Our guest today is Angelika Grechnaya (MSc Psychology & MSc Organisational Psychology).
Angelika shares her research about stress and their effect on our skin and vice-versa.
Please meet Angelika, expert in wellbeing
Angelika practices as an existential analysis therapist and works as a counselling psychologist at the Stress Project (a charity organisation that provides low cost wellbeing activities for people experiencing stress related illness) and as a private practitioner.
“The problem of stress is very well known to me. Moreover, it lead to a career change. After wording in a corporate environment for one of the well-known British banks as a business development director for an international Oil & Gas company, I made the difficult decision to leave my well-paid job behind and pursue my true passion: psychology,” Angelika said.
“My previous work and life experiences contribute to my current practice. I am well aware of the challenges, limitations and stress the workplace can put my patients under. On top of that, also private life issues can cause distress.”
Currently, Angelika is conducting research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. Through this research her and her team are trying to help people who experience anxiety, depression and personal or professional crises as a result of the pandemic. Often, her patients signal that they struggle with a healthy work/life balance during these unprecedented times.
The problem of stress is very well known to me. Moreover, it lead to a career change.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of threat
When you sense danger, whether it’s real or imagined, the body’s defences kick in. It’s an automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the stress-response. When we feel threatened, our nervous system responds by releaseing a flood of stress-related hormoned, including adrenaline and cortisol. These rouse the body for emergency action. Our heart pounds faster, muscle tension increases, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and our senses are heightened.
These physical changes increase our strength and stamina and reaction time. This way our body is naturally prepared to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you
We all deal with different types of stress on a daily basis, whether they are related to our jobs, families, environment or the constant struggle to cope with all of them at the same time. In ancient times, when danger could be lurking anywhere in the wild, this stress response was useful to survive dangerous situations.
Fast-forward to 2020, there are constant stressors which can keep our cortisol and adrenaline levels constantly heightened. This can cause several mental instabilities and problems leading to anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
Is there anything positive to say about stress?
When the stress functions are working properly, stress can help you stay focused, energetic and alert.
“In emergency situations, stress can save your life. For example giving you extra strength to defend yourself or to respond very quickly to avoid a car accident,” Angelika says.
Stress can also help you meet challanges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work or what allows you to study for an exam while you’d rather be watching TV.
However, beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health. Your productivity, mood, relationships and quality of life can be harshly affected by too much stress. If you frequently find yourself overwhelmed, it is time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance.
The balance between healthy and unhealthy stress is argued by Dr. Lazarus. He calls them “distress” and “eustress.”
Eustress is a term for positive stress and this is a good thing. It’s the type of stress described earlier, which helps us achieve goals in life and improves our senses when needed. Distress, however, is toxic to the body and often comes accompanied by negative emotions. This is the type of stress that causes anxiety and depression.
This means that not all stress is bad for us, but sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate what good or bad stress feels like. There are some clear differences between both types of stress, which are described below.
Eustress, or positive stress, has the following characteristics:
- Focuses energy
- Is short-term
- Is perceived as within our coping abilities
- Feels exciting
- Improves performance
Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and it can show signs of stress in several different ways, such as acne, ruches, psoriasis, eczema flare-ups, dermatitis and ageing.
In daily life, we often use the term “stress” to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.
In contrast, distress, or negative stress, has the following characteristics
- Causes anxiety or concern
- Can be short- or long-term
- Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities
- Feels unpleasant
- Decreases performance
- Can lead to mental and physical problems
It is somewhat hard to categorise stressors into objective lists of those that cause eustress and those that cause distress, because different people will have different reactions to particular situations.
Why stress is dangerous ?
Acute and chronic stress
Of course, everyone’s body and skin will react to stress in different ways, as we all have different genetic makeups. However, according to Dr. Whitney Bowe, our skin cannot tell the difference between different types of stress — physical, emotional, psychological and environmental.
“To the skin, stress falls into one of two categories: acute or chronic. The more detrimental form of stress for the skin is the chronic kind of stress. The longer you endure stress, the more it takes a toll on your skin.”
The zebra situation
Our body is good at coping with acute stress – for example, a short burst of fright when a door slams shut loudly. However, chronic, long-term stress is where the problem lies. It may not be as obvious as acute stress, but when present over a period it can have a damaging effect on health and wellbeing. Your nervous system is not very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you are super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation.
