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Stress-related skin issues

    When the stress response is activated, your body releases a cocktail of hormones that increase the heart rate and cause many other physiological changes.

Although these reactions may be useful in really dangerous situations, when dealing with intense or long-lasting stress and anxiety, they may have a negative impact on health and well-being, particularly on the appearance and the health of the skin. The emerging field of psychodermatology is founded on the concept that effective management of skin conditions involves consideration of the associated emotional factors.

The nervous system modulates all the physiological functions of your body and it takes into account the emotional state in all that it does. Thus, the strong emotions end up having a powerful impact not only on mood and behavior, but also on the good appearance and health of your skin, as well as on the etiopathogenesis of most skin conditions.

When you are stressed, 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, 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 parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and your body is nourished, healed and energy is restored. Whenever you are facing a threat, the sympathetic 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 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 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 the 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”.

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

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."

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."

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."

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."

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).

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.”

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 content is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute any psychological or other 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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