It's no secret stress wreaks havoc on your body, with proven links to the likes of cardiovascular disease and digestive issues. Your skin is equally impacted, and because it's an external organ, you can clearly see how stress affects it, explains Chicago dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, M.D. Both emotional (a break-up, anxiety at work) and physical (being sick or tired) stressors stimulate the adrenal glands, which results in increased levels of cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone." It triggers inflammation in the body; in the skin, this can lead to or exacerbate conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, Carqueville says. Because no one's life is stress-free, we've rounded up the easiest ways to relax and find your inner Zen. Follow these helpful suggestions and your mind, body, and skin will thank you.
When you're under pressure, a little DIY acupressure can work wonders. Similar to acupuncture, this Eastern medicine technique involves applying pressure on particular points of your body, which can help both reduce stress and improve circulation, explains Dr. Lamya Kamel, DAOM, Director of Acupuncture at Aligned Modern Health in Chicago. Two of her favorite destressing spots: your earlobes (give them a gentle but firm tug) and the area in between your eyebrows (apply firm pressure with your thumb for a few minutes while breathing deeply).
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"It's time to take back the term, 'eating your feelings,'" says functional medicine and nutrition expert Dr. Jessica Hehmeyer. Though it can be tempting to reach for comfort foods when life gets crazy, processed and high-sugar foods further stress-induced inflammation, not to mention deplete your body of other nutrients, she says. (Plus, stressed or not, sugar and simple carbs won't do your skin any favors.) Swap that bowl of mac and cheese or piece of chocolate cake for Hehmeyer's top picks: leafy greens, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and avocado, and anything fermented, like kombucha or sauerkraut.
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Believe it or not, something as simple as adjusting your posture combats stress. "Poor posture may lead to an imbalance of stress-related hormones, like testosterone and cortisol," says Dr. Vince Roberts, DC, Director of Physical Medicine at Aligned Modern Health in Chicago. "Standing up straight puts you in a better mood and increases your resilience to stress." Not to mention that'll you look better, too!
"When we're faced with a stressful situation, our fight-or-flight response gets triggered and our muscles tense up, but that muscle tension can linger past the point of purpose," explains massage therapist Katie Lauterbach. Thus a good rub-down often feels like the best stress-buster, ever. But when you don't have the time or money for a spa appointment, take the DIY route. All you need are two tennis balls and a sock, Lauterbach says. Place the balls in the sock and lay on top of them so that the balls align with the muscles between your neck and the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder (avoid your scapula and spine). Slowly rock your shoulder side to side on the balls. Apply the same technique to pretty much any part of your body that feels tight or tense.
While you're destressing from the inside out combat the damaging effects stress has on your skin topically, Carqueville says. The added inflammation it triggers creates skin-damaging free radicals, which accelerate the aging process. But there's no need to get stressed over that; antioxidant serums are a great way to combat those free radicals and keep skin looking and feeling young and healthy, she adds. Use one every morning, underneath moisturizer. And if all that stress-induced inflammation has left your complexion red and irritated, a soothing mask with calming ingredients like niacinamide or chamomile is a great quick-fix.
Meditation doesn't have to involve loads of incense or Buddhist monks. "Try to mediate just for five minutes, five days in a row," advises Laura Sage, partner at and creator of Chill. "Meditation changes the way the brain functions, reduces stress levels, and increases oxygen intake in the body," she adds. Point being: Taking as little as five minutes out of your day to simply sit still and focus on your breathing can make a major difference in how stressed you feel and how stressed your skin looks.
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"If you're experiencing high levels of stress, your adrenal glands can become weakened, making you more prone to dehydration," Hehmeyer points out. Not only will your skin suffer the effects of stress but also dehydration to boot, which can lead to breakouts, dark circles under the eyes, and even a grayish skin tone. Follow the 8X8 rule: Drink at least eight, eight ounce glasses of H2O daily, especially in times of stress.
They may come in tiny bottles, but essential oils pack a mighty punch when it comes to negating stress. The aromatherapeutic benefits have a major impact on both your mental and emotional state. For stress relief, Kamel suggests lavender and sage. Take a whiff directly from the bottle, or dab a little bit onto a tissue or cotton ball you stash in a plastic bag in your purse for a quick stress-busting sniff anytime you need it.