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Stress-related skin issues

       When you experience a dangerous situation that scares you, your body releases a cocktail of hormones that speed up your heart rate and cause many other somatic (physical) symptoms.

While these natural responses can be helpful in a truly dangerous real-life situation, when dangers are imaginary, the feelings of fear you experience - such as stress and anxiety - can negatively impact your well-being and health.

When stress and anxiety become very intense or chronic, they may have a negative impact on health and well-being, particularly on the appearance and the health of the skin, as well as on the etiopathogenesis of most skin conditions. The emerging field of psychodermatology is founded on the concept that effective management of skin conditions involves consideration of the associated emotional factors.

The scientific study of emotion and of the bodily changes that accompany the diverse emotional experiences, known as psychosomatic medicine, marks a relatively new era in medicine. The central concept of psychosomatic medicine is the scientific fact that the mind and body are integral aspects of all human functions. The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for a physical disease that is thought to be triggered, made worse, or caused by emotional factors. To an extent, most diseases are considered psychosomatic, as there is an emotional aspect to every physical disease.

The nervous system modulates all the physiological functions of your body and it takes into account the emotional state in all that it does. Under stress, your body releases cortisol and a cocktail of many other hormones. Your skin has receptors for these stress hormones, and their activation causes various changes in your skin: increased inflammation, impaired wound healing, increased oil and sebum production and decreased resistance to infections.

Furthermore, cutaneous vasoconstriction induced by persistent stress and anxiety can cause the blood to be systematically shunted away from the skin. When the skin is constantly deprived of a generous supply of blood, it can become more susceptible to irritations, rashes, and infections. Thus, persistent stress and anxiety can aggravate many skin diseases, including urticaria, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, eczema, cold sores, hives, and other types of rash. Unexplained itching, tingling, and burnings are often caused by stress.

As you already know, rather than passively observing what happens to you, your subconscious mind is actually in charge of the proper functioning of your conscious mind and your body through the regulatory mechanisms of your autonomous nervous system. When you feel relaxed and safe, the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and your body is nourished, and healed and energy is restored. Whenever you are facing a threat, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival inbuilt fight or flight response.

While you are in the middle of a stress response, the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival, and your body's nourishing, restorative, maintenance and self-repair functions come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, when the threat is imaginary, the subconscious mind doesn't realize that there is no real threat. Over time, when this stress response is repetitively triggered by imaginary threats, nature's biological response ends up doing more harm than good.

Long term, if your body is not properly nourished, restored, maintained, and repaired, the effects of chronic wear and tear on your body take its toll and you will end up mentally and physically sick. Therefore, by releasing stress and anxiety, your body creates a loop of positive feedback through the autonomic nervous system, feedback that can rebalance your sympathetic and parasympathetic branches and lead so to improvements in symptoms of your stress and anxiety-related autoimmune conditions. The degree of improvement you can reasonably expect by relieving your persistent stress and anxiety depends on how much you feel that your emotional state affects your health issues.

When dealing with a fractured bone, the standard medical approach is to align and join the broken parts of the bone and let it heal, as this ancestral approach works for everyone and every time. However, when dealing with stress and anxiety, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic-programming, E.F.T. (emotional freedom tapping), pet therapy, art therapy, mindfulness, yoga, craniosacral therapy, gravity blanket, mini-horses therapy, and many other approaches based on very contradictory and yet scientific concepts, are all available to solve emotional issues.

Chronic, intense, or repetitive stress and anxiety can lead to various emotional troubles and even psychiatric or physical medical conditions. According to the American Psychosomatic Society “… there is no such thing as psychosomatic disease. All disease can be looked at from this point of view”.

Here are a few of the many dermatological and mucosal conditions that are aggravated, triggered, or even caused by stress, trauma, and anxiety, and for which you can reasonably expect improvements when you improve your emotional health.

