My high school had a motto ‘strive for excellence’ which I always thought was a strange take on the dictionary definition of ‘excellence’ considering most people who finished up went on to work at McDonald’s full time (and that was what ‘good’ looked like…). So when I decided I needed a hefty 96+ UAI to get myself into the University of Sydney I experienced a lot of jaw-dropping bewilderment and encouragement from my so-called-careers-advisors I’d be better off applying my ‘natural skills set’ to administration or nursing, which I found ironic given I have the patience level of a bull that has just seen a red flag.

Anyway, it came as absolutely no surprise that I was awarded ‘stress head of the year’ after completing year 12, as it took a colossal effort (and considerable amount of stress) to supersede the low standard. Thankfully it paid off and I proceeded to complete my Economics degree at my chosen University. Only recently though, have I discovered what a negative impact, all that stress had on my skin, back then, and even now when I experience some of the varying degrees of stress from day to day life (KPI’s, mortgage repayments, relationship stress). The most surprising thing? Stress has a direct relationship with the skin and you might not even know it. shows up on your skin, and you might not even know it.

How stress works

Stress is triggered by our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which is the opposite to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest an digest). It starts in our brain, in the hypothalmus (regulates our hormones) when we get a ‘hit’ of cortisol – known as the ‘stress’ hormone.

When we rise and awaken, we have elevated levels of cortisol (which is a good thing) because it’s the hormone that gets us up, moving and awake. It gradually depletes as the day goes on, and should be at an all time low by the evening, when we secrete melatonin (our sleepy hormone) that secretes when the sun goes down and the moon comes out.

This is the natural stress-and-rest hormone cycle that is in alignment with our circadian rhythm: this means that we operate in conjunction with the sun and moon elements: ie cortisol secretes when we rise along with the sun and depletes as the sun goes down, and melatonin secretes as the moon comes out and cortisol is repressed.

Now this is all good and well. But sometimes we might experience too much cortisol secretion throughout the day, leading to high stress levels that impact our health.

 

Where does stress come from?

Besides a nagging boss who keeps asking for board report numbers that you have to do in addition to another million things (been THERE), stress comes in all forms, shapes and sizes, some of which you might not even consider a stressor, but your body may definitely interpret it this way.

 

Financial: Signing off a mortgage comes with a certain level of vasoconstriction the bank conveniently forgets to tell you about before you sign the loan. Now whether you consider if you can make monthly mortgage repayments, wondering if you can afford a coffee or a trip to Croatia, there is a certain level of stress that comes with consideration of financial choices, especially if you’re not sure if you can cover the cost of your lifestyle to cover the coffee, holiday or a loan.

Relationship: Maybe you’re happy in your relationship and all is dandy (good for you!), but if you’re at the 5 year mark with your partner and constantly wondering when THAT question will be asked, it slowly starts to eat you up and create a level of pressure and stress on you, and your relationship. Just because you don’t feel a hot flush, fast heartbeat or stress headaches does not mean you’re not experiencing stress. In this particular scenario, you might be experiencing increased levels of frustration and stress every single day (I know I did) and it eventually might get to the point where you walk away from your relationship altogether (did that too) creating another emotional stressor also known as the break-up. Relationships aren’t exclusive to romantic relationships, you might experience varying levels of stress with colleagues, friends, family or even neighbours (ever tried to politely tell a neighbour their dog is yes, very cute and would be a fantastic Paris Hilton accessory, however the 2am yapping is just ‘slightly’ disruptive? Not fun hey?).

Environment: Now environment doesn’t mean how often you stand in the middle of trees, sail out to see or climb rocks. I am referring to the quality of the environments you spend your time at. Is your work environment healthy, happy and safe? Is it a low-stress, toxic-free environment without the politics, good management structure and manageable workload? If you work in a high pressure, high stress, toxic environment, guess what happens? You not only bring it home with you emotionally, but you bring it into your body.

Physiological: Even looking in the mirror is stressful when you don’t want to see what stares back at you. I had a period of time with my acne, when I would just cry whenever I saw my face. I was so unhappy and ashamed of myself every time I looked in the mirror, creating a whole cycle of internal stress.

Decision: Even making decisions is a sign of stress. Do I eat tuna this week or meat the next week, how many things do I need to ‘get done’ tomorrow? And some are huge decisions – should I buy that property or wait until I have a 20% deposit instead of a measly 5%, should I stay in this relationship or take a punt at a chance at happiness in the unknown?

This is not an exclusive list, I can go on and on about all the different types of stress – geez even BREATHING creates a pressure and stress on the body! Now it’s not that stress is bad, but too much of it, starts to deteriorate our bodies.

