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Surviving stress

When something stressful happens to us, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, which connects the internal organs to the brain by spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves prepare the body for...

When something stressful happens to us, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, which connects the internal organs to the brain by spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves prepare the body for stress by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and decreasing blood flow to the skin. This response is our innate fight-or-flight survival program built into the brain as a result to deal with a threat. Our body cannot decipher whether we’re rushing to get to work on time, getting pissed off from sitting in traffic, or if we’re being chased by a tiger or not, but instead it triggers the same cascade of stress hormones to protect ourselves to get to safety. The body can overreact to non-life-threatening situations and over time repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. As with many things in life, a moderate amount is good but anything more can be harmful when done in excess. 

But what has stress got to do with your skin condition? 

Recent research has shown the brain and skin communicate with each other. The epidermis or outer most layer of skin is continuously sensing the environment and reacting to various external stressors including humidity, heat, coldness, pain, injuries, and psychological stress. We have receptors transmitting external signals to the spinal cord and then to the brain. The brain responds to these signals, which can influence the stress response in the skin including the skin barrier function.

Psychological stress is known to affect and exacerbate various skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, eczema, contact dermatitis, and pruritus (itch) and has also been shown to fast forward the aging process. These skin conditions typically involve an impaired skin barrier, leading to an increased risk for a bacterial infection, dry skin due to water loss, and a lower tolerance for itching. 


Exercise reduces anxiety, depression and inflammation, but also improves your mind, body and immunity functions. Exercise stimulates all the biochemical processes and increases nerve, blood, and lymph supply to all parts of the body, making available to each cell the nutrients you have absorbed from your food. Find something you enjoy to ensure it’s not a chore and make it a regular part of your life. All it takes is 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times a week. Walking is a perfect way to start. 


Talk about your problems with your partner, friends or family. Try to address problems as they arise, holding onto unnecessary shit is no good for your nervous system. When problems get left unaddressed, things start to simmer and sooner or later it hits boiling point and the problem seems bigger than it was initially. Sound familiar? Discuss matters that are important to you. 


Set clear goals that are specific, achievable and realistic. Your goals should be unique to you and your current needs. Write them down and make them positive, rather than focusing on the things you don’t want to do. Use positive affirmations to set yourself up for greater success and motivation in life. You got this!


A deep restful sleep is crucial for improving mood and regulating your ability to cope with stress. Implement sleep hygiene practices, which are habits to help you have a good night’s sleep. Things to consider: reduce screen time at least 1 hour before bed and avoid large meals and sweets, avoid stimulants and limit alcohol, engage in relaxing activities before bed, write down your worries, and stay on a consistent sleep-wake cycle. 


Although this may seem obvious it needs to be said, sometimes you just need a little TLC and time for yourself. Self-care is extremely important and has been scientifically proven to down-regulate your stress response. Engage in activities that are going to be relaxing but also uplift you. Go for a walk, get a massage, have a cuppa, stand on the grass barefoot, get crafty, dance, put on a face mask, have a bath, create a vision board, go for a dip in the ocean, practice yin yoga, listen to a meditation, sit and stargaze, plant some flowers and get your hands dirty, sit around a fire pit. Get the gist? This can be done in as little as a few minutes a day, or ideally closer to a half-hour. 


Learn to laugh, not just at others but at yourself. Seeing the funny side of the situation defuses some of the negative emotions. In modern society, fierce competition and socioeconomic pressures can put stress on your quality of life. Laughter decreases your stress-related hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, and can increase serotonin and dopamine. This causes an increase in endorphins which has been shown to help when people are uncomfortable or in a depressed mood. 

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