And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off. If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the ageing process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
- Skin conditions
What causes stress?
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life. Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that is stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it.
While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of care-taking overwhelming and stressful.
The common external causes of stress
- Major life changes
- Work or school
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Being too busy
The common internal causes of stress
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Rigid thinking
- Lack of flexibility
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations / perfectionist
- All or nothing attitude
Most Common Mind Traps
- Mind reading
- All or nothing thinking
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress can be emotional and physical and manifest itself in different way.
- Physical exhaustion
- Weight gain/loss
- Change in appetite
- Digestive problems
- Aches and pain
- Skin problems
- Rigidity to change
- Low morale
- Increased worry
- Emotional exhaustion
- Loss of emotional control
- Guilt failure feelings
- Low job performance/job satisfaction
- Decreased communication withdrawal
- Accident proneness
- Poor concentration
- Being critical
- Increased absenteeism
- Lack of job focus
- Nail biting
- Grinding teeth
- Lack of self-care
Symptoms of stress can emotional and physical and manifest itself in different way.
What is the link between skin and stress?
Stress affects people differently. Some cope with it well, whereas others appear to be constantly buckling under pressure. It is important to recognise if stress is taking over your life or when you are unable to cope with your day to day problems.
3 Important connections between skin and stress and what it does to your skin
stress → skin
Skin disorders which are caused by mental disease (such as delusional parasitosis, body dysmorphic disorder, artifacts). Apart from psycho- dermatology, workup and treatment of these disorders fall into the realm of psychiatry.
skin → stress
Psychosocial stress/disorder (such as reactive depression, adjustment disorder, anxiety disorder) is the result of a skin disease (including severely disfiguring diseases, malignancy, anaphylaxis). The skin symptoms are leading and psychosocial stress is merely a consequence which can be addressed by adjuvant psychosomatic/psychotherapeutic treatment aimed at improving patients’ quality of life.
stress ↔ skin
Genuine interrelation between psychosocial stress and somatic aspects at the beginning and/or over the course of chronic skin diseases (such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, urticaria, acne, effluvium).
How stress and anxiety affect the skin
To understand how stress and anxiety can affect the skin, we must first understand a little about the endocrine system. The endocrine system is comprised of a number of glands that produce hormones and, when everything is in place, it allows the human body to work like a well-oiled machine. However, when factors such as stress intervene, this intricate system can slip out of sync. During moments of tension the body produces excess cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone”, which wreaks havoc on everything from your immune system to blood pressure.
Stress increases cortisol production from the adrenal glands, which in turn increases sebaceous gland activity, to produce more oil and sebum. The result can be acne and increased sensitivity of our skin. The onset and consequences of stress can often form a vicious cycle. Anxiety and/or stress, which can be caused by skin conditions such as eczema, in fact can exacerbate the condition due to the body’s inflammatory responses such as producing cortisol or interrupting sleep.
What does stress to our skin?
- Stress triggers skin inflammation.
- Stress can dry and dehydrate your skin out.
- Stress hormones can trigger existing skin conditions.
- Stress can make skin oilier.
Stress increases cortisol production from the adrenal glands, which in turn increases sebaceous gland activity, to produce more oil and sebum. The result can be acne and increased sensitivity of our skin.
How stress might affect and inflame the skin
To better understand how stress might affect and inflame the skin, we need to look at the “deep and powerful connection” of the skin, mind, and gut. Thus, when the mind perceives stress, it can slow down digestion in the gut. The longer the stress lasts, the more of an impact it can have on your digestion, and when your digestion is slowed, it can affect the bacteria in your gut.
A recent study found that high levels of stress can affect the gut bacteria much like a high-fat diet. That slowed motility allows for an overgrowth of unhealthy strains of bacteria, and the natural balance of gut microbes is disrupted.
“This in turn causes the lining of your intestines to become ‘leaky,’ or more permeable, which triggers a bodywide cascade of inflammation.”
As a result of the internal inflammation, the skin may break out in acne or experience flare-ups of psoriasis or eczema. When we are under stress, “Your body thinks it’s under attack, and it’s going to form all these inflammatory markers or inflammatory cells to help treat that attack.”
