The mind/body connection is a powerful one. When things aren't right in our world, we worry, and the ensuing anxiety can have a significant impact on our sense of well-being, from preventing us from getting a good night's sleep to actually impairing a number of our vital organs. That list includes our stomach and digestive tract, our heart, our nervous system, our muscles and even our skin.
Yes, worry and anxiety can have a negative effect on our skin. After all, there's a very good reason why wrinkles are often referred to as "worry lines." Stress is the trigger, and if we don't have healthy ways to deal with it, anxiety can result. When we get stressed out, our body responds by producing higher levels of a hormone called cortisol, which ramps up our body's production of natural oils. Too much oil can cause acne, even in people who don't usually break out.
In addition to giving our skin an oily sheen, stress can also dehydrate our skin and interfere with its ability to repair itself when it's damaged. Simply put, anxiety can suppress our immune system, which means our ability to ward off disease is compromised. Stress can lead to new skin problems or aggravate existing conditions, such as rosacea, psoriasis and eczema [sources: Archives of Dermatology; American Academy of Dermatology].
If you find yourself avoiding mirrors -- or even avoiding friends and family -- because of the condition of your skin, you might be experiencing the psychological effects of stress. Neglecting your skin, or rubbing and pulling at it because you don't know what else to do, often exacerbates existing skin problems [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Those scenarios can lead to a troubling cyclical effect, where anxiety regarding the condition of your skin can actually result in recurring problems.
There's truth in the adage that worrying accomplishes nothing. Instead, if blemishes bother you and skin splotches are stressing you out, be proactive. Try to take a deep breath and relax. On the bright side, there are many things you can do to get rid of the anxiety that's wreaking havoc on your skin. Here are some practical ways to reduce overall stress and help your skin at the same time:
- Exercise: A vigorous workout releases endorphins, which can help dismantle all that anxiety, and also fire up our natural immune system.
- Eat right: When we're upset, we tend to make bad choices, including what we eat. A healthy, balanced diet will help put the equilibrium back in your mood.
- Moisturize: Since stress can dehydrate your skin, using moisturizer regularly is like giving your skin a much-needed drink.
- Defend against the sun: Natural sunlight provides many essential nutrients, especially vitamin D. Too much, however, can harm your skin. Give your skin extra protection and help reduce your anxiety about sun damage to your skin by using a highly rated sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher is recommended).
- Get enough rest: A good night's sleep not only gives your worried mind a break, it also allows your skin time to rest and repair.
- Relax: Relaxation techniques ranging from simple deep-breathing exercises to taking a yoga class can be an effective way to deflect stress. Try meditation, which decreases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that are released during the "fight or flight" or stress response [source: WebMD].
- Strength in numbers: Develop a strong social network that can ward off the negative impact of loneliness (a significant precursor to stress).
- See a dermatologist: If you continue to be plagued by skin problems that cause you worry and stress, seeing a dermatologist might help you take a load off.
When it comes to our skin, worrying accomplishes little, and can even do more harm than we might realize. To learn more about the effects of stress on your skin, take a look at the links below.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "How the Mind Matters to Your Skin." November 2008. (Accessed Aug. 10, 2009) http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_stressandskin.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Stress Reduction Techniques." (Accessed Aug. 10, 2009) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/eczemanet/stress_reduction.html
- Garg, Amit, B.A.; Mary-Margaret Chren, M.D.; Laura P. Sands, Ph.D.; Mary S. Matsui, Ph.D.; Kenneth D. Marenus, Ph.D; Kenneth R. Feingold, M.D.; and Peter M. Elias, M.D. "Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis." Archives of Dermatology. Vol. 137, No.1; Jan. 2001. (Accessed Aug. 10, 2009) http://archderm.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/137/1/53
- Natural Therapy Pages. "How Does Worrying Affect Our Health?" NTPages.co.uk. (July 26, 2012) http://www.naturaltherapypages.co.uk/article/worry
- Science Daily. "Feeling Stressed? How Your Skin, Hair and Nails Can Show It." Nov. 12, 2007. (Accessed Aug. 10, 2009) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109194053.htm
- WebMD. "How Worrying Affects the Body." WebMD.com. March 6, 2011 (July 24, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/how-worrying-affects-your-body