Ac ne (Pimples) “In treating hundreds of patients over the years with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis, I have seen firsthand how stress can aggravate the skin and trigger unexpected flare-ups that, in effect, create more stress for patients,” said Dr. Mayoral. When a person becomes stressed, the level of the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) rises. This in turn causes an increase in oil production, which can lead to oily skin, acne and other related skin problems."

Does stress cause acne? "Research has shown that increased stress can be linked to new outbreaks or worsening acne. The main reason for this is the chemical reactions and changing hormone levels in your body when you’re stressed."

Treating Skin Conditions with Hypnosis:  "Stress can trigger eczema, hives, psoriasis, and rosacea. With hypnotic relaxation and/or healing imagery, skin conditions often improve. Patients' skin conditions can improve once their potential psychological triggers are identified and addressed through hypnosis. Skin conditions have a large psychological component in that stress tends to exacerbate various inflammatory skin conditions from eczema to rosacea and psoriasis. Stress also can lead to the development of hives. Thus, as with many medical conditions with psychological components, skin ailments can benefit from stress management techniques, including hypnosis."

Emotional stress as a trigger for inflammatory skin disorders: "The most common trigger for several inflammatory skin disorders, including psoriasis, is emotional str ess. Understanding the significance of emotional triggers to common inflammatory dermatologic disorders is critical to the optimal management of these conditions"

Stress can make your skin look worse.Researchers say stress exacerbates skin problems. Acne, psoriasis, alopecia, and eczema aren't necessarily caused by stress. But if you have them, stress can make them worse. Stress can even cause wounds to heal more slowly”.

The stress hormone attacks collagen and takes a toll on your youthful look: "Chronic stress weakens the ability of your skin’s collagen to do its job, which is to help keep your skin healthy, vibrant, elastic, and supple. In other words, collagen plays a significant role in avoiding wrinkles, lines, and sagging, all of which contribute to looking older."

How stress can lead to wrinkles:  “While stress is a normal and expected part of life, it can actually trigger a hormonal cascade in your body. These hormones can then compromise the parts of your skin structure that keep it looking youthful and tight. "Stress hormones like cortisol break down our collagen and elastin and interfere with rejuvenation," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D.,”

Cold Sores (Nongenital Herpes Simplex Infections): "Physical or psychological stress can trigger an outbreak. Local injury to the face, lips, eyes or mouth, as through trauma, surgery, or sunburns are well established triggers of recurrent orolabial herpes due to herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Similarly, intercurrent infections, such as upper respiratory viral infections or other febrile diseases, can cause outbreaks, hence the historic terms "cold sore" and "fever blister". Generalized psychological stress and anxiety are also triggers."

Stress Can Turn Your Mouth Into a Desert: “Stress can lead to a dry mouth in several ways, say experts. Anxious people tend to breathe through their mouths, drying out the inside. The acid reflux associated with stress can also have an effect on the salivary glands and keep them from producing as much.”

Canker Sores (Mouth Ulcers) "Many signs of emotional stress or anxiety show up physically on your body through hair loss, dark circles, acne, pimples and many others. Canker sores on your tongue, gum or inner cheek is also one symptoms of prolonged stress or anxiety."

Dealing with the anxiety itch: During a bout of stress or anxiety, a series of emotional and physiological alterations in hormones, enzymes and reactions happen to our body at cellular levels. In response to stress, the sensory system of the body over-reacts, stimulating the nerve endings in the skin causing a burning sensation all over the body. Apart from this, the blood vessels of the skin constricts in an event of severe stress or anxiety making it cold and clammy and more vulnerable to itching-burning sensation. Dr Aakriti Mehra, consultant dermatologist says, "Anxiety itch may be caused directly by anxiety or by a skin condition that is worsened by anxiety. Various existent conditions like psoriasis, eczema, allergic hives, herpes etc are worsened and exacerbated by anxiety.”

