, they were normally at threat from actual physical attack. Their bodies primed their immune system just in case it needed to fight injuries. 

Today, most of the stress each of us faces isn’t necessarily going to cause actual physical danger (sadly, there are exceptions to this). However, our bodies don’t necessarily know that and create the same inflammatory response. 

If you experience bouts of stress here and there, this isn’t a problem. Stress itself isn’t necessarily BAD for us. Some stress is good. It’s how you manage the stress. It’s what you do with that stress and how you deal with it. Stress is not the problem. It’s the response or lack of response to the stress that either promotes growth or trauma. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. 

However, if your stress becomes chronic then problems occur. The stress hormone, cortisol, normally shuts down the inflammation but during prolonged stress, it fails to do so. Instead, your immune cells will become resistant to the signals your cortisol is sending out and therefore fails to switch off your inflammatory response. 

The result of your chronic stress ends up setting your body up for chronic inflammation. 

Here, we experience all the joys (insert sarcasm here) of chronic inflammation that often leads us to believe we have more health issues than we actually do. Though, they often RESULT in other health issues. 

Moderate to severe body pain.

Constant fatigue and insomnia.

Depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux.

Weight gain.

Frequent infections.

How does stress affect your skin besides obvious premature aging? 

Whatever your genetics, environment, or both make you susceptible to for certain skin-related ailments, inflammation can also make them flare-up. Even mild to moderate stress is a general trigger that can make the skin misbehave in whatever way it’s prone to misbehaving. For example: If you already have certain skin conditions, inflammation from the stress can cause flare-ups or make your skin hypersensitive.

Don’t be confused though. Stress won’t cause skin conditions if you aren’t already prone to them in one way or another.

During highly stressful situations, it’s common for people to experience an unknown skin condition just from dealing with way more stress than usual for a significant amount of time. Your immune system becomes hyperirritable. Something that doesn’t normally bother your skin may make it suddenly freak out. 

I once heard a perfect example given:

Imagine you’ve had a week from hell and then someone cuts you off in traffic and you’re already running late for work. You might be much more likely to let forth a stream of expletives than if the same thing happened during a week when life’s been tolerable.

The easiest way to manage stress outbreaks on your skin is to be familiar with your own skin. Be your own skin expert. Implement a proper skincare routine and make it your daily ritual. As you spend time nourishing your skin and your soul, you’ll familiarize yourself with what feels normal to you and you’ll better recognize the signals your skin puts out as an indicator change needs to happen. And what better way to start and end the day than some much-needed self-care?

 Bri Cooper