As you know, yoga, meditation and other mind-body practices provide many stress management benefits. Better skin might be the latest addition to that list. Your skin’s health can reflect the connection between your emotions and your body and how effectively you manage stress. Richard G. Fried, MD, PhD, a dermatologist and clinical psychologist from Yardley, Pennsylvania, discussed scientific evidence for the link between emotional distress and a variety of skin conditions during a presentation at the American Academy of Dermatology’s Summer Academy Meeting 2011 in New York City.
“Stress is personal, so what might be stressful for one person may be a nonstressor or even exhilarating for someone else. In terms of how stress can exacerbate or even initiate a skin condition, we are talking about distress, such as feelings of anger, anxiety, depression or tension, and how these emotional states translate to physiological problems,” said Fried.
The skin’s nerve endings protect against infection and trauma by releasing neuropeptides in response to stress. These biochemicals can cause numbness, itching, sensitivity or tingling. When released too frequently, they can trigger skin conditions. According to Fried, the neuropeptides travel to the brain and increase the reuptake of neurotransmitters, leading to a depletion of emotion-regulating chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. This can lead to a vicious cycle of stress in which an aggravated skin condition leads to more stress and a further decline in emotional well-being combined with worsening of the skin problem.
To interrupt this cycle, Fried recommended stress management strategies such as meditation, hypnosis, tai chi, yoga or antidepressants, among others, in combination with traditional dermatological therapies. “Alleviating or minimizing stress goes a long way in improving [dermatology patients’] overall health,” he said.
For more information about research in dermatology and the skin-psyche connection, go to www.aad.org.