5 Ways to Reduce Stress — And Why Your Skin Depends On It

It’s no secret that we all feel the weight of stress from time to time. Whether it’s the seemingly never-ending pile of urgent work on your to-do list or trying to juggle family time with life admin, we’re all susceptible to feeling overwhelmed and inundated. 

Yet, while most of us know that prolonged stress can harm your physical and mental health, did you know it can also have a devastating impact on your skin health? Whether you’re struggling to find balance or are simply looking for practical tips to take back control of your day and keep stress to a minimum, here are our go-to five tips to help reduce unwanted stress in your life.

How does stress affect your skin?

As your body’s largest and most visible organ, your skin constantly mirrors what is occurring inside. Here are just a few ways prolonged stress becomes visible on the skin’s surface:

It may increase acne breakouts 

As our body can’t differentiate between a life-threatening situation and a looming work deadline, the body’s response to stress is all the same. When you’re stressed or anxious for a prolonged period, your body releases more cortisol. When stressed, a flood of adrenaline and cortisol is sent from your brain to your body, increasing your heart rate and blood flow to your organs — a vital reaction when entering fight or flight mode. 

With more cortisol rushing through your body, you’ll likely experience an increase in corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH is suggested to increase oil production in your sebaceous glands, which, when excessive, can clog your pores and result in acne. 

However, while the link between stress and acne is not yet conclusive, several studies corroborate these findings:

  • A 2017 study on female medical students aged between 22 and 24 aimed to analyse the relationship between stress and acne. The study concluded that stress directly influenced acne severity, with higher stress correlating with more severe cases of acne. 
  • A 2011 study looked at potential contributing factors to acne in 1,236 people in South Korea. The findings suggested that stress, poor sleep quality, alcohol consumption, and menstruation can all negatively impact acne.  

It can dry out your skin and lead to chronic skin conditions 

Your stratum corneum — your skin’s outer layer — consists of protein and lipids, which are fundamental in hydrating your skin cells and protecting the skin underneath. When it isn’t functioning optimally — like during times of heightened stress — it can increase skin dryness and itchiness. 

Studies have shown that stress can impair the functionality of your stratum corneum’s barrier and impact your skin’s ability to retain water and protect you from unwanted, harmful microbes, resulting in unwanted dryness and compromised skin. 

An uninterrupted epidermal barrier is non-negotiable when it comes to maintaining healthy skin. When disrupted, it can cause skin irritations or lead to chronic conditions such as eczema, wounds, and psoriasis. 

It can enhance premature ageing

From increasing fine lines and reducing elasticity to altering skin pigmentation and exaggerating eye bags, stress is suggested to increase premature ageing in several ways. 

On the one hand, it alters the proteins in your skin and reduces elasticity, which gives your skin firmness. On the other hand, stress may increase frowning and furrowing, which may, in turn, increase the formation and severity of wrinkles, thus enhancing the signs of premature ageing. 

Additionally, stress-related sleep deprivation can also increase the visibility of eye bags. Generally, bags under the eyes become more apparent with age as the muscles surrounding your eyes weaken naturally. 

Five useful tips to reduce daily stress

Tip #1: Move your body regularly

This might seem like an obvious recommendation, but there’s a good reason for it. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins, reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, helps your body function better, and is meditation in motion. 

According to a 6-week study on 185 university students, those who engaged in aerobic exercise two days per week experienced reduced perceived stress and self-reported depression. Additional studies have found a direct correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and increased stress, poor sleep, and lower mood. 

Our take: Find activities you love that don’t feel forced. If you don’t enjoy jogging, don’t force yourself into a habit you’re unlikely to stick to. Know when to be disciplined with yourself and push through the discomfort, but also accept that fitness may look different to everyone. Instead, you might feel inspired and fulfilled by joining a dance class or lifting weights at the gym. The take-home message? Find an activity that works for you and your lifestyle to make a sustainable habit. 

Tip #2: Limit screen and phone time

From working on a computer screen during the day and connecting with friends via social media to enjoying your favourite show in the evening before bed, it’s no secret that we’ve become much more dependent on screen time. Yet, believe it or not, this might have a more significant impact on your stress levels than you realise. 

When we’re excessively exposed to our screens, we also absorb excessive light and stimuli, which can place unnecessary stress on our Central Nervous System. As such, this can impact our mood, behaviour, and reactions. Additionally, too much screen time can also affect the quality and duration of our sleep, subsequently placing greater stress on our bodies. 

Our take: It’s easy to fall into the habit of mindlessly spending time on your phone when you aren’t intentional about how you use your devices. To become mindful of your screen time:

  1. Set a daily limit that feels achievable for you. 
  2. Implement a “lights out” time at night that gives you adequate time to wind down for bed without looking at screens.
  3. Don’t start your day by opening your eyes and looking at your phone instantly.
  4. Create meaningful morning and evening routines that prioritise your health. This might mean trading in the late-night Netflix for a book and the early-morning social media scrolls for a moment of meditation or gratitude. 

