Could stress be associated with acne?
The occasional stress is good. Nothing like a bit of stress to sharpen our minds and to benefit from a surge of energy. But the reality is different; we live in a high-stress culture. Without periods of relaxation between stress, we experience chronic stress. If you are a student, you probably have experienced chronic stress during exam periods.
During stress, the central nervous system triggers stress responses. The endocrine system picks up the cue and works with the nervous system to trigger a cascade of responses. Through the adrenal cortex, cortisol is produced. Through the adrenal medulla, adrenaline is produced. As with our primitive ancestors, our 'flight or fight' mode kicks in. The adrenaline increases the heart rate and rushes the blood to the muscles and to the brain. Cortisol increases the glucose level in the blood, so all our active cells have plenty of energy to flee or fight.
Chronic stress is a response to emotional pressure for a prolonged period of time. Cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) levels are continuously kept high. At the same time, a sustained high level of glucose in the blood pushes the body to store energy as fat and increases insulin resistance, just like the symptoms of diabetes. Chronic stress also inhibits the formation of collagen, induces and worsens acne.
Chronic stress weakens the immune system (reduces resistance to infection and inflammation), affect the digestive system, the reproductive system and cardiovascular system. It can potentially lead to heart disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Day to day, it can manifest as anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, skin problems, digestion problems, menstrual problems, abdominal pain, difficulty concentrating and panic attacks, among others. Lastly, stress affects sleep - decreases sleep duration and reduces REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement or deep sleep). Poor quality sleep leads to impaired memory, poor mood regulation, which can in turn, lead to more stress.
Meditation, mindfulness or simple breathing exercises can reduce stress and tension in the body. Relaxation is key in reducing stress hormone levels. Similar to diet, our body's reaction to stress can be different for different people. The types of stressors, the duration of the stressors and the genetics could play a role in determining how we respond to stress.