Tried and tested tips for managing your stress and anxiety, and how it impacts your skin health.
Words by guest writer, Georgie Collinson
When skin breakouts occur due to stress, it can be extremely frustrating, especially when the stresses in your life seem to just keep on coming. This was a cycle I once found myself stuck in. Every time I’d see another stress-related breakout in the mirror, I’d feel terrible about myself, which only created more stress. You don’t have to wait for the storm to pass and life to be peaceful and easy in order to have a calmer mind and great skin.
Does stress really impact your skin?
Your skin cells actually have the capacity to make and release your stress hormones themselves. The skin is a part of your hormone system, so when your stress hormones like cortisol are high and you feel yourself in go-go-go mode, thinking all the time and on edge, your skin reacts in kind. The cortisol directly influences the secretion of sebum on the skin, making the formation of blocked pores and problematic skin much more likely.
A study was conducted in 2019 to assess the impact of reducing perceived stress in those with problematic skin. Those who underwent stress-relief techniques did see improvements in their skin, while the skin of those who did nothing to moderate their mental state remained much the same. Implementing some form of stress management into your routine will have you reaping the rewards for your skin.
Awareness of thoughts
It helps to first understand that our minds are experts at finding problems in our lives and threats to our safety. The potential triggers are infinite, so we have to start looking at managing the mind itself, instead of waiting for the triggers to stop. This is where becoming aware of your thoughts is so crucial. I ask my clients to write down the thoughts they are thinking as sentences. Our thoughts create our emotions. If you didn’t have any thoughts in your mind right now, you would otherwise feel calm. Anxiety and stress arises primarily from those alarming thought sentences running through our minds.
When you write your thoughts down, you have an opportunity to become aware of them and question their validity: Is this really true? Can I know for sure that this is true? Does this thought serve me? What would be a more loving thought? Can I choose to see myself through this lens instead?
We start to realise that there are some faulty belief systems operating under the surface. There are false stories that our mind keeps telling us about how worthy and safe we are. We must actively choose thoughts that feel loving to us, or our minds will keep finding reasons to feel stressed. Building an awareness of your thoughts takes time and dedication, but a daily journaling practice is well worth your time.
Legs up the wall
I love this grounding technique because it is so easy to fit in with your life. You can perform this on the couch in front of Netflix, or while reading a book. Your mind can still be active and multi-tasking, if you wish, or you can make it a more meditative exercise. If you’re a parent with young children, perhaps you might like to lie down this way while reading a bedtime story with the kids.
In order to get into position, simply lie down on the floor near a wall and rest your legs vertically up the wall, so your body forms an L-shape. Hold the position for 15-20 minutes. If you find your feet feel tingly, this is normal, because the blood is moving downwards from your legs towards your abdomen.
This process triggers the release of calming chemicals in your brain and sends your body into the parasympathetic, rest-and-digest mode. Anxiety and stress will dissolve like magic. Perform this daily to reset your mind and notice how much calmer you feel.
Move your body
Ever noticed how it feels when you don’t move your body all day? I often ask my clients to observe this restless feeling in themselves too. There is always a big difference in their anxiety on days when they do exercise.
Moving your body can be quite simple and doesn’t have to exhaust you. In fact, more than 40 minutes of intense exercise can create further stress for your body. Sometimes I’ll just dance to fun music in between clients as a way to get my body moving. When I really want to work my body, I’ll go to a hot yoga class, lift some weights at the gym, play some tennis or go for a run. The most important thing is to ask: what does your body feel like doing today?
Walking is always a wonderful choice. It’s our most natural movement and gets the blood oxygenating your brain, but is also so nourishing and restorative. Our bodies crave the rhythm of walking and many of us actually need more of this kind of exercise in our lives and less of the adrenal gland-sapping intense workouts that stress out our already stressed bodies. So be mindful if you’re already very active. Perhaps your body needs a break, shorter workouts or more rest. It all comes back to balance.
Cultivate fun and joy
When did you last have fun? What do you like to do for fun? Most of my clients struggle to answer these questions. When we’re stressed and anxious, we tend to push ourselves into constant productivity and action in an effort to feel safe and in control. The reality is, we are far more productive when we actually give ourselves a break and the space in our minds to come up with creative ideas.
Prioritise having fun in your weekly schedule. Get curious about what might feel fun to you. What if you made the time to dance more, create music, express yourself with art, drive in the car with the windows down, laugh with friends, make jokes and be silly? Are you being kind enough to yourself to even give yourself this permission? If you’re struggling, tune into the inner child part of you that still remembers how to do this. Be patient and see what ideas come to you.
Get out into nature
Spending time in green spaces can measurably lower our cortisol levels, an effect which has been shown in clinical studies. Inhaling the aromas of the plants and looking around at the natural colour green calms our nervous system and helps us to manage stress. Even 20 minutes of sitting in a park is enough to reduce your cortisol levels by 28%. But we know this intuitively, don’t we? Spending time by the beach, surrounded by trees or out in the fresh air is just good for the soul. Make being outdoors a part of your lifestyle to help keep your mind in a balanced place, leaving your skin glowing from the inside out.
Borrel, V., Thomas, P., Catovic, C., Racine, P. J., Konto-Ghiorghi, Y., Lefeuvre, L., … & Feuilloley, M. G. (2019). Acne and stress: impact of catecholamines on Cutibacterium acnes. Frontiers in medicine, 6, 155.
Cabeza, M., Bautista, L., Bravo, M. G., & Heuze, Y. (2018). Molecular interactions of different steroids contributing to sebum production. Review. Current drug targets, 19(15), 1855-1865.
Chatzikonstantinou, F., Miskedaki, A., Antoniou, C., Chatzikonstantinou, M., Chrousos, G., & Darviri, C. (2019). A novel cognitive stress management technique for acne vulgaris: a short report of a pilot experimental study. International journal of dermatology, 58(2), 218-220.
Hunter, M. R., Gillespie, B. W., & Chen, S. Y. P. (2019). Urban nature experiences reduce stress in the context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 722.
Georgie Collinson is an Anxiety Mindset Coach, Gut Health Expert and Nutritionist. After years of struggling with her own anxiety in her early 20s and finding no relief from conventional methods, she finally discovered a lasting breakthrough with a holistic, combined approach. This developed into the Anxiety Reset Method, a system that considers anxiety from the thoughts you think, the food you eat, the state of your gut health, your hormones and lifestyle. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Georgie operates completely online and sees clients around the world.
You can learn more about her work on Instagram @georgiethenaturopath, at georgiecollinson.com or listen to The Anxiety Reset Podcast.