All of us experience stress at one point or another – it’s a common and necessary part of the human experience that keeps our species alive! But what happens when acute stress becomes chronic stress… and then manifests in issues on our skin? Read on to find out more about stress and how it can affect pre-existing skin conditions.
Relationship issues. Disrupted sleep patterns. Difficulty executing tasks. Brain fog. Loss of joy. All of these things are common side effects of chronic stress. But what exactly is chronic stress, and why is it so destructive?
First, let’s talk about acute stress. This is the type of stress that’s only temporarily experienced and caused by a certain stimulus, like an oncoming car or seeing your child falling. Acute stress serves an important purpose – it keeps us alive! Without acute stress, we wouldn’t feel the impulse to jump out of the way when we’re in danger or to run toward our child to catch them before they tumble down a set of stairs.
On the other hand, chronic stress is ongoing. It’s often caused by issues with finances, at work, or within relationships. Many people experience chronic stress if they’re in high-pressure jobs or taking care of a terminally ill loved one, for example. Some people experience chronic stress during a move, a divorce, or another type of transition. The problem is that our bodies react similarly during stress – regardless of whether it’s acute or chronic. This means that incoming stimuli are perceived as dangerous, even if they’re not.
As a result, cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are released during times of stress, causing a “fight, flight, or freeze” response in the body’s central nervous system. During acute stress, these neurochemicals dissipate quickly. During chronic stress, the nervous system can get “stuck” in one of these states for a prolonged period of time, causing health issues – including flare-ups of existing skin conditions.
Acne is very commonly exacerbated by stress – to the point that most dermatologists will inquire about acne-prone patients’ stress levels to see if chronic stress is the culprit behind their breakouts. The neurochemical called cortisol can actually cause the pores on the skin to increase their oil (or sebum) production. This sebum then combines with dirt, bacteria, sweat, and dead skin cells, which can clog pores and ultimately result in blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, pustules, or nodules – in other words, acne.
Stress can also cause flare ups for those who suffer from eczema (also known as dermatitis) or rosacea. These two conditions are thought to be directly linked to the body’s immune response, which is triggered by stress. When stress hormones are released, they can result in eczema’s itchy red or brown patches, or the flushing of the cheeks that rosacea can bring.
It’s absolutely crucial for anyone to manage their stress levels, but particularly those with existing skin conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema. Practicing consistent self care can lower the levels of stress hormones being released. Other elements that help are getting extra sleep, drinking plenty of water, and engaging in physical exercise daily.
A skin care regimen using high-quality skincare products formulated for your skin type and concerns is also critical for managing flare ups.
Have questions about stress and your skin? If you’re in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas, contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates today for an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.