Remember when you were a sophomore in college and you experienced (probably) your first bout of stress? With a term paper due, an 8 a.m. class, a poster to make for homecoming and a pal who was being snippy via text, you probably felt over-exerted and out of control. While for that time in your life, you had every right to feel exhausted and anxious, the older we get, the more stress we pile on top of our daily routine. Nowadays, you’re not only managing your own career, but navigating relationships, taking care of kids, aging parents, retirement and savings accounts, and attempting to figure out how to buy a house and take a vacation once a year.
While stress often gets a bad rep (and for good reason, frankly), experts agree that sometimes being overwhelmed can work in our favor. Don’t believe us? Let them explain.
While it’s not the most exciting feeling to process, stress has a purpose, like fear, sadness, happiness and all other emotions. Without it, we would never know when we’re spinning out of control, upset or frustrated. “Stress is our body’s way of letting us know we are taking on too much. It’s a warning that your body and mind are reaching their capacity of things they can deal with and still be healthy,” licensed clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., says. “Sometimes the amount of stress we experience is something we can control and sometimes it is not. However, we almost always have a choice about how we show ourselves love and self care in times of stress to help reduce its effects.”
Heather Hickman, senior director of education for Dermalogica and the International Dermal Institute explains this further: “There are actually two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is positive or beneficial stress and can be healthy, giving one a feeling of fulfillment, meaning, hope or other positive feelings. It is what is often felt by runners before a race, public speakers before a presentation, and everyday people about to do extraordinary things. On the other hand, distress is negative stress. Distress fuels feelings of defeat and depression. Both eustress and distress are not defined by what causes the stress, but rather how a person perceives it.”
How Stress Affects Your Skin
According to Hickman, skin has the ability to reflect what a person feels inside. “For example, fear may reveal itself as cutis anserine or goose bumps. Anxiety or excitement may reveal itself in sweat. Embarrassment may reveal itself as flushed, red or rosy skin. This is because the skin contains a plethora of nerve endings that are in constant contact with the brain.”
Certain skin conditions can also be triggered or exacerbated by stress. No wonder you tend to breakout during important milestones, like the night before your wedding or when you’re about to give an important presentation. “Distress increases cortisol release, which can thicken hair follicle cells and increase oil product in the skin, leading to stress induced skin breakouts or acne,” explains Hickman. “Chronic negative stress can also disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, which prevents harmful substances from penetrating and fluids from escaping. This can lead to irritated and dehydrated skin and makes lines and wrinkles more evident.”
Another thing stress affects the most? Your eye area. “As the skin around the eye area is about 0.5mm, it is one of the thinnest and most delicate on the body. This makes it one of the first to show signs of stress.”
When you start to feel that worry in the pit of your stomach, you might feel the need to distract yourself and avoid potentially stressful situations. Instead, Schewitz says to lean into the discomfort, examine why you’re feeling that way and then move forward. “It’s not always necessary that we fight stress but it is always important to monitor and manage it and I think that’s an important differentiation. One way to manage stress is by engaging in regular self-care activities such as taking a relaxing bath, getting a massage, meditating for ten minutes a day, whatever makes you feel good and gives you some release,” she says.
Another way to look at stress is how it makes you look at your life and see what’s missing, what’s right and what could be fixed. It could also be the catalyst that makes you take more time for yourself and learn how to say ‘no’ to projects, meetings and events that you don’t need to attend but feel obligated to join. In other words, it might inspire you to make a big change that was a long time coming. As Schewitz says, “Stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can motivate you to do work when you feel like procrastinating. If people weren’t stressed about meeting deadlines, there wouldn’t be any urgency to anything that we do.”
Need more ways to cope with stress? Here are few that might help:
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