Many people with sensitive or easily reactive skin eventually realise the effect of stress on their skin. The exact physiological pathway is poorly understood but it is thought to be part of the inflammatory cascade that occurs due to the release of various chemicals when the body is subject to a stress reaction.
When your body is under stress, various physiological sequelae take place and different parts of the body react in different ways. This is known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. Your body is basically in ‘full alert’ mode waiting to fight off any threats (real or perceived). A healthy stress response is part of any healthy physiological system. However, it becomes more of an issue when this reaction is prolonged. Along with the adrenaline and cortisol there are other substances that we can loosely class under ‘proinflammatory’ proteins. These proteins float around the body as soldiers if you like, waiting to jump onto any ‘threat’. During this time your body is not concentrating on healing as much as it is concentrating on ‘defending’.
At stressful times, whatever issues you have with skin may become magnified because your body is basically working overtime. If you tend to suffer from a bit of dry or eczematous skin it can become very dry and flaky and at stressful times can become inflamed. If you normally have oily skin it can become oily, greasy and have dry scales and flakes (seborrheic dermatitis). If you normally have the odd pimple here or there you might find yourself getting larger, deep, painful acne lesions that take a lot longer to go away.
The issue with stress and skin is not so much about the stress reaction as much as it is about the duration of the stress your body is under. Often, it’s not so much that the stress itself is prolonged, but rather our reaction to it. For example, if you have had a series of unfortunate events in your life, you will tend to brace yourself for the next one. Unfortunately, this mindset is often developed unconsciously but is precisely what we need to try and diffuse.
This is why for those with skin conditions knowing how to alleviate stress during stressful periods is key. Even if a period is going to be knowingly stressful it’s about learning to deal with the stress in healthy ways. Often this could be as simple as going for a walk, talking to a friend or just emotionally processing the event that happens. From a nutrition point of view, it’s being mindful about feeding our bodies with nourishing, healing foods at stressful times rather than bingeing on the sweet or salty snacks that often your body has you reaching for at stressful times.