 

How does stress show up on your skin? 

As we now know, cortisol is the hormone that is released when we experience stress. What happens next, is that our testosterone (the male hormone we all possess, women have estrogen) becomes elevated at the same time.

When testosterone is released, it sends a message to receptors in the surface of the skin to let it know that stress is coming.

The skin has receptors – kind of like someone waiting on the other end of the phone to ring. When stress rings, it lights up ready to receive the call. The testosterone hits it and then converts itself into a compound called DHT – dihydrotestosterone. DHT sends a message to our sebaceous (oil) glands telling it to create or cause more oil.

We develop, excrete and produce more oil. For those of you with acne-free skin, this just mean you might get a little oiler or see a bit of an oil film when you tend to get a tad stressed. You might even experience a slight breakout. For those of us with acne though, the oversupply of oil can start to plug our pores – known as a comedegenic effect.

It’s a ever-fulfilling cycle and really important to get stress under control. You may be placed in stressful situations constantly for the rest of your life, but you can control how you respond to it, and that’s the secret to stress management. It’s not a situation where you remove yourself from stressful situations, but develop yourself to effectively manage yourself in these particular situations.

Stress in and of itself doesn’t cause acne per se, but does exacerbate the condition. A study published in the Swedish Journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica showed that there is a correlation between the severity of acne and high stress levels.

 

3 ways to combat stress

Magnesium

Magnesium is nature’s chill pill.

Over time, magnesium has been depleted from our soil (only 16% of the magnesium found in whole wheat remains in refined flour) and eradicated from our water so it’s important to supplement your diet with magnesium rich foods and sources to calm your stress level down.

In research published in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses, patients who suffered from major depression were treated with magnesium at meal times and before bed, and within 7 days experienced rapid recovery. That is how powerful this nutrient can be.

Hint: If you’re craving sugar and chocolate, this is your body letting you know you’re actually craving magnesium.

What are the top sources of magnesium?

  • Green vegetables (dark leafy greens are best)
  • Epsom salts in your bath
  • Cacao: Cacao nibs, raw chocolate, cacao powder. This is the raw chocolate we love.
  • Magnesium spray – spray to your stomach or tops of your feet. This is the one my family and I use, MagnesiumEase
  • There are bioavailable magnesium supplements available. Check with your doctor before taking these though.

 Magnesium is also critical to help your body absorb calcium. Without enough magnesium, your body cannot absorb calcium to its full potential, possibly leading to bone problems like osteoperosis.

 If you have bad kidney function, you must check with your doctor before taking additional magnesium.

Fun fact: did you know magnesium is used to make sparkler firecrackers?!

 

Proactively anticipate stress and learn to manage it

We’ve all heard it – good leaders don’t react, they anticipate.

In his fabulous podcast, Tim Ferriss held a panel where one of his interviewees introduced to me a concept called Team Red. This is where he recruited teams and trained with people on purpose, who were more difficult to deal with than in normal situations so that in real life, when he came across difficult people or situations, he would already be well trained and prepared for how to deal with them with aplomb. He called this having your own Team Red.

To help me manage my stress levels with a Team Red, I practice asking myself one question after I meditate each morning. I ask myself ‘where is the lion?’. I figure, that if there’s not a lion chasing after me, the situation can’t really be that bad or stressful and as such, probably doesn’t need to be stressed over that much.

Boost your vegetable intake

Recent research conducted by The University of Sydney, published in the British Medical Journal Open found that ingesting a certain degree of vegetables into the diet had a positive impact on how the body responds to stress. They found that people who ate 3-4 daily serves of vegetables had a 12 per cent lower risk of stress than those who ate 0-1 serves daily. A little more interestingly, they found that women who ate 5-7 daily serves of fruit and vegetables had a 23 per cent lower risk of stress than women who ate 0-1 serves daily.

 

Meditation

Rearchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore,published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.

In another study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, she found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder.

I went to a fabulous event a few years ago held by Commonwealth Bank of Australia called Wired For Wonder, and I heard an incredible Monk called Dandapani speak. This is the presentation he walked through, and in the last 15 minutes he walks through a very easy to use meditation practice that I have now being doing for almost two years every day, and I can’t tell you how much it has improved the quality of my life.

Each Thursday, I will send you a short 4 bullet email keeping you up to date with the latest news in health and skin wellness including:

1. The one thing about skin you need to know this week
2. Recommended reading list
3. Best self-development event for you need to check out
4. Quote of the week

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