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Stress-related skin disorders

    Stress and anxiety are thought to be an important factor in many health problems.

Even though most people are aware that stress affects their daily lives, many do not suspect that stress can also profoundly affect the health of their skin.

The stress and anxiety induced pallor, reddening of the face or skin, rashes, burning, itching, tingling or other sensations on the face, neck, ears, scalp or shoulders are not the worst manifestations of stress, anxiety and other negative emotions on your skin, even though these are among the best known.

However, it is good to know that stress and anxiety are not normative concepts and that they are not diseases in themselves. Although your stress and anxiety are not imaginary, there is no laboratory test available to confirm or measure them. Yet you feel them and therefore you are best positioned to assess whether or not you feel stressed or anxious.

When stress and anxiety become very intense or chronic, they can impact the somatic (physical) health of your skin as well. As the nervous system modulates all the physiological functions and the brain considers the emotional state in everything it does, the strong emotions end up having a powerful impact not only on mood and behavior, but also on the good aspect and health of your skin, as well as on the etiopathogenesis of most skin disorders.

Emotions are not just mental states and emotional feelings. Today's view of emotions is that emotions are experienced at four different, but closely interrelated levels: the mental or psychological level (the brain), the physiological level (the chemistry of your body), the somatic level (bodily emotional feelings), and the behavioral level. These complementary aspects are present in all human emotions, even in the most basic ones such as stress, fear and anxiety.

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

The 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, stress and persistent 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, healed and the 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, as the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival, 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, and, over time, when this stress response is repetitively triggered by nothing but imaginary threats, nature's biological response to a threat ends up actually 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 takes 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 significant improvement in symptoms of your stress and anxiety related mucosal and skin issues. 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 immobilize the bone and let it heal. Because, this ancestral approach to a broken bone works on all bones. However, when dealing with stress and anxiety, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore the psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic-programming, 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. Yet, as far as I know, only the somatic hypnotherapy practitioners offer a "no cure - no pay" guaranty.

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”.

The following dermatological and mucosal conditions may be aggravated, triggered or even caused by anxiety and stress, or may be conditions for which you may be at increased risk if you are exposed to prolonged or intense stress and anxiety.

Acne (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."

Atopic Dermatitis "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"

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."

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."

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?”

Gum Disease "Studies found that emotional factors played a significant role in the development of adult gum disease. Researchers discovered that the severity of gum disease increased with amount of stress experienced in a patient's previous 12 months. Factors included typical life stress involving spouses and children, finances or work. The study showed that even the stress resulting from a lack of companionship made an impact."

Oral health problems "There are a number of oral health problems associated with stress and anxiety that read like the long list of symptoms in a T.V. commercial for a prescription medicine: canker sores, dry mouth, burning mouth syndrome, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders and even Lichen Planus (lacy white lines, red areas or ulcers that form in your mouth).

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”.

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.”

Psycho-dermatological conditions "Some skin conditions have a psychological dimension that may need to be addressed, too. If you’ve ever blushed from embarrassment, you know that your skin can reflect what you’re feeling inside. It makes sense, then, that emotional trouble might show up as skin trouble. Although cause and effect can be difficult to pin down, considerable data suggest that at least in some people, stress and other psychological factors can activate or worsen certain skin conditions.

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"

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 content is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute any psychological or other medical professional advice. I don't diagnose conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

*The results may vary from person to person.

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