Cortisol also weakens the skin’s immune system, leading to oxidative stress which manifests itself as wrinkles, lines and lacklustre skin. Stress also increases inflammation on the body and conditions like eczema, rosacea and psoriasis can flare up. Cortisol and adrenaline makes out skin more sensitive. Thus, cortisol weakens collagen and the more stressed we are the more difficult for skin to repair naturally causing wrinkles. Stress can dry your skin out Whenever our body feels it’s under stress, our fight-or-flight response kicks in. As a result, we experience a spike in adrenaline and cortisol.
An increase in adrenaline causes us to sweat more, she noted. It activates the eccrine glands, the sweat glands, which cause you to become dehydrated, because you’re losing a lot more water very quickly. If your body thinks it’s under some sort of stress, it’s trying to cool itself down, If you’re not replenishing your body with water, you’re going to dry out.” Those who have dry skin in general are more prone to eczema.
Stress, scalp and hair
Stress can also take a toll on your scalp and hair When it comes to your scalp and hair, there are a couple of ways stress can manifest. Some people might find their hair is oilier or drier than normal during times of stress, depending on the way their bodies react to the shift in hormone levels. In some cases, stress can even lead to hair loss. For example, when your body experiences a major stressor, like a severe illness, your body stops producing hair, which isn’t crucial for healing or surviving. The effects of such stress might not be noticeable until months later. Hair often starts shedding even after minor stresses.
“The keto diet, which is often called a crash diet, is essentially a stressor that makes your body go through a significant change.”
When people are stressed, they don’t eat, drink and sleep properly, they exercise less, generally don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle causes skin problems.
Can Skin Affect Your Mental Health?
- Lack of Information and Misdiagnosis
- Increasing Pressure from Social Media to Appear ‘Perfect’
- Worrying Emotional Impact
Quality of Life In 2014, the National Rosacea Society surveyed 1,675 patients with rosacea and found out that:
- 90 percent of respondents reported lowered self-esteem and self-confidence;
- 54 percent reported anxiety and helplessness;
- 43 percent reported depression;
- more than half said they avoided face-to-face contact.
Strategies for coping with stress
Managing stress is a multifaceted effort
- 8-9 hours of sleep,
- Exercise 3 or 4 times a week,
- Consider meditation or deep breathing exercises.
However, there isn’t one single method for treating skin that’s under stress. It is important to be aware that your body is under stress and trying to find ways to either ameliorate the stress or find ways to release the stress. Thus, exercise and meditation have been known to help some individuals feel less stressed. There isn’t one right answer for each person, but there are different things that will work for each individual, depending on what their stress triggers are.
So if you know you’re about to enter a stressful period, try to build in time for the activities that will help you to feel calm and rested – your skin will thank you. It is also important to have a good repertoire of coping strategies for managing stress that work for you before during and after stress. I like to think of this as having a menu to choose from as different strategies often help in different situations: For some people this might be going for a long walk, spending some time outside, reading, talking with a friend, mediation, yoga, or some other form of exercise.
Emergency actions during the stress:
- Power posture,
- Breathing techniques through the nose
There are lots of ways to manage stress in daily life, for example:
- Having a good daily routine consisting of good sleep settling in a dark room with no bright screens an hour before bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Proper diet and hydration.
- Therapy, suggestion have positive impacts on many dermatologic disorders.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT deals with dysfunctional thought patterns (cognitive) or actions (behavioural) that damage the skin or interfere with dermatologic therapy.
- Relaxation techniques and their effects can be directly observed by the patients in terms of changes in muscle tension, blood flow, heart rate, or other parameters paralleling desired improvements.
- Meditation techniques Relaxation training is primarily directed at minimising sympathetic reactivity and enhancing parasympathetic function.
- Oils, lavender oil aromatherapy.
- Create for yourself a nice routine where you enjoy doing something simple like a face massage and a mask.
I would suggest incorporating those things into your daily to do list even set an alarm clock for a lunch or a glass of water. If you think it is not very important, you should consider whether you have a good relationship with yourself to not? And I hope the answer is YES!!
Please, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or Angelika to email@example.com to arrange your free 20 min introduction session on how to manage your stress problems