The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) is worrying, and that worry can impact our mental health. Fear and anxiety can feel overwhelming and trigger a strong emotional response in both adults and children. Whilst it’s important to stay informed, there are also many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during these stressful times.
In response to poor emotional health, stress can initiate a chemical reaction in the body, which in turn can make our skin more sensitive and reactive. Not only can this process result in a flare, it also prevents our existing skin conditions from healing properly. Good internal gut health is key to healing, and stress can deplete the gut of that all important healthy bacteria we need to maintain a flourishing microbiome.
Prolonged stress can also make existing health conditions worse. For example, it can aggravate chronic skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema and rosacea. It can also trigger hives, acne and other types of skin rashes, and cause a flare-up of stress ulcers.
There are a number of measures we can put in place to focus on nourishing ourselves with additional self-care during this stressful time. Whilst the supermarkets and greengrocers might not have our usual rainbow selection of fresh foods in abundance, buying frozen veg and berries, batch cooking simple stews and soups, and digging the juicer out of the cupboard to press and freeze a daily dose of greens, are simple ways to ensure we are still nourishing the gut with all those beneficial vitamins and nutrients.
Stress management for our skin is not just about diet. Here are my six key steps to keeping skin healthy through stress reduction during the corona crisis.
Six Steps to Stress Management
- Nourish yourself well with food. The emotional connection between how we feel and the foods we choose to nourish ourselves with is very real. Sometimes we lose our appetite when we’re dealing with stress, while at other times we have a tendency to overeat. We often make poor food choices during times like this, choosing instant satisfaction and cheap convenience over nourishment. Research shows that the less junk food we consume, the less we crave it, so breaking that cycle is the first important step. In short, put down the takeaway menu and begin meal planning in earnest! Good nutrition also helps our body’s to function well, improves our immunity, lifts energy, enhances our mood and reduces the risk for a whole host of diseases. Eating well is one of the most important forms of self-care we can work on.
- Practice simple breathing techniques. A short, twenty minute yoga or meditation session each day can help us to significantly lower anxiety. Taking deep, controlled breaths is one of the best ways we can lower stress in the body. When we breathe deeply, it sends a signal to our brain to calm down and relax. There are lots of brilliant breath coaching sessions available online, with many yoga and meditation practitioners currently offering free streaming classes.
- Focus on getting adequate rest. Sleeping soundly can feel difficult at the moment, with stressful thoughts triggering the mind to work overtime. A set routine is key. Since many of us have fallen out of our typical work pattern, late nights and irregular bedtimes can become problematic. The simple action of setting a regular routine, reducing phone usage and switching off the laptop an hour before sleep, plus taking a long, warm bath each evening, can positively impact our circadian rhythm. Promoting a deeper, more peaceful nights rest.
- Talk it through with someone. As humans, we are wired for connection. We crave conscious contact. Whilst those in-person relationships might feel few and far between right now, we’re more connected than ever online. If chatting things through with family or friends via video calling feels a little uncomfortable, working one-to-one with a therapist on Skype can offer an independent listening ear. A psychological counsellor can help us build a personal toolkit for overcoming anxiety, depression and addiction through this difficult time and beyond.
- Make time to care for your skin. An irregular or broken life pattern can result in us neglecting our set skincare routine. Everything falls by the wayside a little bit as we prioritise caring for elderly parents and children. It’s really important to make time to care for ourselves as well in all of this, and to ensure that looking after our skin forms part of that regular routine. Gentle cleansing and moisturising can provide our cells with the much needed hydration and nourishment they crave, especially while life feels a little off-kilter.
- Take exercise. The government acknowledge the importance of exercise through the current crisis - for both our physical and mental wellbeing. They permit one workout each day, close to home. Physical activity helps bump up the production of our brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called ‘endorphins’. Several studies suggest exercising outside promotes mental well-being more-so than practicing the same form of exercise indoors. So, if you’re able to step outside, enjoy the combination of fresh air and movement.
- Exercise outside https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es102947t
- Stress & poor food choices https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/
- Stress & our skin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
- Meditation & stress https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/does-meditation-reduce-stress/
- Craving Junk Food https://jamesclear.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/why-humans-like-junk-food-steven-witherly.pdf