If you're worried about the health and look of your skin, it's unlikely that you'd think of stress as a possible problem. You may be surprised to learn just how tied your mental health is to your complexion.
Cortisol is the main culprit. When we're stressed, this nasty hormone causes many problems for our body and our skin.
It's often said that the stress of the position makes Presidents age faster, and there may be a grain of truth to this. Cortisol causes the sugar levels in blood to rise. This encourages a process called glycation, which causes damage to collagen in the skin, making it more rigid and increasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Additionally, the ingestion of high amounts of sugar also contributes to glycation, so decreasing the amount of white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and simple carbs can help slow the process.
Suffering from dry or damaged skin? Again, cortisol may be to blame. It decreases our production of hyaluronic acid, a natural skin moisturizer, while also compromising our skin's barrier and allowing more hydration out. This, in turn, makes it harder for the enzymes that work to repair day-to-day damage to our skin to do their job. So when you're feeling stressed, make sure you keep a bottle of water nearby! And avoid caffeinated beverages (yes, even coffee!) which further dehydrate your body.
Pregnant women are often complimented on their "rosy" glow, which is caused by an increase in blood flow to their skin. Unfortunately, when we're stressed, we experience the opposite. As a part of our natural "fight or flight" instinct, the chemical epinephrine (or adrenaline) is released, decreasing blood flow as well as the important nutrients it brings to the skin. Want to get the blood pumping again? Get moving! Exercise is a great way to combat this effect, and it's also a great coping mechanism for stress.
-- note: see additional article about fighting dull skin (for normal folks, but maybe it could improve our dull state, too.)
De-stress to Keep Your Skin Healthy
Finding healthier ways to deal with stress can help keep the effects of cortisol and epinephrine at bay. What can you do?
Get more rest. Getting 6 to 8 hours a night can help keep cortisol in check. Is stress keeping you up at night? Try turning off all screens an hour before your bedtime, and read instead. The light from the screen can confuse your body's sleep cycle.
Relax. Yes, it's easier said than done but make a commitment to taking time away from work. Are you constantly checking your work email? Set aside times to turn your smartphone off, like dinner time and the weekends. You may be surprised by how much of a difference it can make for your mental state.
Find quiet time. Take a bath. Meditate. Do yoga. Or just try deep breathing exercises. Schedule this time just like you would any other activity. Often, by taking time for yourself, you'll find that you're better able to focus, enabling you to get more done anyway.
Laugh. Spend time with family and friends—and no, running errands together doesn't count! You may not have time to take a full-fledged vacation but you can take an hour or two here and there. Have a date night with your spouse, meet up with a friend during your lunch hour, or take your kids to the park. Make sure this time is spent with no work or other stressful distractions. Instead, focus on having a good time and unwinding.