The intricate relationship between stress and skin problems has been widely studied and documented in the past. More recent clinical studies have confirmed the link of psychological stress including stress acne, cystic acne, rosacea, eczema, stress hives, stress rashes and even itchy skin with no rash to name but a few. To address the stress and deal with the stress symptoms we need to look at the underlying causes and imbalances in the brain-skin connection. Before looking at the symptoms of stress and skin conditions caused by stress and anxiety it’s useful to know what stress actually is.
Definition of stress
What is stress? Stress is the body's natural defence against real or imagined danger. The defence mechanism triggered by the brain then flushes the body with hormones to prepare the body's systems to cope with the danger by either confronting the danger or evading it. This is commonly known as fight or flight. The three major stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are all triggered through stress to deal with the situation and each of them can contribute to different health issues including high blood pressure, stress headache, compromised immunity, poor gut health and digestive issues as well as stress related acne.
Stress falls into two categories, acute, which is a short term stress eg. an argument or being stuck in a traffic jam or chronic stress which is more serious and can lead to long term health problems including the above mentioned stress related skin conditions. Stress can have a deep impact on every system and organ in the body from respiratory, nervous, circulatory, digestive and the immune system. They are all connected. So the symptoms of stress can be a long list of physical and mental symptoms but looking at the skin symptoms they include stress skin rash, itchy skin, burning skin anxiety, breakouts, dryness and even skin picking anxiety.
Can stress cause acne?
We know that stress releases various chemicals including the hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory response, delays healing, disrupts the skin’s natural barrier and creates further oxidative stress and all this will for sure hugely exacerbate acne although stress is not the original cause.
So, does stress cause acne? In a word no, acne is something in your genetic makeup and with lifestyle changes and good skincare habits it can be treated. Stress acne is quite different and the effects of stress on skin and skin reactions to stress can create havoc by compromising the skin's healing and defence mechanism whilst triggering overproduction of sebum.
The stress effects on skin can go beyond exacerbating acne and can show themselves with itchy red bumps on skin or a stress dry skin even on normally clear skin. As its name suggests, stress rash is a rash triggered by stress. It presents as hives which are raised red coloured spots or welts often itchy sometimes they have a burning and painful sensation to touch. They can appear anywhere on the body but more often show on the face, neck, chest and arms. Because they are often so visible they can be a cause of embarrassment in turn creating more stress!
The vicious cycle of anxiety, stress and acne
Psychodermatology, although sounding like some extraordinary incurable illness, is talking about the psychological impact of skin conditions. And they can be serious if we don’t deal with the root cause of the stress and anxiety. Stress causes skin disorders and skin disorders cause stress. It's a cruel catch 22 but there is a solution if we can achieve stress relief and have a stress management plan.
Some have experienced skin crawling anxiety and anxiety itching all in anticipation and the fear of worsening their acne. This pressure on our physical appearance with worsening skin conditions can result in serious self-esteem issues and in some more severe cases mental health issues and depression. This is known as acne anxiety, can lead to cystic acne and sometimes even require medical and psychological support.
How to deal with stress
We can clearly see how stress and skin problems can become a never ending cycle. How to relieve stress and how to reduce stress are the big questions but we can again address some stress management to factor into our daily lives.
Some self care and an awareness of our stress triggers are key to breaking the cycle. Once we can recognise the cycle it is the beginning of dealing with the problem and finding the solution.
Start with some basic small steps and don't put yourself under more pressure to stress you and in turn your skin more. It has usually taken a series of lifestyle factors over time to build up the stressors so in turn it can take some calm time to rebuild the patterns and relieve the pressures. Me time, a walk, yoga and meditation, anything that can help relax and decompress our busy stressful lives will benefit and help to break the stress cycle. Write a list and remind yourself of it. A healthy balanced diet, lifestyle choices, recognising triggers, identifying stressors, managing stress step by step, learning to say no, staying organised, mindfulness, positivity, exercise and relaxation all belong on our list. If you are struggling to get high quality sleep, check out our guide on how to improve sleep with CBD oil.
Managing stress is a crucial step to clearing the skin, and the mind. It’s about breaking vicious cycles and imbalances, bringing the brain, skin and body back into balance.