We all know stress and skin don’t go together well but, while many of us do everything we can to cover up our concerns, a chronic cortisol problem has many ways of creeping to the surface. As October is Mental Health Month we’re examining how the internal has a way of affecting the external, and reveal how your colleagues probably know more than you think they do.
On face value: effects of stress on the skin
Generally speaking stress will exacerbate any skin conditions that you already have, while dulling the vivacity of your skin. It can also trigger conditions to appear for the first time – such as psoriasis, eczema, flushing, redness and rosacea. Then there’s the breakouts that can be caused thanks to cortisol triggering enhanced oil production in the skin. To make matters worse people generally neglect skincare during periods of extreme stress, which compounds matters. Finally, because stress can keep you awake at night, you may develop dark circles or bags under the eyes.
Working your way down: effects of stress on the body
Tense mind, tense body. Muscles automatically tense up when you are stressed, which can affect your posture and the way you carry yourself. (For instance, your shoulders may be higher than normal, your head may stoop.) The disruption to your gut flora can cause abdominal bloating too. Some doctors also believe that stress can increase the speed at which melanin production dies in your hair follicles, leading you to go grey faster than you may have without chronic stress.
That’s on top of a whole lot of stuff going on inside your body, such as a weakened immune system, increased blood pressure, increased stomach acid (leading to heartburn) and – over time – an increased risk of heart disease, fertility problems type two diabetes and depression.
It’s not all in your mind: effects of stress on the brain
Anyone who lives with chronic stress has experienced the poor sleep, the racing thoughts, the ceaseless worrying, the forgetfulness and inability to focus and the pessimism. It’s a toxic combination. But what’s actually happening chemically in your brain during periods of extreme stress?
Neuroscientists at the University of California have discovered that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function. The stress hormone cortisol is thought to create a domino effect that creates a brain that becomes predisposed to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight – creating a vicious cycle of stress. Long-term stress has even been linked to the growth of the proteins that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s. Finally cortisol creates of surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which, in excess, becomes a neurotoxin and creates free radicals that attack brain cells.
The fact that stress causes you to seize up mentally is actually a survival technique. Confronted by a lion that wants to eat you, you don’t need to waste time weighing up the pros and cons of your next decision, you need to run. Subconscious impulse trumps logical reasoning. Yet in the same way chronic stress in modern life impairs your brain – at the cost of memory, decision making, focus, problem solving, attention span and mental clarity. Yes, that brain fog you feel sometimes could be a result of being too stressed.
Though this can’t all be seen on the surface, it can be seen in your actions and – as we all know – what you do is as important as almost anything else when it comes to how others perceive you.
Feel better on the inside, look better on the outside
So, we’ve seen how stress can manifest itself in very visual ways. But the good news is that there are things you can do to ease your stress and reverse the negative physical impacts. From meditation and simple breathing techniques through to regular exercise and dietary changes, there is a huge amount of information out there to help calm your cortisol. And when you feel better on the inside, you will look better on the outside.
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