Have you ever noticed that your skin breaks out more when you’re stressed? Or perhaps your eczema or psoriasis flares up, or your acne becomes harder to manage? Either way, we’ve all experienced how our bodies change in response to stress, and your skin is by no means immune to that stress response!
Many medical professionals recognize that a natural balance must be maintained between our sympathetic (fight-or-flight/high activity) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest/relaxation) nervous systems for optimal health. Unfortunately, in our modern world, many of us experience “Sympathetic Overdrive,” which means the time we spend in a state of high activity is significantly greater than the time we spend in a state of relaxation. This imbalance can lead to many health problems, including insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
A key part of decreasing stress is to increase our time spent in the parasympathetic state, or relaxed state. While living in this fast-paced world makes it impossible to avoid stressful situations, we can modify how we handle stress to prevent it from building up. See below for a few ways to incorporate regular stress-reduction practices into your daily life.
- Prioritize Sleep: ‘Sleep hygiene’ is a term used by many naturopathic physicians to promote a healthy sleep routine. Some sleep hygiene practices include going to bed earlier and taking steps to promote sleep in the evening, such as dimming the lights at a certain hour and avoiding food and drink after a specified time. Taking short naps during the day can also boost our sleep hygiene and help us control our stress levels.
- Exercise More: Exercise helps to burn cortisol, a prevalent stress hormone, and vigorous exercise helps glucose enter muscle cells without insulin, which helps regulate glucose and insulin activity. When starting an exercise routine, the most important consideration should be whether you enjoy the activity enough to actually do it on a daily, or weekly, basis. You don’t need to hit the gym or sign up for a marathon to get your daily workout in; walking around your neighborhood, using online fitness videos, or dancing around your house all suffice in lowering stress. Learn more about choosing the right exercise regimen for you here.
- Try Mindfulness: Various mindfulness activities have been shown to be beneficial for lowering stress and improving your the skin. Some of these activities include yoga, meditation, tai chi, and deep breathing. For more on this, check out this article on skin and mindfulness.
- Improve Your Food Hygiene: Another term used by many naturopathic doctors, ‘food hygiene’ refers to the environment surrounding our eating experiences. Some ways to improve food hygiene include: eating with others (prevalent in Europe), eating without distractions, cooking and preparing your own food, chewing each bite carefully, paying attention to bodily cues that indicate fullness, and avoiding multitasking while eating (i.e. no eating meals while watching TV!).
- Therapeutic Touch: Science has shown that endorphins, which are released from physical contact, can help to dramatically decrease stress. Getting a massage, giving more hugs, engaging in more intimate activities with your partner, and playing with pets can all help alleviate our experience of stress.
- Eat a Balanced, Nutrient-Rich Diet: Our bodies experience metabolic stress when lacking essential nutrients. The best way to meet our nutrient needs is with a whole food, plant-based diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and good protein, including fish, nuts, and seeds.
- Do Things that Make You Happy: Happiness also promotes endorphin release, so laugh, dance, sing, take part in community activities, garden, create art, or participate in other happy hobbies to decrease your stress levels.
- Talk to Someone: Interpersonal connections are key for feeling supported and mitigating stress. Engaging in psychotherapy, or simply talking with family and friends can help decrease your stress levels and induce relaxation.
- Connect with Nature: The Japanese concept of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”, harnesses the idea of exposing oneself to nature for stress relief and disease prevention. The benefits of this concept can be achieved by having house plants, taking walks outside, or hiking in a forest or park.
- Try At-Home Therapeutics: To promote relaxation, you can take a warm herbal bath or foot bath, try aromatherapy, take an alternating shower (switch between hot and cold water), or indulge in other home-spa techniques, like a DIY foot scrub or a self-massage with warming oils.
- Decrease Toxins in Your Body: Drinking less alcohol, smoking less and minimizing other toxin-building activities can decrease stress caused by the toxin burden on the body. It’s also important to know which toxins are in your household and personal care products. You can check the toxicity of many common products on the Environmental Working Group’s Database Website (http://www.ewg.org/)
- Consider Supplements: While they are not a substitute for a healthful diet, supplements can help make up for certain nutrient deficits. Consider Vitamin D3 during the cooler winter months, B vitamins, and/or fish oil. Talk with your physician or healthcare practitioner for more personalized recommendations.
- Drink Calming Herbal Teas: Many herbs are known to be beneficial for relaxation and sleep promotion. Some calming herbal teas include lavender, chamomile, and peppermint, which has a cooling effect.