By Ashley Cameron
When was the last time you felt stressed? Last month? Last week? Yesterday?
The truth is, stress is a natural part of our busy modern lives – and while a little bit of stress is normal, ongoing or chronic stress can wreak havoc on our health, as well as our skin.
What is stress?
In simple terms, stress is a natural physiological response that occurs when we're faced with a challenge – also known as the 'fight or flight' response – and cortisol (our body's stress hormone) is released into our bloodstream. This natural instinct ensures we stay out of danger and can respond to any imminent threats. The trouble is that stress is not just something we feel on a surface level and our whole body can be impacted by the influx of cortisol in our system.
How stress affects our health
It damages the gut.
While you might not immediately think that an emotion like stress could impact your gut health, the truth is that your brain and your gut are intimately connected. This pathway is known as the gut-brain axis and while it works both ways, your gut is certainly one of your brain's closest friends. So, when you feel stressed, your gut certainly knows about it!
In fact, studies now show that stress can actually alter the balance of bacteria in the gut and damage the delicate gut lining. This can contribute to leaky gut – or intestinal permeability – where the tight junctions in the gut wall become more permeable than they should be, effectively allowing undigested particles of food, toxins and pathogens to escape into the bloodstream. This causes inflammation, which we now know to be one of the leading contributors to virtually all metabolic disease.
It suppresses the immune system.
When it comes to our immunity, our gut is the gatekeeper! More than 70 percent of our immune system is housed in our gut, meaning that during times of stress, we become more vulnerable to infections as cortisol suppresses our immune response.
A robust immune system and healthy microbiome is also dependent on maintaining a good balance of bacteria and fostering microbial diversity in the gut so considering stress can upset this delicate balance, weakened immunity is often one of the first symptoms of stress.
It causes skin inflammation.
Just like our gut has a constant dialogue with our brain, it is also in constant conversation with our skin. This information pathway is known as the gut-skin axis so in the same way stress can damage our gut, it can also damage our skin. Gut inflammation – due to stress – is directly linked to skin inflammation as excess cortisol breaks down collagen, the protein essential for healthy, strong, plump skin. If you’re skin is looking dull, lacklustre or you’re noticing a few new fine lines and wrinkles, it could be your body’s way of showing you just how stressed you really are.
This link between our emotions and our skin is known as psychodermatology and describes how emotional triggers such as stress can also exacerbate pre-existing skin conditions like acne, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis.
How to combat stress
While it's impossible to avoid stress completely, it's important we put measures in place to manage our stress response...
- Practise meditation and mindfulness. If you're yet to get on the meditation bandwagon, it's time to jump on board! Meditation and mindfulness practices needn't be complicated – simply taking the time to close your eyes and take 10 deep, belly breaths can have an incredible impact and help to reduce stress levels. There are also a number of amazing mediation apps these days to help keep you on track. At The Beauty Chef HQ, we're currently loving Insight Timer!
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet. Rebalance your belly and encourage microbial diversity by enjoying a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, healthy fats and lacto-fermented foods. Our microbes thrive on variety so opt for nutrient-dense wholefoods and keep your bacteria happy. A simple way to support your gut health and promote skin radiance is to add GLOW Inner Beauty Powder to your daily routine. Packed with 24 Certified Organic bio-fermented superfoods, it's also rich in prebiotics and probiotics to nourish your microbiome.
- Prioritise sleep. Disrupted sleep can disrupt your microbiome too so develop a nighttime ritual to encourage restful, deep sleep. Avoid stimulating bright lights from your television or smart phone in the lead up to bed, enjoy a nice warm bath or a soothing cup of herbal tea or SLEEP Inner Beauty Powder and get set to snooze.
How do you manage your stress levels?