Mental health and stress have a huge impact on skin.
Visible negative skin changes in the form of acne, blemishes, scars, eczemas etc are known to adversely affect the human mental condition and result in depression, anxiety, and pessimistic attitudes. For example, Acne can take a toll on one’s emotional health. There is enough research which supports that people with acne can also develop anxiety, depression, poor self- esteem, lack of confidence or decreased quality of life.
In a 2014 National Rosacea Society survey of 1,675 patients with rosacea — a condition that causes facial redness and related symptoms — 90 percent of respondents reported lowered self-esteem and self-confidence, 54 percent reported anxiety and helplessness, and 43 percent reported depression, for example. More than half said they avoided face-to-face contact.
People with vitiligo, psoriasis or eczemas often become reclusive.
Hence it is extremely important to take care of our mental status all the time. Apart from treatment of the skin condition, one should also focus on counseling. Psychological support should be available, especially for patients with a low level of self-acceptance. Treatment should be focused on the development of an appropriate, realistic self-image
The patients must be made to understand that it is perfectly alright to seek help from a counsellor or a psychiatrist.
Unhealthy mental status can exacerbate the skin condition, hence making it a vicious cycle. The brain recognizes any abnormal event as a threat or stress. The threat could be anything – from strenuous physical exertion, mental stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, starvation diets, anger, illness, injury, infection to even routine irritability. The hypothalamus of the brain releases the corticotropin-releasing hormone in response to the recognized threat. CRH in turn sends signals to the pituitary gland in the brain to release the ACTH hormone. ACTH then tells the adrenal glands which are seated on top of the kidneys, to produce the so-called stress hormone or cortisol. Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have been shown to have negative effects such as “low immunity” by reducing the body’s immune system response, suppression of the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes, increased oil secretion by the sebaceous gland and delayed healing of any wound. Stress also triggers the release of inflammatory molecules called cytokines which result in inflammation.
Stress increases the formation of the villainous free radicals called matrix metalloproteinases in the body including the skin. These will send signals to skin cells resulting in exacerbations in conditions like acne, rosacea, eczemas, psoriasis and even early aging.
Have you noticed that when you are happy, your skin looks healthy and glows without you having done anything? This is because the skin barrier function remains normal, the skin is well hydrated, and the blood circulation is adequate.
30-60% of people with emotional issues will develop skin issues as well. Stress has manifold effects on your skin, some of which are visible, but most of which work at a deep cellular level, causing even greater damage. Stress causes:
1. Causes lack of sleep, resulting in dark circles and baggy eyes.
2. Impairs lipid barrier of skin leading to dry dehydrated skin.
3. Reduces skin immunity, thus making it more susceptible to infections and allergies.
4. Makes the skin more sensitive by releasing inflammatory neuropeptides in the skin. This could lead to itching, redness, hives, etc.
5. Exacerbates existing skin problems such as psoriasis, eczemas, rosacea, seborrhoeic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, pruritus, alopecia areata and lichen planus .
6. Increases oil production leading to clogged pores, whiteheads and blackheads.
7. Increases formation of melanin thus causing pigmentation.
8. Releases free radicals in the skin which accelerate degradation of collagen and elastin fibres resulting in fine lines and wrinkles
9. Causes excessive hair loss by speeding up the hair cycle and moving the hair to the telogen phase.
10. Speeds up greying of hair.
So how does one cope with stress ?
Although it’s impossible to remove all the stress from your life, there are techniques to help you cope with stress more effectively.
1. Do not neglect your skin. Follow your skin care routine.
2. Pay attention to your diet. Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat, high-fibre foods. Make sure you restrict the amount of sugar, caffeine and junk food. Avoid smoking and alcohol.
3. Exercise regularly. Exercise improves blood flow and muscle tone throughout your body and helps normalise blood sugar and hormone levels too.
4. Adequate supply of quality sleep increases our tolerance to stress and illness and helps the hormone melatonin to function normally and ease your stress.
5. You could learn relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga
6. Pamper yourself, periodically, with a massage or a spa treatment.
7. Take up a hobby you enjoy. It will take your mind off your worries and help you relax.
8. Deal with any emotional issues you may have. If something or someone is bothering you, learn to put your message across to them. If you don’t voice your feelings, it will lead to agony, resentment and more stress. Reach out to a family member or friend or seek professional help.
9. Always have your to-do list ready. Plan your work in such a way that you can complete your task in the stipulated time. Poor time management can lead to a lot of stress. Stress is often the result of bad planning or bad execution of a good plan.
To conclude, taking care of our emotional, psychological and social health keeps most of our skin problems at bay and keeps the skin glowing too.
Author: Dr. Jaishree Sharad, a Cosmetic Dermatologist, who founded the Skinfiniti clinic in Mumbai, India. She has been a practicing dermatologist for 15+ years.