Eczema "If you find that your eczema flares up right before a big presentation or in the middle of tax season, it’s no coincidence. Experts have known for years that stress can make eczema worse. In fact, a branch of medicine, called psychodermatology, examines how the mind affects the skin. During times of stress, the inflammation in the skin increases, as a way to protect the skin from harm," says Donald V. Belsito, MD, professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University. "So if you already have inflammation in your skin, as with eczema, stress will worsen your condition."

Eczema and emotional wellness.From its red, rash-like appearance to the relentless itch and sleepless nights, living with eczema can be downright challenging on our emotional well-being. Anxiety and stress are common triggers that cause eczema to flare up, which then creates more anxiety and stress, which then leads to more eczema flare-ups. So how do we break this vicious cycle?”

Stress and periodontal disease: The link and logic!! “Nevertheless, more recent studies indicate that psychosocial stress represents a risk indicator for periodontal disease and should be addressed before and during treatment. This paper discusses how stress may modulate host response to bacteria and influence the course and progression of periodontal disease.”

Overview of the stress–psoriasis association; “Compared with other dermatological diseases, psoriasis has a stronger association with psychiatric disorders. Since John Ingram’s publication in 1954 considering emotional stress the most potent precipitating factor in psoriasis, the number of publications focusing on this subject has increased. It has been reported that psychological stress precedes the onset of disease in 44% of patients with psoriasis and initiates recurrent skin flares in up to 88% of patients. Overall, estimates of the rates of stress‐related psoriasis range from 26 to 88% in epidemiological studies. Additionally, patients who report high levels of psychological stress display more severe skin and joint symptoms than those with lower reported levels of psychological stress.”

Controlling stress helps fight Lupus. “A study conducted in the Department of Medicine at the University of Granada determined that daily stress (which occurs in circumstances of little importance but of high frequency) could exacerbate the symptoms of patients suffering from lupus. In other words, controlling the stress level of those suffering from this disease allows the determination of its negative effects, such as inexplicable loss of weight, feeling of fatigue, continuous fever or pain and inflammation in joints. In other words, the treatment of daily stress, together with the usual pharmacological treatment, is a useful weapon when treating patients suffering from lupus.”

Psoriasis: "Weather, stress, injury, infection, and medications, while not direct causes, are often important in triggering the disease process that initiates and worsens psoriasis. Stress and Strong Emotions. Stress, unexpressed anger, and emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety, are strongly associated with psoriasis flare-ups. Research has suggested that stress can trigger specific immune factors associated with psoriasis flares"

Psychodermatology: Where the skin and mind meet; “Psychophysiological disorders are true dermatologic diseases that are exacerbated by emotional stressors. Conditions like atopic dermatitis, acne, perioral dermatitis, psoriasis, and hyperhidrosis are all examples of conditions that patients often report worsen when they are under stress. When a patient presents with a flare, it is not uncommon that, when prompted, the patient will report some stressor in his everyday life.”

Rosacea  “In treating hundreds of patients over the years with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis, I have seen firsthand how stress can aggravate the skin and trigger unexpected flare-ups that, in effect, create more stress for patients,” said Dr. Mayoral. “Learning how to manage the effects of stress on your skin can help alleviate some of the skin symptoms.” "When a person becomes stressed, the level of the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) rises. This in turn causes an increase in sebum oil production, which can lead to greasy skin, acne and other related skin problems."

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) "However, emotional stress does wear away at the immune system, attacking it’s ability to defend the body against all kinds of illnesses. There are any number of types of stressful situations that can damage the immune system. For example, the death of a loved one, especially if it’s unexpected, can feel like a shock. Chronic stress at work or at home, can take their toll on health"

Vitiligo "A cosmetically disfiguring or potentially socially stigmatizing skin disorder such as severe acne, psoriasis, vitiligo (the loss of pigmentation in the skin), or genital herpes can produce feelings of shame or humiliation, erode self-esteem, cause depression and anxiety, and in general lower quality of life. There is much evidence of a correlation between skin disorders and depressive symptoms."


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Disclaimer: The above article may contain statements that reflect the opinion of the author. It is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute psychological or medical professional advice. I don't diagnose medical conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

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