No matter how much you look forward to the holidays, there’s no denying that this time of year can be particularly stressful. Travel planning, gift shopping, meal preparation, multiple social gatherings -- it’s all enough to make anyone’s head spin. And as if this stress wasn’t bad enough on its own, it can also start to affect your skin. Indeed, if you start to notice skin problems around the holidays, your stress levels just might be the primary culprit. Knowing how holiday stress can change your skin will help you maintain beautiful skin this season and beyond.
Our physiology comes equipped with a “fight or flight” response when exposed to potential threats, boosting our internal production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In the early days of man, this reaction was meant to aid in survival in a world filled with predators and other hazards. Of course, our way of life has changed quite a bit since that time. Today, this evolutionary response is more often triggered by events that cause us distress. In other words, something like preparing for the holidays can stimulate increased production of stress hormones, which in turn can affect our skin’s health and appearance.
While a burst of adrenaline and cortisol might seem like a mostly isolated occurrence, these hormones can have lingering effects on your body. Namely, stress hormones increase blood flow and inflammation. As a result, your skin can react in a number of ways. If you already have chronic inflammatory conditions like eczema or psoriasis, stress can trigger flare-ups. Likewise, stress-induced inflammation can trigger and exacerbate acne, rashes, hives, and more.
Inflammation isn’t the only skin-related outcome caused by stress, however. An excess of cortisol production can actually break down the skin’s collagen and elastin -- proteins that provide skin with its structure, flexibility, and strength. As these proteins break down, your skin will gradually become less flexible and firm, increasing the amount and severity of wrinkles, under eye bags, and other signs of aging. So, enough holiday stress can actually lead to premature aging.
Stress can also take a toll on your immune system, hindering its responses or pushing it into overdrive to your own detriment. A suppressed immune system leaves your body and skin more vulnerable to various ailments, while an overly-sensitive immune system can cause your body to attack healthy cells. Alopecia areata occurs when the immune system goes after healthy hair follicles, causing hair to fall out in clumps and patches. Stress can also lead to other forms of hair loss, such as telogen effluvium (when hair follicles become dormant and fall out over time) or trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling).
It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed out around the holidays. If you want to feel confident in your skin during this time, however, it’s important to keep your stress levels in check. Make sure you get enough sleep, continue to exercise regularly, and take some time to meditate, do yoga, or try some other type of mindfulness practice, if possible.
If you’re looking for more information on stress-related skin problems and advice on how to keep your stress and skin in check year-round, the experts at Premier Dermatology Partners are here to help. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.