Stress causes acne, but how severe?
It’s been a while since last time, hope you are doing great and your acne is improved following tips from the previous posts. Sit comfortably and relax, today we are going to talk about stress and it’s connection with acne.Stress and Acne? Yes, stress and acne are related to one another. Stress can cause acne and acne increase stress.
Did you know that there are many types of stress? Have you ever heard of the term FFF or Fight or Flight response? Did you know that recently psycho-dermatologists use techniques such as meditation, hypnosis, psychotropic medications, biofeedback, and psychotherapy to treat skin disorders like acne?
The subject of stress is HUGE and greatly underestimated. Apart from acne, stress has been linked to a variety of health problems. The worst of all is that “stress is a slow killer”. It eats you from within. Without you being really aware of what is happening. It ruins your immune system, digestion day in and day out. Let’s take a closer look at what stress really is.
A Few Words About Stress
We all know how it feels, it can be a hard day or week at work, a fight with one of our loved ones, a speech that is coming up, or a thriller we watch on the TV or even the loss of our favorite pair of socks before an important social event.
Whatever it is, it makes us nervous, it is the main source of hasty decisions, it makes us lose our appetite or sometimes want to eat too much. No matter what it certainly aggravates acne.
Why is all that and why we get stressed for things that we shouldn’t? To answer this question we have to see how stress works.
How stress works and when is activated? – The Fight or Flight Response.
The word stress is a bit generic, for example, a mechanic might put his cars in “stress tests”, a computer scientist might put his computers in “stress tests” to measure the amount of load they can manage efficiently. The stress we are interested in has a different name, more accurate and it refers to something clearly defined.
It is called Fight or Flight response, actually Fight or Flight or Freeze Response, FFF for short. Somewhat the term fight or flight prevailed. Stress is our fight or flight response when this response is activated we feel stress. Fight or Flight is a system critical to survival, without it, you would probably be dead now. It acts as a reflex when you are in danger and need to take action fast.
FFF helps you avoid fatal car accidents by letting you react in less than a second when a situation demands it. Pretty much this biological system works this way:
- Your Brain Acknowledges a potential threat. Trigger-Stressor
- Your Brain assesses the situation and makes a choice from these three: Fight, Flight or Freeze?
- Your Brain Prepares your mind and body for the action to be taken.
- You Feel stress and you have an urge to act towards one of the above 3 actions.
Count that these things happen in milliseconds and most of the time outside the sphere of consciousness.
The Cat and the Man
Fight or Flight was evolved when humans lived in the jungle together with wild cats, wolves, bears and other dangerous animals. Back then it was really useful since attacks from predators were common and immediate action was matter of life or death.
For example, imagine that you are a prehistoric man and a beautiful morning you decide to take a walk and leave the safety of your cave to explore the deep forest. As you walk you, suddenly see a lion five meters away looking at you the same way you look a chicken in the oven roasting!
You know that you are alone and with no weapons to defend yourself, immediately and before you even think about it, your FFF response has you running as fast as possible, the lion comes after you, you run fast but the lion gets closer and closer. The time that it is about to grab your neck, your friends from the cave that listened to your screams get in the middle, rescue you and kill the lion.
Feww…you take your time to catch your breath and relax. Then you all go back to the cave to celebrate your kill. This is a typical fight or flight situation for the caveman. Let’s see now some of the biologics that we are interested when FFF response is triggered.
What Stress Does to the Body
When in FFF the body changes priorities, especially when it comes to energy consumption. All the systems in our which are not critical and can’t save us from the “cat” get suppressed. Can you imagine such systems?
One is our immune system, it gets suppressed since it is pointless to fight diseases and infections when you are about to die in a few minutes. There is no virus or infection that can kill you faster than a pack of wolves hunting you.
Another system that gets suppressed since it is completely useless in that moment is the digestive system. It is often that some parts of the brain get suppressed. The regions that have to do with analytical thinking, planning, logic, and consciousness don’t have any practical usage when you are in danger
All of the above systems consume resources. In a situation like the one described above, energy resources are scarce and time is ticking very fast. Every millisecond is precious. Last but not least your reproductive processes, these will also be suppressed for the same reasons as the previous three systems.
No mechanism is Perfect
All of those things are good since they are made this way to save us from demanding and threatening situations. But you could say that the system is a bit “outdated”. In modern in societies most of these jungle dangers are obsolete and the environment we live in has changed drastically.
New kinds of threats have been introduced in our daily lives. The first problem of FFF is that it fails to distinguish real danger from fake. For this reason, many false alarms hit during the day causing us stress when stress is not needed.
The second problem is that FFF can be activated from within. What does this mean? It means that a thought can trigger the fight or flight response. We have thousands of thoughts every day and all of them can trigger the relaxation or stress. Think how many thoughts you have during the day that can trigger this response ON.
Chronic Stress and Acute Stress
What we have described till here is acute stress. This is how it’s called, acute stress is when you get Very Stressed and experience the emotion vividly for a short period and then return to relaxation. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when you get constant activation of the FFF but for longer times less vividly.
