By Claire Gillespie for KOPA
If you have an inflammatory skin condition such as rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema, you probably find that stress triggers your symptoms, but also that your condition stresses you out—a vicious cycle.
Of course, it’s practically impossible to avoid stress altogether, but knowing a little about the relationship between stress and inflammation may help you take the right steps toward reducing anxiety and tension in your life and to better cope with flare-ups during times of unavoidable stress.
At a biochemical level, the link between stress and skin can be explained by what’s called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).
“This is a stress-activated pathway that starts in the brain and causes the release of various chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation, both in the body and in the skin,” explains psycho-dermatologist Alia Ahmed, M.D.
Chronic stress can overstimulate this pathway, constantly aggravating inflammation. Plus, a condition like psoriasis is also driven by immune dysfunction and response, processes directly linked to the HPA axis.
Note that the HPA axis is commonly activated in people with depression, Ahmed says. “It is very interesting, as a dermatologist, to hear from patients with psoriasis that they feel that stress caused by anxiety or depression may be a trigger. I always tell them that they are right—it is!”
Of course, the stress/inflammation connection doesn’t mean the vicious cycle has to continue. Managing your stress can be an important part of also managing an inflammatory skin condition.
“Stress management will vary from person to person,” Ahmed says. The first thing she suggests to her patients with psoriasis is to adequately treat their condition. “Having better control of symptoms and signs of skin disease generally has a positive impact on mood and stress levels,” she says.
Follow Healthy Habits
Diet, exercise, and sleep are all major factors, too. “The positive effects of a healthy diet and exercise are well known, and can enhance mood or act as stress busters,” Ahmed says, explaining that a healthy diet includes a good mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, dairy, and fiber, plus at least two liters of water per day.
“I recommend at least eight hours of sleep a night and always discuss sleep-hygiene techniques with patients, including having no social media for an hour before bed, limiting caffeine intake, and sticking to the same bedtime routine,” Ahmed says.