Think that stress is all in your head? Think again.
Truth is stress shows. When we’re feeling extra tense or in danger, our bodies can react in ways that are more than mental. In fact, we as human beings have what’s called “a fight-or-flight” response to all real or perceived threats, whenever these may come our way. That reactionary impulse is what makes us jump back when a car comes our way, or pull our hands away when we touch hot surfaces. Even some more unpleasant stress-induced reflexes have their logic: When we’re anxious, our breathing speeds up to get more oxygen into the body, and the heart beats faster to push blood to our vital organs.
In other words, reasonable amounts of stress keep our bodies safe.
That being said, the physical effects of stress can be dreadful. To name one problem of many, a great deal of common stress-related symptoms can show up on the skin. Whether you have a preexisting condition or not, no one is immune to the dermal flare-ups that come with panic and alarm.
Have you been stressed out lately? And is your skin acting up? If you’re experiencing symptoms of the following conditions, take some time to check in with your mental state.
When you’re under a ton of stress, your body pumps out more of certain hormones, like cortisol. These substances cause the glands under your skin to produce more oil. This excess oil can get trapped inside your hair follicles, along with other icky stuff like dirt and dead skin cells, and cause pimples.
If you already have a skin condition like psoriasis, stress can make it worse. Psoriasis is a condition caused by the buildup of too many skin cells. When this occurs, the cells can form scales and itchy, dry patches that look and feel very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the inflammation that speeds up the life cycle of skin cells can be fueled by stress, meaning that people with psoriasis will often get flare-ups when they’re feeling tense.
People with eczema may ﬁnd that their itchy flare-ups begin or get worse with increased stress levels. That’s because when the body thinks that it’s in danger, the endocrine system begins to produce too much adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones can suppress the immune system and cause an inflammatory response in the skin. And it’s a vicious cycle: Anxiety is a common trigger of eczema flare-ups, which then produce more stress, which then lead to more eczema flare-ups!
Hives or rash
Stress can cause a rash, which usually looks like raised red spots or hives on the stomach, back, arms and face. Chronic hives may be due to an immune response, which is triggered by factors like heat, extreme exercise or alcohol use—all of which take a toll on the body. Stress itself can even cause hives, or make rashes you already have even worse.
Stress is one of the most common triggers of rosacea acting up. Rosacea looks like a red flush spread across the nose, cheeks, and chin. Recent research has found that individuals with rosacea produce greater nerve, blood flow, and sweat responses than people without the disorder when exposed to increased heat or stress.
OK, I’ll admit that “pruritus” is just a fancy term for chronic itchy skin. Pruritus is a tingling sensation of the skin that causes a strong desire to scratch the area to get relief. Itching can either be confined to a certain part of the body (which is called “localized”) or develop all over the body (which is called “generalized”). The psychological factors stress and anxiety can exacerbate the need to itch. That’s because the stress response activates nerve fibers, causing a scratchy sensation.