By Adebola Dele-Michael, MD FAAD
One of the well-known functions of skin is to protect us from some environmental stimuli like heat, cold and sunrays. It also has many other roles such as producing vitamin D and keeping micro-organisms away!
Although the intimate relationship between our emotion and the skin is well illustrated in many of our daily activities (i.e., we blush when we are embarrassed; we sweat when we are nervous; we get goosebumps when listening to an emotional song), the skin is often overlooked as a stress-sensing organ that manifests emotional stress in the form of skin rashes, hair loss and wrinkles, etc.
During stressful events, the skin is more vulnerable and prone to diseases. We have been experiencing stress on a global scale since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Life has changed a lot and it has been difficult not knowing when and if things will go back to normal. Also, the constant fear of getting sick, dealing with illness and loss of loved ones and economic uncertainty have sent our stress levels into overdrive.
When we are stressed, the body produces the stress hormone cortisol. This activates the immune system to react, and it can lead to a flare-up of skin conditions such as hives, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Also, sustained emotional stress can accelerate skin aging and wrinkle formation, hair loss and hair thinning and other signs of aging.
So, if your skin or hair has been acting weird lately, know that it is not just in your head. It turns out the whole world is manifesting emotional stress on their skin one way or another.
Here are six stress reducing habits you can start right now that won’t cost you a cent:
Spend time with friends and family. You might not realize it, but social connections are an essential pillar in building resilience to stress. Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times. Spending time with friends or loved ones, whether in person or virtually, releases oxytocin, which is a natural stress reliever!
Deep breathing exercises are a great way to re-balance your nervous system and relax. There are so many types of deep breathing, including diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you take deep breaths, it allows your lungs to fully expand and slow down your heart rate. This is a great way of feeling more peaceful and relaxed if you're stressed out!
Positive touch. Have you ever felt the warm, fuzzy feeling after a good hug? According to clinical studies, hugs are scientifically proven to lower stress levels. Also, oxytocin, the love and wellbeing hormone, is released during positive physical contact such as touch or hugging. Human beings aren't alone in their cuddle behavior; our primate cousins hug too! Chimpanzees have been observed embracing friends who show signs of being stressed out -- so they must know something about relieving stress...
Exercise. Exercise can help reduce stress - but what about when an individual doesn't have enough time for strenuous workouts? A quick walk may be able to provide some relief from stress thanks to endorphins which are released during aerobic activity (such as walking or jogging) or even more slowly paced activities such heavy lifting with weights.
Laughter. Laughing can be a great way to deal with stress. Not only does it help release tension from your muscles, but other long term health benefits include improving mood and immune system function!
Write it down. One way to handle stress is by writing things down! While recording what you're stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you are grateful for; and research tells us that gratitude may help relieve stress and anxiety because it focuses your thoughts on the positive aspects of life.
It's not easy to watch the stress-related changes affecting your skin. But we will get through this together, one day at a time, with our skin intact and healthier than ever!
Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael is a Board Certified Dermatologist and the Owner & Founder of Radiant Skin Dermatology & Laser in New York City and ADM Skincare line. She can be reached at drdelemichael.com or admskin.com.