When it comes to mental health and the connection between our mind and our skin, there is a very real two way street. Have you ever felt unhappy and stressed about how your skin looks? And then worried that the anxiety you feel is making your condition worse? You are not alone and I completely understand your fear.
Skin conditions can have a detrimental effect on most aspects of our lives, including relationships, work, social functioning, sporting activities, and ultimately our mental wellness.
SKIN & MENTAL HEALTH STATISTICS
- Major depression is one of the main results of chronic skin disorders
- 5% of the 4.5 million American adults with psoriasis have suicidal thoughts - three times the rate of the general population
- Other psychosocial side effects of skin conditions are social withdrawal, anger, frustration, and lack of confidence
- 26% of people with moderate to severe psoriasis have been forced to change or discontinue their normal daily activities
- Adults with acne face higher rates of unemployment than the general population
- Kids with skin disorders suffer, too. Two out of five of these children have some psychosocial impairment
The vagus nerve, which controls messages to the digestive tract as well as the heart, lungs, and other vital organs is the gut’s direct connection to the brain and this gut / brain axis is fascinating. Since 2013, the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has dedicated millions of dollars to fund seven different pilot studies that examine what scientists call the “Microbiome". These studies are looking at the correlation between what the brain is doing and the levels of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract.
I've spoken before about how integral good gut bacteria health is for our skin, and whilst we often acknowledge that diet and exercise play a role, our mental well-being somehow gets left behind. For many it can be the missing part of the jigsaw.
A study of two large groups of Europeans has found that several species of gut bacteria are missing in people with depression. Researchers can't say for certain whether the absence is a cause or an effect of the illness, but they showed that good gut bacteria - or lack thereof - can affect nerve cell function and mood. Thought of as the “happy chemical”, it has long been known that low levels of serotonin can be linked to depression, but did you know that up to 90 per cent of this mood-regulating chemical is actually found in the gut?
Why Do We Ignore Mental Health?
So, why are we reluctant to acknowledge the mind when it comes to our skin? Dealing with mental health isn't easy. I could tell you to eat three apples tomorrow and walk for fifteen minutes in the morning ... and even if you didn't feel like doing so, you'd have a very clear understanding of what's required.
Making changes to our mental well-being can be much more complex. Where do we even begin? Mindfulness and meditation can be an immediate and simple starting point.
If you think your skin might have been triggered or exacerbated by a stressful or traumatic event in your life (death in the family / relationship break up / loss of job) that absolutely must be addressed - as tough as it might be. Working with a therapist or counsellor can give you great insights and help you on a journey to address deep rooted anxiety.
Healing skin naturally requires a holistic approach - and that involves looking at the body as a whole. Our brain can play as important a role in our immune system as what we eat or drink.
There are so many ways that our gut and mood can impact on one another, both negatively and positively. Keep a positive, low-stress attitude and your gut will thank you. Maintain a healthy, non inflamed gut, and your bouts of stress and anxiety might lessen too!