Stress is increasingly affecting men and women around the world, and the result can be fatal. Chronic stress has been known to significantly increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other life threatening diseases. Despite lower poverty levels and better access to food, clean water, and medicine, citizens of developed nations report ever-increasing levels of stress in daily life. Recently, nearly 1 in 2 Americans reported stress increasing over the past 5 years, according to the 2014 Stress in America™ study published annually by the American Psychological Association.
Stress and Skin Health
At first, practicing stress management to improve skin health may seem like a shallow endeavor. However, closer examination reveals that skin health is intricately tied to total body wellness. Physiologically, skin is the largest organ in the body, protecting internal organs and vital life sustaining systems from the bacteria and pollutants of the outside world. Healthy skin promotes mental and emotional health as well, serving as an outward representation of internal strength and vitality. Smooth, radiant, and taught skin reinforces positive self image and esteem, two factors of significant importance when it comes to social interactions, career advancement, and other lifestyle achievements that indirectly affect long term prosperity.
Know Your Stressors
Below is a list of common stressors, listed in no particular order. Take a moment to review this list, and consider how each of the following might be causing undue stress in your life.
- Money: Whether desiring more or feeling anxious over how to manage what you have, earning money and managing personal wealth are both common sources of stress.
- Work: Concern for job safety, promotion, or retirement may also trigger stress.
- Caregiving: Caring for newborn babies, growing children, or aging family members often induces immense physical and emotional stress.
- Personal Health: Adults may become stressed by their weight, heart health, and other serious illnesses. Unfortunately, this is a self-perpetuating problem, as stress inevitably causes further harm to personal health.
- Relationships: Digital media provides instant access to information that makes it easier than ever to develop stress over family, friends, loved ones, institutions, and events outside of one’s control.
9 Ways to Combat Stress
- Exercise. Daily exercise tops our list of best stress management tools because it is easy, fun, and delivers a range of other physiological benefits. Just 15 minutes of activity is enough to improve circulation, flush cellular waste from skin cells, reduce stress, and promote healthier eating habits.
- Mindfulness meditation. When stress strikes, default to mindfulness meditation. First, give yourself permission to sit with whatever you are feeling—stressful situations often illicit a “fight or flight” reaction, which can add to feelings of discomfort. Sit upright, close your eyes, and take deep and even breaths. As thoughts emerge, simply let them pass like clouds in the sky. Perform this meditation for anywhere from 1 to 30 minutes to enjoy an almost instant release from stress.
- Cognitive distancing. Sometimes, stress is caused not by an external event but by an internal cognition, or thought. The prefrontal cortex is designed to make predictions and visualize outcomes continually—a marvelous talent that makes it easy to plan and prioritize. However, it can also conceptualize negative, horrific, or tragic events. Rather than feel stress over these visualizations, practice cognitive distancing by reminding yourself that the visualizations represent thoughts about things that have not happened.
- Try cognitive labeling. In addition to recognizing thoughts as things that have not happened, you can also form a habit of labeling them. For example, if you find yourself stressing over a promotion at work, consciously label that thought as Worry. By labeling the thought, you steer yourself away from its content and the stress it produces. This frees you to move beyond the stressful thought and focus on the present moment more quickly.
- Volunteer your time. Often, stress is exacerbated by feelings of self. Ego tends to focus on what is missing, creating stress to motivate you to fill the gaps with money, clothes, food, and relationships. Keep that survival instinct—and the stress it causes—in check by volunteering your time to help others. Doing so brings into focus all that you have to offer, replacing anxious and stressful feelings with joy and contentment.
- Take a bath with lavender. Experts explain that baths are soothing because they remind us of time spent in the womb. Take a bath to unwind after a particularly stressful day, adding lavender oil to the water to enjoy the added benefits of aromatherapy.
- Schedule a massage. A massage is a wonderful way to reduce stress, improve circulation, and enjoy time to yourself.
- Give yourself a scalp rub. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget there’s skin beneath your hair. Reacquaint yourself with your scalp by gently spreading your fingers from front to back and side to side, massaging in small circles. This simple exercise reduces tension while improving blood flow, which may also improve the health of your hair.
- Keep a calendar. Digital calendars like iCal and Google Calendar are great tools to stay focused and stress-free. Begin by making a list of everything you want to accomplish by day, week, and month. Then, schedule those tasks in the calendar, adding an extra 15 minutes to perform each task. This significantly reduces the stress and anxiety produced by mental “to do” lists, providing an actionable strategy for having a satisfying and productive month.
This article has been created by the offices of Miami dermatologist Dr. Mariano Busso. Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Always consult a licensed medical professional prior to making changes to your diet or exercise regimen.