One in six people in the workplace are affected by stress, anxiety or depression at any one time in this country, according to the leading UK charity MIND.
The drive to work longer hours is now a reality for many. Work life balance is harder to achieve and the digital economy adds pressure to personal and professional performance. Stress is a natural part of life today and hard to avoid. However, managing stress and recognising the signs are important (the good and the bad news is that your skin will often be a visible indicator of stress).
Cortisol – Angel or Devil
When stress occurs, the body produces two hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline helps the body to react to perceived ‘danger’ and once that threat is over, will return to normal levels. Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, also helps your body cope with stress and is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, however if allowed to continue at high levels, can have a negative impact all over the body. Signs include thinning skin, weaker bones, higher fluid retention and bloating, a higher risk of bruising easily, delayed wound healing, weight gain and overall hormone imbalance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The four signs to watch out for
Stress can also have a major impact on the skin’s appearance, with certain skin conditions actually directly caused by stress. These include:
Dryness/Dullness. Raised levels of cortisol promotes transepidermal water loss resulting in dry and dull skin appearance.
Fine Lines. Raised cortisol can trigger elevated blood sugar levels via a process known as glycation. Ultimately, glycation damages collagen and elastin, two fibers that help to keep skin smooth, plump and firm. Counteract the effects with vitamin A along with antioxidants to stimulate collagen production and help diminish the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Acne. Stress triggers the release of androgens (male hormones) like testosterone which are responsible for the production of sebum. Women suffer more than men as they produce a much higher amount of androgens in the adrenal gland than men. Incorporate treatments with salicylic acid and vitamin A to control bacteria, clogged pores and to normalise sebum production. Recommend supplementation such as Skin Accumax™.
2. No sleep
Your skin is the window to what's going on in your body internally, so if you're not sleeping and your system isn't functioning properly, you're going to notice a dull complexion, dry, flaky skin and breakouts. Stress causes magnesium deficiency. The benefits of magnesium for anxiety and stress are substantial. When people are low in magnesium, they feel anxious, suffer with muscle cramps and may experience insomnia. Lack of sleep will also have a negative impact on skin health. A recent study found that poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin ageing including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced elasticity*.
3. Low Energy
Stress can put more demand on the B vitamins in the body. B vitamins are important vitamins as they contribute to normal energy-yielding metabolism and are key for supporting mental health and combating stress. As B vitamins are water soluble they need to be replenished on a regular basis. Good sources of foods rich in B vitamins include cereals and grains, meats, fish, poultry, milk, eggs and vegetables. Supplementing your diet with B vitamins is an effective way to ensure you get enough on a daily basis.
4. Gut Health
When the body is under stress, cortisol diverts energy away from the gut to muscles and the brain. It works to keep blood sugar elevated by feeding glucose to the brain and retains sodium to keep blood pressure levels up. During this fight-or-flight response, immune system and digestion slows down, this can cause the gut to become vulnerable to infection and inflammation. Probiotics help supply the gut with beneficial bacteria. These ‘good’ bacteria play key roles in helping to maintain a healthy gut. They assist in digestion and, in fact, produce substances that nourish the lining of the intestines. By supporting digestive health, and addressing these internal imbalances, this may help reduce bloating and improve general well-being. A recent study published in The Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that consistent stress negativity affects the amount and diversity of your good gut flora.
TOP TIPS TO COMBAT THE EFFECTS OF STRESS
EAT TO FUEL YOUR BODY
Poor nutrition can result in immunosuppression. A healthy diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, good quality protein and healthy fats will provide you with the fuel to cope with stressful situations. Keeping your blood sugar levels steady by eating smaller meals throughout the day has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels. Incorporating a well formulated multi-vitamin/mineral supplement into your diet is an ideal way to ensure that you’re getting the right nutrients on a daily basis.
EXERCISE - GOOD FOR BODY AND SKIN
Exercise is a great way not only to reduce stress, but to also achieve healthier skin. However, the type of exercise you do should involve relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness, for example yoga and Tai Chi. People often assume that a lot of exercise is the cure for stress but too much rigorous exercise can have the opposite effect, so it’s important to build in rest. Getting more oxygen to flow to the brain will result in a reduced physical and mental response to stress. Studies have shown that exercise not only reduces stress, but it also encourages blood flow to your skin. Exercise produces endorphins which can help improve sleep, which will in turn help reduce stress. You should be moving but not over-doing it. If your body has at least eight hours rest, it will renew and rejuvenate itself which will also show in the quality of your skin.
A good remedy to help with stress is often just talking. It’s important to take a step back and talk to someone about whatever is causing stress. Talking things through can help relieve stress and put a different perspective on a challenging situation. Sharing problems with a close friend or family member rather than ‘bottling up’ issues can be an effective way to start tackling stress. Sharing your burden can often help to lighten the load, and knowing that you have someone to talk things through with and discuss your issues can make the world of difference.
* Source: “Effects of Sleep Quality on Skin Aging and Function.’ Elma B. 2013 International Investigative Dermatology Meeting, Edinburgh.