Tip #3: Prioritise your nutrition

You’ve heard the old saying “you are what you eat,” right? Well, believe it or not, this statement has some truth. What you put into your body influences just about every area of your overall health and wellbeing, from your mental health and energy levels to your skin and metabolism. 

Yet, one less widely known area is the impact of poor diet choices on stress levels. Several studies have found a direct correlation between consuming a diet rich in ultra-processed foods and sugar and heightened perceived stress levels. While more work still needs to be done to understand this connection fully, there are two known contributing factors:

  1. When we eat foods that are processed or high in sugar, it leads to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels that our body must regulate by producing insulin. This is why we often experience a sugar crash, as our body is bringing our levels back to normal, which can impact other hormones, such as cortisol. 
  2. Not consuming adequate nutrient-dense foods is more likely to make you deficient in essential nutrients fundamental for helping to regulate stress and mood. This includes nutrients such as Magnesium and Vitamin B. 

Our take:  Instead of entirely removing the delicious snacks you love, it’s time to rewire your brain to look at these as treats, not a staple part of your diet. We firmly believe moderation is the key to sustainable habits, as restricting your diet often leads to rebounding. Instead, we recommend adding more whole foods to your diet (i.e., vegetables, protein, nuts, seeds, etc.) to help nourish your body and reduce sugar-related stress. Enjoy your favourite snacks as a treat so you can truly appreciate them. 

Tip #4: Reduce your caffeine intake

We know this tip won’t make us any friends, but caffeine is a big one when it comes to reducing unnecessary stress. 

While we love this delicious nutty goodness for its energy-enhancing benefits, it does also play a role in activating the body’s stress axis, which subsequently elevates glucocorticoid and catecholamine and increases blood pressure. To fully understand caffeine’s relationship with stress, it’s crucial to know how caffeine impacts essential hormones:

  • Adenosine — caffeine is known to inhibit adenosine’s absorption, which is an important hormone responsible for calming down the body. While it may give you a short-term burst of energy, it can impact your stress levels and sleep quality. 
  • Cortisol —  Caffeine boosts the body’s cortisol levels, the common stress hormone that can impact mood, stress, and health. 
  • Dopamine — Dopamine is a feel-good hormone and often the primary reason we can’t start our day without a cuppa joe. While this important hormone may initially put you in a happy mood and give you the much-needed energy you’re after, it can leave you feeling low once the effects wear off, influencing stress levels. 

Our take:  Caffeine is a universally adored drink, and we completely understand why. However, we recommend being mindful about how much you’re consuming and when. For example, we recommend limiting yourself to two cups of coffee daily and avoiding consuming caffeine after 2 PM to minimise the risk of it interfering with your sleep schedule. 

Tip #5: Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your day

We often feel stressed and overwhelmed when we give too much of ourselves to all other areas of our lives — work, family, life admin, friends — and not enough time to recharge our batteries. 

Self-care is a proven technique that helps reduce stress levels. Studies suggest that those who make time for self-care admit to experiencing reduced stress and increased quality of life, while those who ignore self-care experience higher stress levels and burnout. 

The beauty of building a self-care ritual is that it will look different to everyone. For some, this may include going for a daily mental health walk or taking a bath, and for others, this may look like preparing a healthy meal, adding a half-hour stretch routine to your day, reading a book or practising a hobby. 

Our take: Write a list of all the activities that fulfil you and slot at least one of these into your weekly schedule. A great way to know what hobbies are best suited to your self-care ritual is to consider which activities drain your energy and leave you feeling depleted and which make you feel recharged and full. The latter should be your priority. 

[Read Article: Dr Tanya’s Five Tips to Prioritise Self Care]

The Recap

There’s no denying that stress is an unavoidable part of life. And while stress in small bouts isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can have a detrimental impact on your health when it becomes a chronic problem… and the unfortunate reality is that stress can leave an impactful impression on your face when left unmonitored — from premature wrinkles and eye bags to acne breakouts and skin conditions. 

Thankfully, there are various tips we can apply to our daily lives to help observe and minimise the unnecessary stress showing up, including exercising regularly, adopting a low-sugar and highly nutritious diet, making time for hobbies and self-care, limiting screen time, and being mindful of our caffeine intake. 

At Dr Tanya, we firmly believe that great skin isn’t just about what you use topically; it’s about creating lasting rituals that prioritise the mind, body, and scalp. This means what occurs on the inside is just as, if not more, important than what is happening on the outside. We highly recommend you monitor your stress levels, add a few of the tips above to your daily rituals, and notice any changes happening, big or small.