Sometimes chronic stress is so subtle that we are not even aware we are stressed! Most of the stress we feel every day is chronic stress, this kind of stress is the root of many diseases.
If you suffer from chronic stress, which is the case of most people who live in modern cities and are exposed to many stressors. Then you probably have dysfunctional immune and digestive systems, worst of all is that you won’t have a clear mind and you will be making hasty decisions that would put you in even more stressful situations.
If you suffer from chronic stress, you might experience a drop in your sex drive and other sexual dysfunctions. Chronic stress can also slow down wound healing by 25%, those of you are afraid of acne scars, keep this in mind.
Here is a list of some common stressors I’ve picked up from the net.
- A major loss of a loved one. That could be death, a divorce or any type of separation from a loved one.
- PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Social stressors. Loneliness, social phobia and other relationship issues, family changes and sexuality.
- Occupational stress, this stress is caused by your job (deadlines, tough schedules etc..) or the lack of it.
- Nutrition, give up your poor eating habits and start eating foods with high nutritional value. Low-calorie diets can cause stress levels to rise. Also, foods that cause gut irritation can increase your stress levels.
- Drugs, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, medications and other drugs, all increase your stress levels.
- Lack of Money, or lack of financial freedom. This kind of stressors are very common and very strong since the lack of money can bring all sorts of bad things to your doorstep.
- Physical inactivity.This is not very obvious, but sedentariness without exercise does increase stress.
Stress and Acne
Immune System and Acne
After this brief introduction on what stress is, it’s time to see why stress aggravates acne. First and foremost stress as you now know weakens the activity of the immune system. This is achieved with the help of a hormone called cortisol. High cortisol levels suppress inflammation which can be good if you have acne. It acts as a suppressor for the immune system.
Prolonged suppression of your immune system can be disastrous. In the case of acne, the ability of your body to handle the bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms on the skin declines. This makes it easy for them to grow inside blocked pores. When your cortisol levels drop or the infection gets too serious you will have a strong inflammatory response causing a huge breakout.
The decline of the immune system is the most direct way stress aggravates acne and its impact is shown in less than 24 hours usually.
In the case of chronic stress, unfortunately, you can not tell if stress was the cause of a breakout because chronic stress doesn’t make itself apparent and is present all the time, that’s why it’s called “chronic” after all (chronic comes from chronos, which means “time” in greek).
Digestion and Acne
The second system that stress slows down and can cause acne is your digestion. With a dysfunctional digestive system, slowly and gradually your overall health deteriorates. From the acne point of view, poor digestion is one of the major reasons people get acne.
You see digestion plays a critical role in every part of our body, including our skin. If our digestion doesn’t work right, problems start, you start to have difficulty absorbing essential nutrients and minerals, you lose bacterial balance and get SIBO which results in Intestinal permeability and ultimately leaky gut syndrome.
Digestion is where the cycle of life starts, your gut is responsible for the regulation of what passes in the bloodstream and what stays out. If you don’t treat it well, irritate it with “bad foods” and stress, guess what is going to happen? It get’s sick!!! So when you take a look at your face and you see a face full of acne, you have a good change that your gut looks somewhat the same.
A digestive system like that will do no good to your health, it will deteriorate your health and aggravate any health problems you may have, including acne. This is just scratching the surface of course because in the gut there is an ecosystem of thousands of different species of micro-organisms. Stress has been shown to disturb the balance of this ecosystem, leading to serious problems in the long run.
When Digestion & Immune Systems Fail
A little bit too dramatic but it is true. 70% of your Immune cells are in the gut to protect you from dangerous pathogens which pass into the blood. Your immune system also helps the regulation of a healthy ecosystem of good/bad bacteria and yeasts in your gut. Having impaired immunity gives space to various pathogens to grow, disrupt this ecosystem and ultimately damage your digestive tract.
Imagine the combination of an already bad digestion with a weakened immune system. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand how poorly you will absorb all sorts of minerals. The worse your gut gets the worse the symptoms of acne will be.
How to stop stress acne? What can you do?
We know all these stuff in just a few paragraphs are bit overwhelming but don’t worry, there are a few quick tips that will help you get rid of stress really fast. Well not all of them are quick. You should consider working on these 4 things bellow
1 – Exercise is going to have immediate effects in your lowering stress, even after the first week!!!
2 – Meditation has a slow but very strong impact, check this out this video to understand why…
3 – Positive Psychology, bellow are the lectures from one of the more popular classes at Harvard university. Very good stuff…
4 – Supplementation, Stress and poor digestion might cause a deficiency in essential minerals such as Zinc, which is very common among acne patients.
Our small journey in the exploration of stress and it impacts on health and acne has reached its end. I hope that you will start practicing what you’ve learned to lower your stress levels, improve your acne and your life. Have in mind that all of them need time for results to be noticeable, meditation might take weeks before you start seeing a difference in your everyday life.